Damn us, every one

NASA offers a neat subsription service that will send you a weekly bulletin of news stories and satellite images of Earth. It’s fascinating and exciting, except when it’s bone-crushingly painful. I received this week’s issue on Tuesday, and I’ve been trying to suppress my reaction ever since.

I can’t do it. The environmental changes are devastating. We resist doing anything at our peril. The mountains of data show that survival of the human species will be questionable if we continue living the way we are today. Further complicating the matter, we have to understand environmental changes and potential remedies along with needs of people in less developed countries. People in less developed countries have survival issues that sometimes conflict with environmental concerns.

Poor people always get the short end of the stick. How many nuclear plants or toxic waste incinerators are located in wealthy neighborhoods? People in western countries complain that we don’t want to make changes because they’re too hard. Let’s cut the crap. People in more developed areas get to live in relative comfort. Most of us don’t have to survive on ants.

source: World Watch magazine

In the current newsletter from NASA, I found several photos that made me despair. The first set of photographs shows deforestation that occurred between 1974 and 1999 in Guinea.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the unique forests of the region have dramatically diminished over the past few decades as civil war in Sierra Leone and Liberia have pushed tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of refugees into the Parrot’s Beak. People have cut down the forests for housing materials, wood for charcoal, and space to grow crops. Some commercial logging also played a role.

So this terrible result comes from people fleeing for their lives and trying to find a way to survive as refugees. You can’t ask that people in these situations consider environmental impact of their behavior. For more, go to this link.

The second set of images show a dust storm spreading out of the Gobi Desert earlier this month.

The storms can be hazardous to public health both in terms of air quality and visibility. In addition, the dust storms can devastate croplands and contaminate sensitive electronic equipment. Dust storms in China are on the rise, probably as a result of land degradation, such as deforestation and overgrazing, and drought. The Chinese government has undertaken a large reforestation effort to combat the spread of deserts and to mitigate the effects of dust storms, particularly around urban areas such as Beijing.

This dust storm is just a prelude to what’s in store for us. But we sit back and say, “Well, that’s just how things are.” How bad does it have to get before real action is taken? The biggest problem is that ecosystems are tricky things to understand. Small changes build up and interact until changes become irreversible.

In the third set of photos,the effects of warmer temperatures on the Great Barrier Reef are shown. This past summer was the hottest recorded summer for Australia. What are the implications? Briefly:

warm weather = warm water

warm water = stress on coral

stress = coral expels symbiotic algae

loss of symbiotic algae = coral death

Warm pink and yellow tones show where sea surface temperatures were warm in the top image. The warmest waters are the shallow waters over the reef near the coast, where coral bleaching was most severe this summer.

The lower image shows chlorophyll concentrations, where high concentrations (yellow) generally point to a high concentration of phytoplankton in surface waters of the ocean. In this image, the bright yellow dots actually represent the coral reefs, and not surface phytoplankton.

I can’t write about this anymore. It makes me too angry, too scared, and too frustrated. Here’s a picture of the Great Barrier Reef. It’s so massive it can be seen from space, and it’s the foundation for a massive and diverse ecosystem. It also happens to be incredibly beautiful. Enjoy it before it’s gone.


10 responses to “Damn us, every one

  1. Not just the hottest summer but, thus far, the hottest autumn.

    It’s scary. It’s really, really scary. Over the past couple of years, city-dwellers have been catching up to what farmers have been dealing with for decades: this country is getting hotter and dryer. We are running out of water at the same time as we are desperately needing more.

    I had a humourous brush with the climate change monsters this past summer: My father got sunburnt.

    My black father.

    On his arms.

    He’s been sunburnt once before in his entire life, and it wasn’t in Australia.

    He spent the first little while arguing with my mother that “he never gets sunburnt!”, and trying to think of another reason for his skin to be red, and sore, and peeling.

    Then he became a rapid convert to the “climate change is really scary” school of thought.

    It sounds kinda funny, but it struck home with me. Our politicians are finally approaching the problem… too late, and on too small a scale. Our crop yields are decreasing every year, we don’t have enough water in the cities, let alone in the rural areas, and we’ve just lost a chunk of tropical fruit yield to a massive cyclone up north.

    It’s scary. 😦

  2. spotted elephant

    I didn’t know it was continuing. I hope it isn’t the warmest winter on record too. 😦

    Your father’s reaction shows how big the changes are. If you go your entire life with getting sunburnt once, then of course you’d try to find other explanations for what happened to you. It’s hard to accept. Though, good for him for coming around (my mother would stay stuck in old beliefs).

    The changes are terrifying, and I try to stay positive, but it’s really hard.

  3. Spotted-E, I get this in my inbox too. Even if we were to suppose that humans were not responsible for climate change, even if we were to suppose that this is just a transient, irregularly occurring climatic cycle, even suppose all that and more… does it really make sense to continue doing business as usual? Maybe we really ought to be investing money and resources into figuring out how we’re going to cope with a much different climate because, if for nothing else, if we don’t then there won’t be anybody left alive to buy cheap plastic junk from Walmart? I mean, think about what a bummer that’d be on the economy.

