Sunday, May 18, 2014

Antarctica, part I

Here's the first of what seems very likely to be a series of posts about the news this week that the West Antarctic ice sheet is on the verge of collapsing. This is one of several tipping points that climate scientists have pointed to over the years and that has been a feature of my classes on climate change, including the previously-required third year "Human Ecology" class.

(The others, of course, are the arctic albedo and arctic methane feedbacks, both of which also seem to be well under way.)

The first connection I want to make is to this editorial here by Eric Rignot at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Rignot, quite sensibly, asks in near-despair "what next?" The time to act is now, he says, and yet rightly implies that climate scientists have no power to do so.

Our politicians, who do have the power, are grievously irresponsible, but the greatest opprobrium is to be reserved for the Koch brothers and their paid denialists.

Ordinary people, kept ignorant by the press and the denialists, have no idea just how much grief is now stored up as a result of these events.

Most of the news is about western places like Miami, which will disappear, but whose residents have resources to cope, the backing of a great nation, and inland, upland territory into which to retreat.

The place I'm most worried about is Bangladesh, a country of millions, most of whom are living on the global poverty line, a third or more of whose territory will disappear beneath the sea, possibly politically destabilizing the entire Indian subcontinent.

It will take a Churchillian act of leadership on the part of some as-yet unidentified politician or group of politicians to produce the action Rignot requires

Will it also take the loss of territory, a Rhineland, an anschluss, a Czechoslvakia, and finally a Poland?

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