Archive for September, 2007

Sep 25 2007

WE ARE ALL TUVALU

Another day without a penguin dollar. One of the benefits of living without money. As world leaders gather at the United Nations for talk, more talk, there is more news about the ice.

The BBC says “Ice withdrawal ‘shatters record.'” Which means we have lost more ice than ever before:

“The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) said the minimum extent of 4.13 million sq km (1.59 million sq miles) was reached on 16 September.

The figure shatters all previous satellite surveys, including the previous record low of 5.32 million sq km measured in 2005.

Earlier this month, it was reported that the Northwest Passage was open.”

The fabled Arctic shipping route from the Atlantic to the Pacific is normally ice-bound at some location throughout the year; but this year, ships have been able to complete an unimpeded navigation.

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East Greenland 2 – Photo, Christian Morel



Words don’t do ice justice. You have to see it the ice to understand. There are human scientists who have dedicated themselves to better understand the ice. Their project is called the International Polar Year. They have some extraordinary photographs on their website, including many by a truly gifted photographer, Christian Morel. Look. Feel. Experience. Mourn the loss of the ice.


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Antarctic Peninsula – Photo, Christian Morel


Speaking to BBC News on Monday this week, Mark Serreze, a senior research scientist at the NSIDC, said: “2005 was the previous record and what happened then had really astounded us; we had never seen anything like that, having so little sea ice at the end of summer. Then along comes 2007 and it has completely shattered that old record.”

He added: “We’re on a strong spiral of decline; some would say a death spiral. I wouldn’t go that far but we’re certainly on a fast track. We know there is natural variability but the magnitude of change is too great to be caused by natural variability alone.”



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Svalbard – Photo, Christian Morel



And so what does it mean to you, this melting ice. The islanders of Tuvalu already know what is happening. Do you?

The Associated Press can help:

How would some of the United States’ best known cities look if seas rise by slightly more than 3 feet? It’s a disturbing picture.

The projections are based on coastal maps created by scientists at the University of Arizona, who relied on data from the US Geological Survey. Many scientists say sea rise of 1 meter is likely to happen within 100 years. Here is a look at what that might do:

Boston

Fourth of July celebrations wouldn’t be the same. The Esplanade, where fireworks watchers gather, would be submerged by a rising Charles River, along with the Hatch Shell where the Boston Pops stages its annual concert. Some runways at Logan International Airport will be partially covered, and the neighborhoods tourists know best would be smaller.

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Hatch Shell Boston Pops – Photo, Winslow Townsend, AP


New York

At the southern tip of Manhattan, sea water would inundate Battery Park City, now home to 9,000 people. Waves would lap near the base of the new Freedom Tower. Beachfront homes from the blue collar Rockaways to the mansions of the Hamptons, could be swamped by advancing surf.

New Yorkers seeking a change of scene would find it tougher to get out of town, since both runways at LaGuardia Airport would be partly underwater. But all that would pale compared to what would happen during a bad storm. If giant storm walls were built across key waterways, that might protect parts of the city, “but that doesn’t help anyone outside the gates,” said Malcolm Bowman, who leads a storm surge research group at Stony Brook University.

Miami

You can kiss goodbye the things that make south Florida read like an Elmore Leonard novel: the glitz of South Beach, the gator-infested Everglades, and some of the bustling terminals of Miami International Airport.

Many of the beachside places where tourists flock and the rich and famous luxuriate would be under water. Spits of land would be left in fashionable South Beach and celebrity-studded Fisher Island.

While the booming downtown would be mostly spared, inland areas near the airport and out to the low-lying Everglades would be submerged. Miami would resemble a cookie nibbled on from the south and east.

New Orleans

If the levees break again and the nation gives up the fight to save the lowest parts of New Orleans, the Big Easy would be reduced to a sliver of land along the Mississippi River, leaving the French Quarter and the oldest neighborhoods as the only places on dry ground.

Another article by Seth Borenstein of AP puts it this way:

Experts say that protecting America’s coastlines would run well into the billions and not all spots could be saved.

And it’s not just a rising ocean that is the problem. With it comes an even greater danger of storm surge, from hurricanes, winter storms and regular coastal storms, Boesch said. Sea level rise means higher and more frequent flooding from these extreme events, he said.

All told, one meter of sea level rise in just the lower 48 states would put about 25,000 square miles under water, according to Jonathan Overpeck, director of the Institute for the Study of Planet Earth at the University of Arizona. That’s an area the size of West Virginia.