  4. spotted elephant

    Ha! No customers for Wal-mart? Bite your tongue. 😉

    But you’re spot-on in saying fine, let’s not argue about it, let’s just try to *deal* with it. I’ve read one to many articles on global warming being past the tipping point. Hearing climate scientists say we’re in for an interesting adventure makes my blood run cold. And, it’s paralyzing. So your perspective of learning how to deal with the changes is most welcome.

  5. i don’t know what you teach, or to whom. but you are an inspiration – the right kind of person we need educating. i bow to you and your efforts.

  6. Well, my mother is a redheaded, pale skinned Scot, so Dad eventually had to accept that when it comes to getting burnt in the Aussie sun, she kinda knows what she’s talking about it. She’s constantly having to get skin cancers cut off, and the damage that’s been done to her complexion is frightening. But she loves the sun, so she keeps going out in it.

    My siblings, who live all over the country, have reported similar things. They get burnt, and their kids get burnt, much worse than we did as children. As for the heat and winter, I read something the other day that suggested that if this continues, within 50 years there will be no more ski-able snow in Australia at all.

    We’re already into April, and I’ve only JUST had to start wearing jumpers. The usual autumn rain hasn’t turned up… it’s not right to be buying winter clothes, but to still be on water restrictions. And that’s just in the city. Over summer, my parents lost two horses, and they’re still trucking in feed. My partner is spending this weekend with his family in the country town that got sizeable publicity when their damn levels dropped below 10%.


    I wish I could add something positive.

  7. spotted elephant

    Cameo-Thank you! *blushes* I teach psychology at the community college level. And I think I end up using my posts to scream a lot.

    Hexyhex-That’s really interesting (in a bad way). People can handle things like water restrictions in summer-if that is an established thing. But when restrictions spread out-possibly to being constant instead of seasonal-then what happens?

    Australia is such an amazing place-to have everything from desert to mountains to rainforest. I wish you weren’t seeing the effects in all those areas.

    I’m very sorry about the horses. I hope that doesn’t continue. I’m not sure it’s possible to find positive things about any of this. 😦

  8. You’ve actually just nailed the biggest problem we’re having to deal with. Over the past couple of decades, the problem was presented as being “The Drought”, which was a period of dramatic dry seen as anomalous to our “normal” weather. It’s now appearing that we aren’t dealing with “a drought” or “effects of El Nino”, but with permanent and lasting climate change. For a variety of reasons, Australia is getting dryer and hotter, and that isn’t something we can continue to just wait out. Climate researchers are desperately trying to hammer this into public perception, but they aren’t being too well received… the government bodies accept the research, but won’t make drastic change if it’s going to be unpopular.

    For example, we had a bit of drama over the summer when the dam feeding Sydney (our biggest city) hit a low of 36% capacity. It became very apparant that we needed to find a new water source. It was greatly exciting that this was being dealt with… and then the political spin machine stepped in. The State government ended up throwing its weight behind an unpopular and un-environmentally friendly plan for a desalination plant that would only provide water to affluent city dwellers, because they thought it would be more popular with voters. They ended up ditching the plan (thankfully!), but not because they saw the folly of it. They “found” deep water aquifers under the city (realistically, they were always there and they knew it) and are implementing a plan to pipe water from there to the dams.

    Of course, they are also finite, not to mention important. The sensible option seems to be implement water recycling (which can be done on a town to town basis, thus helping rural NSW as well) but it’s politically unpopular and easy for the Opposition to spin against, so the government won’t back it.

    *deep breath*


    This is how you can identify an Aussie. We can talk for hours about water.

    This country is amazing… I wouldn’t live anywhere else for the world. But it’s also a very harsh mistress, and our farmers have been struggling as long as there have been farms. It doesn’t take too much to make the situation unbearable.

  9. spotted elephant

    Now I know how to identify an Aussie!

    It doesn’t get any scarier than not having enough water. Having the politicians behaving stupidly when things get to this level must be beyond maddening.

    I’ve got the fairly typical American enchantment with Australia, going back to childhood when I learned about the animals living there (I wanted to move immediately). Thanks for educating me on some of the issues going on-I had no idea the water situation was *that* bad. I wish I could offer something helpful.

  10. Unfortunately, our government is dominated by men who have never lived in the country. Add to that the fact that farmers groups tend to be extremely conservative and… well… the actual farmers aren’t very well represented. Since most of the votes come from the city, it’s far too easy for the politicians to just ignore issues that to anyone with a brain are pretty serious… like not having water to grow food for the country. Doesn’t take too much thinking to realise that’s important, does it? 😉

    Our animals are awesome, as is our environment. And yeah, I wish there was a clear way to fix it all as well.

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