Monday, September 19, 2016

This Reality Is Becoming Too Pressing To Ignore

The other day I wrote a post describing how the National Media Council dismissed a complaint from a Toronto Star reader that arose from a New York Times story detailing climate change's impact on the people of Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana. The reader objected to the fact that climate change was cited as a reason the residents are facing relocation.

The judgement was that there was no need to provide a counterbalance, as the complainant insisted, on the climate change assertions made in the story; the Council declared that climate change is a fact that has been scientifically established, and hence junk science alternatives were not required for balance.

The fact of climate change is evident for anyone who cares not to indulge in willful ignorance. Increasingly intense storms, floods, droughts, habitat destruction, loss of biodiversity and wildfires are attested to in the media almost daily; it seems we have crossed a line, and the changes are happening far more rapidly than predicted by the models.

A case clearly in point is what is happening to the people of Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost municipality in the United States, now facing the prospect of becoming climate-change refugees.
Warming air, melting permafrost and rising sea levels are threatening their coastline, and researchers predict that by midcentury, the homes, schools and land around Barrow and its eight surrounding villages will be underwater. This despite decades of erecting barriers, dredging soil and building berms to hold back the water.

“The coastline is backing up at rates of 10 to 20 metres per year,” says Robert Anderson, a University of Boulder geomorphologist who has studied Alaska’s landscape evolution since 1985 and who first noticed in the early 2000s how alarming the erosion was becoming. “It’s baffling.”

When the sea ice melts, the coast becomes exposed to waves, wind and storms that slam into the shore, causing erosion. As ice moves farther from shore, waves can be six-metres high when they reach land, Anderson says.

“The only thing we can do, as far as I’m concerned, is move our towns inland,” says Mike Aamodt, the former acting mayor of Barrow and its surrounding villages of the North Slope Borough, which stretches over 230,000 square kilometres, an area larger than Southern Ontario.
Yet another danger the residents face is posed by a thawing permafrost:
As air and sea temperatures have notched up, there has been a warming of the permafrost, the thousands-of-years-old subsurface layer of frozen soil, rocks and water. That layer can be as much as 600 metres deep in parts of this area.

“Sometimes I have that eerie feeling — I’m, like, ‘Oh gosh, we’re on the permafrost,’ ” says Diana Martin, a Barrow-born Inupiaq who works in the town’s museum, over a bowl of caribou soup at her sister’s home a little more than a kilometre from the coast. “What if we start floating away?”
Adaptation has not worked in Barrow, and the remaining alternative, relocation, is fraught with problems, not the least of which are the costs that would be involved in such a migration:
One of Barrow’s nearby villages, Point Lay, “is (a mere) 400 people, 40 houses, big buildings, an underground utility system, pipes,” he says. But it’s “probably $500 million to move that town. Then we have Wainwright: We need to move that town, too. It’s on a bluff right against the ocean. That’s 700 people, so I imagine $700 (million) to $800 million.”
So the grave problems caused by human activity and indulgences are continuing apace, with no real plans for either mitigation or adaptation. It is all well and good, for example, for Barack Obama to call for $10 billion annually to combat climate change, but as you can see in the case of Barrow and surrounding Alaskan communities, that amount will prove a mere pittance in the very near future.


  1. There are "no real plans for either mitigation or adaptation" which leaves retreat as the default option. It's been estimated that it could cost Canada upwards of a trillion dollars to replace or rehabilitate our essential infrastructure coast to coast to coast. In a world obsessed with WalMart style, ever lower taxes, either adaptation or mitigation are deemed politically unacceptable. We can blame our self-serving political caste for not even trying but it would be pretty hypocritical for us not to accept the lion's share of the blame.

    We're flying "behind the power curve" which means we're probably going to run out of juice and fall out of the sky well before we can find a place to land. The same tipping point dynamic applies to societies as much as it does to climate change impacts. You reach a point of no return but you're usually well past it before you realize what's happened.

    When scientific necessity is processed through the political grinder it's a lose-lose result just about every time.

    1. As I have mentioned on more than one occasion, Mound, I am finding it increasingly difficult to hold out any real hope for the future; your comments epitomize some of the reasons. You, I know, have made a real study of climate change, and I have followed it fairly closely. I often wonder if the general populations of our consumer-obsessed societies understood the problem as we do whether it would make any difference in terms of behaviour and actions. As the time grows late, I am inclined to say it wouldn't.

  2. No, Lorne, the general level of awareness is pretty modest. Who can blame people for tuning out? They get a whiff of the magnitude of the problem and then glance at the people in charge and what they're doing about it. People are all too aware of their powerlessness to turn this around and nobody in a position of power is offering any meaningful vision. It creates a mindset where sacrifice can seem, at best, futile. The Keepers of the Keys have us locked in and they don't show any sign of wanting to change that.

    1. All too true, Mound, but even modest efforts that in themselves will not ameliorate the problem, such as not idling one's car, walking instead of driving when possible, seem beyond the ambition of far too many people. Of the big unneeded trucks and SUVs, well, I think they speak for themselves, don't they? As you said in your earlier comment, there is no way that we cannot accept the lions share of blame for this terrible situation.

  3. Hmmm
    600B to 1T for war and security.
    10B for the war on climate change

    1. The priorities of our political overlords are clear. Thanks, Sandy.