The amount of lost land is even greater when Hawaii and Alaska are included, Overpeck said.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s calculation projects a land loss of about 22,000 square miles. The EPA, which studied only the Eastern and Gulf coasts, found that Louisiana, Florida, North Carolina, Texas and South Carolina would lose the most land. But even inland areas like Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia also have slivers of at-risk land, according to the EPA.

And for you college students:

Storm surges worsened by sea level rise will flood the waterfront getaways of rich politicians – the Bushes’ Kennebunkport and John Edwards’ place on the Outer Banks. And gone will be many of the beaches in Texas and Florida favored by budget-conscious students on Spring Break.

Spring Break! Gone! Kaput! Like Tuvalua!

If that’s not enough to get you moving, nothing is.




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Sep 17 2007

PEOPLE ARE PENGUINS TOO

For those of you I haven’t met, I am Penguin7. I’m off to the right on the photo up top. We received a lot of mail about No Penguin Retreat. Some of you humans think we’re a bit hysterical; some of you are very supportive. As for Anthony P. from Trenton, New Jersey – language, language, language. It’s all very well for you to think Global Warming is a hoax but just maybe we have a different perspective when it comes to this issue.

Anyway, some of us spent some time thinking about the inevitable species gap. There is a difference in the way we experience the effects of the climate crisis. But make no mistake about it, it may be the polar bears today, us penguins tomorrow, but sooner or later it will be your turn.

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The Pacific Island State of Nukulaelae Tuvalu – Seen From Space



This is the tiny island chain of Tuvalu. I think the people living on Tuvalu may understand the challenges of the climate crisis a little bit better than most humans. Their land may disappear in the near future. They are intimately connected to the issue of the melting ice. As the ocean rises, their island home comes closer and closer to extinction.

The people of Tuvalu are canaries in the mine. They are human bellwethers. And they have something to say to us all:

The group of atolls and reefs, home to some 10,000 people, is barely two metres on average above sea-level and one study predicted at the current rate the ocean is rising could disappear in the next 30 to 50 years.

“We keep thinking that the time will never come. The alternative is to turn ourselves into fish and live under water,” Tuvalu Deputy Prime Tavau Teii told Reuters in the South Korean capital where he was attending a conference on the environment.

“All countries must make an effort to reduce their emissions before it is too late for countries like Tuvalu,” he said, calling the country one of the most vulnerable in the world to man-made climate change.

Right this minute Tuvalu is experiencing the damaging effects of global warming: the warming ocean is damaging it coral reefs and affecting the fish supply. The rising seawater is infiltrating Tuvalu’s fresh water supply. The spring tides get higher each year and erode the coastline. And the warming ocean is spurring most ferocious cyclones.

Tavau Teii continues:

“We’ll try and maintain our own way of living on the island as long as we can. If the time comes we should leave the islands, there is no other choice but to leave.”

Teii said his government had received indications from New Zealand it was prepared to take in people from the islands. About 2,000 of its population already live there.

But Australia, the other major economy in the region, had only given vague commitments.

“Australia was very reluctant to make a commitment even though they have been approached in a diplomatic way.”

Maybe Anthony is saying, “well what do you expect living on a small island in the middle of the ocean?”

Well what about the people living in some of the driest land on Earth? Has global warming affected them? Yes, one of the impacts of global warming is to bring about more desertification.

Global warming brought about by increasing greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere is expected to increase the variability of weather conditions and extreme events. Many dryland areas face increasingly low and erratic rainfalls, coupled with soil erosion by wind and the drying up of water resources through increased regional temperatures. Deforestation can also reduce rainfall in certain areas, increasing the threat of desertification. It is not yet possible, using computer models, to identify with an acceptable degree of reliability those parts of the Earth where desertification will occur. Existing drylands, which cover over 40% of the total land area of the world, most significantly in Africa and Asia, will probably be most at risk to climate change. These areas already experience low rainfall, and any that falls is usually in the form of short, erratic, high-intensity storms. In addition such areas also suffer from land degradation due to over-cultivation, overgrazing, deforestation and poor irrigation practices.

