Something in the Air

Something in the Air

Climate Change affects the election

© Bryan Zepp Jamieson

October 28th 2012

Once again, a rogue weather pattern has everyone transfixed this weekend. This time it’s “Frankenstorm”, the aptly named confluence of a hurricane, a nor’easter, an arctic blast, and a winter storm from the Pacific. They’re supposed to more-or-less merge over New England, and up to a million square miles of northeastern America and southeastern Canada are going to see some of the wildest weather seen since at least 1991 (“The Perfect Storm”) or 1938 (“The Labor Day Hurricane”) or, well, whenever. I’m hoping, for the sake of the hundred or so million people in the region, it turns out to be a bit of a fizzle. In part because I don’t want people to suffer, and partly because the region is a Democratic stronghold. Well, OK, Quebec and Ontario not so much, but they’re far enough to the northeast that it will probably turn into an unusually large snowstorm, something they can deal with.

It comes right after four debates over the past month in which the topic of climate change was never mentioned. That’s something that affects people far more than abortion, gay marriage, defense spending, taxes or even Obama’s college transcripts. For starters, it will cost them far more, and is more likely to kill or dispossess them than any of the items listed.

Back last March, a heat wave struck the same region now ducking the wrath of Frankenstorm and sent temperatures soaring 10, 15, even 20 degrees—not above normal, but above all-time records for the dates. Just imagine if a pattern like that set up in July! It not only can happen—it will.

The apologist chorus will begin immediately, of course, saying you can’t ascribe a single weather event to global warming. But in this case, the role is fairly obvious. The mid-Atlantic coastal waters are about five degrees above normal for this time of year. That’s why Hurricane Sandy is arriving with so much punch. The winter storm out of the west, which dumped an unusual couple of inches of snow on us last Monday, is the direct result of higher-amplitude, lower-frequency Rossby waves, the meanders in the polar jet stream that are affected by the amount of open water in the Arctic. Even the cold air coming in from the north is moister than usual, the result of open waters where there used to be ice. There’s also a blocking high over Greenland helping to compress the four elements together, itself a result of the slower Rossbys and the increased open water.

As I said, I hope Frankenstorm fizzles. But if I lived in the affected region right now, I would have two weeks of food and water at hand, and sources of heat and light for the same amount of time in case the power is out that long.

Congruent to all this was an article by Naomi Klien, who lives on the central coast of British Columbia. A few hundred kilos to the north of her, off the islands of Haida Gwaii, she wrote, “an American entrepreneur named Russ George dumped 120 tons of iron dust off the hull of a rented fishing boat; the plan was to create an algae bloom that would sequester carbon and thereby combat climate change.” The mechanism is well known and understood, and it did exactly what it was expected to do: created an algae bloom. George claimed that his ‘experiment’ of dumping 120 tons of iron dust onto Pacific waters resulted in an algae bloom “half the size of Massachusetts.” That it sequestered carbon is beyond question, but missing from George’s announcement was any sort of meaningful estimate on how much was sequestered. Let’s be generous and assume it resulted in the sequestration of a thousand tons of carbon. To restore the CO2 levels to 1900 levels would require the removal of about 150 gigatons of carbon. So you would need at least 15 billion tons of iron to effect meaningful change. Doubtlessly killing off most other forms of aquatic life in the process. That’s over a hundred million boat loads. I’m sensing some tactical issues here.

And here’s an objection that even the climate science deniers will have to acknowledge: how much did that experiment cost? Now multiply that by a hundred million.

Hmmm. Maybe technology won’t solve the problem.

In one of the little ironies of life, a few weeks after George conducted his little experiment, the region was hit by a 7.7 earthquake. And no, there’s no relationship between the two events: George’s experiment did no more to cause the earthquake than the earthquake did to cause George’s experiment. Unlike fracking and earthquakes, there’s no link at all.

But it does bring home a truth: nature is far more powerful than all the technology, all the inventiveness, all the theory and all the money in the world.

The east coast is getting a demonstration of the fury and destructiveness that global warming will bring to us. It dwarfs George’s experiment, and shows what an exercise in futility it was. And even an unrelated event that just happened to be located in the same area reinforced the lesson.

Humans can mitigate global warming, but it’s going to take far more than tossing some metal filings on the waters and calling it good. It’s going to require a power of human resolve at least equal to that of Frankenstorm, and not just for a weekend, but for decades.

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