OUR ENVIRONMENT

News you can use for the everyday environmentalist


NOVEMBER 2010
THE MOTHER OF ALL MELTDOWNS
Is Ice An Endangered Species?
Environmentalists often talk about "the canary in the coal mine." The reference is to the now-outdated practice of miners bringing caged canaries down into their mines. The idea was that the canaries, more sensitive to air quality than the miners, would serve as a biological early warning system. When the canaries started keeling over the miners knew it was time to beat feet back to the surface and clean air.
Nowadays the "canaries" are much more widely distributed. Mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles are all over the surface of the earth, in the skies and in the oceans. Serving as early warning indicators they eat many of the same things we do. They breathe the same air and drink, or swim in, the same waters. Unfortunately, they are telling us that they are in distress.
Natural phenomena can also serve as early warning systems. Nowhere is this more obvious than the increasing evidence that arctic and antarctic icepaps and glaciers all over the world are melting at an unprecedented pace. In the arctic polar bears and walrus are losing their cubs and pups as melting ice caps force them to forage farther "offshore" than in recorded history. They are stressed because the warming oceans are changing the distribution and abundance of the prey that they eat. The chemistry of the ocean is also changing as massive amounts of fresh water from these melts, and melting glaciers, flow into the ocean. Shorelines are moving inland as estuaries and other littoral environments become casualties of rising sea levels. These nurseries and sanctuaries for much of the world's seafood are flooding and losing their ability to nurture both marine and terrestrial species. Perhaps equally alarming is the impact of the glacial meltdown on fresh water supplies that help sustain life around the globe. The increasing rate of glacial melting means that the fresh water that used to feed rivers and streams, and support the life that depend on them, is now flowing directly into the ocean. The photos below illustrate the rate of melting for a glacier in Canada. The black and white photo is circa 1919, the color image is present day.
The culprit? The continuing increase in global temperatures. Scientific studies, and interpretation of the resulting data, continue to confirm the overwhelming consensus that human activities resulting in emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is turning us all into canaries.
WHAT WE CAN DO
The good news is that there is some good news. According to the US Department of Energy (DOE) global carbon dioxide emissions dropped 1.3% in 2009, to "only" 34 billion tons. This represented a drop of 435 million tons from 2008, the first drop in a decade. The DOE goes on to report that the reasons for the drop included the slowing global economy, slightly improved energy efficiency and cleaner energy production.
This means that two out of three of the indicators measured are the result of conscious actions on the part of consumers, businesses, and government. Although the overall situation remains grave we now have some definitive proof that we can have a positive impact on greenhouse gas emissions and the array of problems that global climate change produces. However, there is no doubt that a reduction of 1.3% does not mean we can relax. The "takeaway" is that we should continue to look for every means available to increase those positive numbers
Many areas in the US, from California, to Massachussetts to Hawaii have made commitments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions dramatically. In some cases several orders of magnitude over the next two or three decades. For the sake of ourselves, our children and grandchildren, and all the species we share our planet with we must continue on the path to lower greenhouse gas emissions
Below are three links to resources on the Net. Use them as a starting point to understanding the science and the imagery, video and still, on this vital topic.
National Geographic Videos
World View of Global Warming
Google Search On "Melting Glaciers"

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EDITOR'S NOTE: OUR ENVIRONMENT ONLINE was originally published in 1995. In that publication we reprinted a piece entitled "DEBUNKING RUSH LIMBAUGH ON THE ENVIRONMENT." It was originally published by the Environmental Defense Fund in New York. Over the years it has consistently been the most viewed page on this website. 
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