The direct physical consequences of desertification may include an increased frequency of sand and dust storms and increased flooding due to inadequate drainage or poor irrigation practices. This can contribute to the removal of topsoil and vital soil nutrients needed for food production, and bring about a loss of vegetation cover which would otherwise have assisted with the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for plant photosynthesis. Desertification can also initiate regional shifts in climate which may enhance climate changes due to greenhouse gas emissions.

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Man Passes Mural of Drought, Melbourne Australia – William West/AFP



Drought in Australia has profound consequences:

The story of Australia’s worst dry spell in a thousand years continues to astound. Last year we learned, “One farmer takes his life every four days.” This year over half of Australia’s agricultural land is in a declared drought.

DROUGHT will become a redundant term as Australia plans for a permanently drier future, according to the nation’s urban water industries chief….

“The urban water industry has decided the inflows of the past will never return,” Water Services Association of Australia executive director Ross Young said. “We are trying to avoid the term ‘drought’ and saying this is the new reality.”

For you in the United States, a recent study in April in the journal Science “predicted a permanent drought by 2050 throughout the Southwest.”

An extraordinary number of you humans live in drylands.

Home to a third of the human population in 2000, drylands occupy nearly half of Earth’s land area. Across the world, desertification affects the livelihoods of millions of people who rely on the benefits that dryland ecosystems can provide.

In drylands, water scarcity limits the production of crops, forage, wood, and other services ecosystems provide to humans. Drylands are therefore highly vulnerable to increases in human pressures and climatic variability, especially sub-Saharan and Central Asian drylands.

Some 10 to 20% of drylands are already degraded, and ongoing desertification threatens the world’s poorest populations and the prospects of poverty reduction. Therefore, desertification is one of the greatest environmental challenges today and a major barrier to meeting basic human needs in drylands.

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Dunes in Douza, Tunisia – Fehti Belaid/AFP

All this sand is making me very nervous. And extremely thirsty. Not to mention very depressed.

Whether it’s too much sand or not enough ice, or too much water, we are all becoming bellwethers.

People are penguins too.

Have a good day, Anthony, wherever you are.
Penguin7





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Sep 11 2007

NO PENGUIN RETREAT, NO SURRENDER

Let’s start with us. It’s kind of scary to read an article with a headline like: “Retreat of the Penguins.

It only gets worse: “These bellwethers of climate change face a grave future.” Thanks a lot, Leigh Dayton.

It’s hard enough being a penguin these days. Who in their right mind wants to be a bellwether. Isn’t that a bit like being a canary in a coalmine? You die and warn humans there’s a problem. How many canaries do you think really wanted to find themselves in a coalmine?

Leigh Dayton writes about the work of seabird ecologist Eric Woehler from the University of Tasmania. Woehler came to check us out on Heard Island. He compared our numbers with photographs taken by Frank Hurley in 1929.

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Eric Woehler – Casey Antarctic Base

“With a click of the shutter the University of Tasmania scientist captured the same view: rocks, coastline, ocean, penguins. It was the same, but different.

“In the late 1920s there were about 250 breeding pairs,” says Woehler. “But when I was there in 2000 the colony was less than 20 pairs and grass had grown around the edge of the colony.”

… like his US colleagues Susie Ellis, Dee Boersma and Elizabeth Skewgar, Woehler fears that the past and the present signal a worrisome future for the world’s 17 species of penguins.”

If you’re hoping for a happy ending, it doesn’t get any better. Dayton continues:

“They face serious population decreases throughout their range,” the team writes in Conservation Status of the World’s Penguins, a report that Ellis presented this week at the sixth International Penguin Conference, meeting in Hobart.

Going further, the researchers use words unusual in scientific discourse: “grim progression”, “disconcerting decrease” and dire. All up, Woehler and company conclude that unless scientists, governments, conservation groups and the public take immediate action to reverse the trend, penguin populations will plummet. Many species face extinction.

That’s more than a tragedy for the seabirds themselves, Woehler says. “Penguins are the bellwether of climate change. As birds they’re pretty much at the top of the food chain and act as two-footed bio-indicators of the health of the environment, marine and terrestrial,” he says.”

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Photo – C. Spencer van Gulick

You wake up in the morning and the first thing you read is “penguin populations will plummet.” And that you face “extinction.”

Pretty harsh! If you had to pick would you rather be a bellwether or a two-footed bio-indicator?

So how are some of our other friends faring?

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Polar bears, Beaufort Sea, Alaska – Susanne Miller

It turns out we’re in some chilling race to the end with the polar bears up north. Who will the climate crisis claim first? Us or them. Or maybe both at the same time?

