Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Musings: Heating Up

Outside last evening in the blue twilight, looking up at Venus twinkling mightily as pink wisps circled the cinder cone, then back out a little later, when the sky was all black and she could be seen again, with Saturn to her right and Mars to her left, creating a beautiful triangle of planets. Mercury was part of the picture, too, but had either just set, or was a little too low to be easily seen.

This was a scene from what Andrew Cooper calls The Great Planetary Conjunction of 2010, with tomorrow night promising a particularly pretty sight as a crescent moon joins the group. It’s also the height of the Perseid meteor shower, although viewing should be good tonight, too, if you can escape the clouds.

It’s hard to believe a lot of people can’t see the night sky, and even harder to believe that they don’t mind. How have humans gotten to the place where they’re willing to sever their own personal encounters with the heavens, forego something that has been such an integral and enduring part of the human experience?

Meanwhile, giant wake up calls related to climate change are happening all over the planet: floods in Pakistan, a huge ice island breaking off from Greenland, landslides in China and fires raging in heat-ravaged Moscow, where attention is now focusing on the release of radioactive material as forests heavily contaminated by the Chernobyl disaster burn.

As a journalist friend who specializes in writing about radioactive noted in an email:

The fire is releasing the same thing as four Chernobyls right now, maybe as high as seven. I'm trying to work up an equivalent of Hiroshima bombs, that will take a little time. The numbers are simply immense.

Russia and the EU are fucked. The stuff is very low in the troposphere, but, the chances of it going world wide in the next year are good.

Some of the fires in the contaminated area were ignited in June, but officials denied it until just recently, which also raises doubts about their current claims that it’s “no problem," which is what a lot of folks have been saying about global climate change.

Yet as meteorologist Dr. Jeff Masters noted in a Democracy Now! report:

Well, the entire world, if you look at the past six months, has experienced its warmest year on record, going back to the late 1800s when we first started making measurements. And so, it’s not a surprise that we might be seeing record heat waves and record high temperatures being set. In fact, there are seventeen countries in the world that have set their extreme all-time heat record this year. And that’s the most we’ve ever seen. The previous time was back in 2007, when fifteen countries set their all-time heat record. And those heat records this year include a 128-degree Fahrenheit reading in Pakistan, which is the highest temperature ever reliably recorded in the entire continent of Asia. So there’s been heat all over the globe. The ocean temperatures have been at record warm levels this year, and including in the Tropical Atlantic, where we’re expecting a severe hurricane season. So, it’s heat, heat, heat, is the name of the game this year on planet earth.

And over at Raising Islands, Jan TenBruggencate has an interesting post on how climate change may be affecting ocean productivity:

Phytoplankton, the tiny forms of plantlife that are base of the marine food web, have declined 40 percent in the past 60 years, according to a new study.

Of course, that's not the only issue facing us, or the only one that people are denying. We've also got Time Magazine and people like Rush Limbaugh trying to make the claim that the environmental impacts from BP’s oil well spew are being “overblown.” Yet a recent workshop hosted by the Institute of Medicine made it clear that no one really knows how it will all play out:

"The potential physical, psychological, and socioeconomic impacts of the Gulf oil spill and clean-up response on the short- and long-term health of individuals in the affected region--including land- and sea-based clean-up workers, fishermen, and other commercial workers, residents, visitors, and communities as a whole--are unknown," reads the report.


Sandhya said...

This week marks one year since I moved from Kaua`i to the San Francisco Bay Area. It's a great loss to me that on many nights I cannot even see the moon because so many buildings block the view. The planets are visible, but do not seem so bright as on the Island, and the stars--so few, and far away. Remembering those night skies over the North Shore--glorious.

Anonymous said...

Europe considers light pollution a land use issue and it is highly regulated.

Anonymous said...

That's because Europe is a socialist society where people come first. In America, a capitalist society, money comes first.

Anonymous said...

Money is good.

Anonymous said...

I've never met a dollar bill I didn't like.

Wish I could say that about people.