I wonder if you were us, whether you’d be a bit more diplomatic. John Broder and Andrew Revlin pull no punches:

“Two-thirds of the world’s polar bears will disappear by 2050, even under moderate projections for shrinking summer sea ice caused by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, government scientists reported on Friday.”

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Greenhouse gases – sounds so academic, doesn’t it.

This is the funny part:

“The finding is part of a yearlong review of the effects of climate and ice changes on polar bears to help determine whether they should be protected under the Endangered Species Act. Scientists estimate the current polar bear population at 22,000.”

So the issue is, should you declare polar bears an endangered species before or after you kill them all? I guess it’s all about the paperwork.

It sounds like they might make it a bit longer than us:

“The scientists concluded that, while the bears were not likely to be driven to extinction, they would be largely relegated to the Arctic archipelago of Canada and spots off the northern Greenland coast, where summer sea ice tends to persist even in warm summers like this one, a shrinking that could be enough to reduce the bear population by two-thirds.

The bears would disappear entirely from Alaska, the study said.”

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Another article from the AP lays out what life will be like for the polar bears.

“The situation is dire for polar bears, said Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity, who wrote the petition seeking federal protection for the animals.

“They’re going to drown, they’re going to starve, they’re going to resort to cannibalism, they’re going to become extinct,” she said.

As ice recedes, many bears will get stuck on land in summer, where they have virtually no sustainable food source, Siegel said. Some will try and fail to swim to sea ice, she said.

Bears that stay on sea ice will find water beyond the continental shelf to be less productive, she said, and females trying to den on land in the fall will face a long swim.

“It’s absolutely horrifying from the polar bear perspective,” she said.”

Horrifying. That sounds right.

And since I’ve become a bellwether, let me ring the bell for you. If we go, you may not be far behind.

How about this:
Expert says climate change will spread global disease.

According to Alistair Woodward, a professor at the University of Auckland:

“Climate change will have an overwhelmingly negative impact on health with possibly one billion more people at risk from dengue fever within 80 years, an expert said Tuesday …

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Child with dengue fever, Allahabad India – Rajesh Kumarsingh AP

Giving examples in a speech, he said that in China’s Jiangsu province the winter freezing zone has moved northwards. The water snail that transmits schistosomiasis had also shifted northwards, putting perhaps 20 million people at risk of the parasitic disease also known as bilharziasis.

In France extreme heat in August 2003 led to about 25,000 deaths. In the WHO’s Western Pacific region, a heat wave in summer 1998 increased mortality in Shanghai threefold.

Globally, said Woodward, the largest effect would be under-nutrition. “There will be some winners and losers, but overall, climate change is expected to have a negative effect on food production.”

That’s it for me. I’m going off to take a nap. I am one very tired bellwether. And there’s lots of work to do. Mobilize that penguin power. For us at Penguins United, there’s no penguin retreat, no penguin surrender!





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Sep 05 2007

IRAQ, WAR & GLOBAL WARMING

Penguin 11 isn’t one of those penguins who sticks out in a crowd. She’s shy and retiring. Quiet and smart. Many times we have to remind ourselves that she is in the room.

Just the other day, Penguin 11 came up to us with something she had thought about and asked whether this was something we would write about.

Some of you may well say this is something we should keep our beaks out of. Too political. Well it’s a bit late for that, don’t you think. Now that the ice is melting it’s everyone’s business. Don’t you think it’s important to see how we use energy?

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Rare Photo of Penguin 11 Jogging Far Right – Photo by Joan Koele



So without further ado, how about a nice hand and flipper-smack for Penguin 11:

Dear Penguins and friends of Penguins. As many of you know I spend a lot of time thinking and walking and walking and thinking. I think humans call it daydreaming. And sometimes days are long here.

Anyway, one day I was thinking about Al Gore. It’s not what you think. I’m very happy for Tipper. But I thought about how he spoke out against the war in Iraq, and how he speaks out against the climate crisis. But he doesn’t put them together. Some of us were able to see LiveEarth and I don’t think anyone really talked about the Iraq War & Global Warming. How much energy was being used by humvees, and tanks, and fighter jets and all those large bombers.

Anyway while vacationing in the Falklands, I decided to put some penguin thought to the matter. It was the end of yet another beautiful day when I decided to do some research.


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Photo Ben Tubby



With the help of Marsha at the internet cafe, I found this interesting article quoting Dr. Sohbet Karbuz who used to work in the energy statistic department of the International Energy Agency in Paris. The city of lights:

Which government agency is one of the world’s largest landlords and has a budget that could be ranked as the world’s 17th largest economy and could be ranked as the world’s 31st largest oil consumer and the world’s biggest purchaser of oil?

The United States Department of Defense (DoD)!

Here are some interesting statistics:

The Department of Defense is one of the world’s largest landlords with a physical plant consisting of more than 571,900 facilities (buildings, structures and utilities) located on more than 3,740 sites, on nearly 30 million acres” (121 400 km2) says the Base Structure Report for Fiscal Year 2005 of the US Department of Defense …

Defense outlays (actual expenditures) as a share of GDP is 3.0 in fiscal year 2006 ($424.4 billion). This figure does not include supplemental appropriations to cover costs of the war in Iraq.

The US DoD is the largest oil consumer in the US, and 31st largest in the world.

“Military fuel consumption makes the Department of Defense the single largest consumer of petroleum in the U.S” [2]

“Military fuel consumption for aircraft, ships, ground vehicles and facilities makes the DoD the single largest consumer of petroleum in the U.S” [3]

[The] American GI is the most energy-consuming soldier ever seen on the field of war.

“The Army calculated that it would burn 40 million gallons of fuel in three weeks of combat in Iraq, an amount equivalent to the gasoline consumed by all Allied armies combined during the four years of World War I.” [2]

In May 2005 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, Robert Bryce gives another example; “The Third Army (of General Petton) had about 400,000 men and used about 400,000 gallons of gasoline a day. Today the Pentagon has about a third that number of troops in Iraq yet they use more than four times as much fuel.”

The US DoD spent $8.2 billion on energy in fiscal year 2004.

“In fiscal 2005, DESC will buy about 128 million barrels of fuel at a cost of $8.5 billion, and Jet fuel constitutes nearly 70% of DoD’s petroleum product purchases.”[4]

For some, this is not enough though. “Because DOD’s consumption of oil represents the highest priority of all uses, there will be no fundamental limits to DOD’s fuel supply for many, many decades.” [5]

Sources:

[1] T. A. Mehuron, The Defense Budget at A Glance, Air Force Magazine, April 2005.
[2] Presentation by American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Red Cavaney held at the USAF/API Awards Banquet ˆ Arlington, Virginia, July 15, 2004.
[3] E. C. Aldbridge and D. M. Etter testimony before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee on June 5, 2001.
[4] American Forces Information Service News Article by G. J. Gilmore, DoD Has Enough Petroleum Products for Anti-Terror War, August 11, 2005.
[5] www.acq.osd.mil/dsb/reports/fuel.pdf More Capable Warfighting Through Reduced Fuel Burden, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, The Defense Science Board Task Force on Improving Fuel Efficiency of Weapons Platforms, January 2001

Here is a short excerpt from Robert Bryce’s article. We’re too broke to subscribe and get the whole thing:

The Department of Defense now has about 27,000 vehicles in Iraq—and every one of them gets lousy gas mileage …

Although the Pentagon has tried to reduce the number of fuels it consumes, and now relies primarily on a jet-fuel-like substance called JP-8, the Defense Energy Support Center is currently supplying fourteen kinds of fuel to U.S. troops in Iraq.

In short, the American GI is the most energy-consuming soldier ever seen on the field of war. For computers and GPS units, Humvees and helicopters, the modern soldier is in constant need of energy: battery power, electric power, and petroleum. The U.S. military now uses about 1.7 million gallons of fuel a day in Iraq. Some of that fuel goes to naval vessels and aircraft, but even factoring out JP-5 fuel (which is what the Navy primarily uses), each of the 150,000 soldiers on the ground consumes roughly nine gallons of fuel a day. And that figure has been rising.

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King Penguins, The Falklands – Ben Tubby




We are penguins and war and politics seems very complicated to us. But it seems to me that when people are thinking about simple ways to save energy – using compact fluorescent lightbulbs and buying hybrid cars – it would be worthwhile to think about ending this war. Save lives, save energy, save the ice!

No species survives without some violence. We survive on krill and small fish. But no species on earth is as strong or as powerful as yours. We have not endangered the Earth, our home and yours.

Yours truly,
Penguin 11





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