Not Shying Away from Our Great Crisis

Hurricane Sandy
Hurricane Sandy by EUMETSAT

2012 brought the United States two more storms of the century, the famed Derecho that hit my area and of course, Hurricane Sandy. Each year, it becomes clearer we’ve created an environmental crisis that continues to threaten the human species.

The impact of climate change has become so obvious, BusinessWeek published a cover story after Sandy that declared, “It’s Global Warming, Stupid.”

Each year increases in heat, 2012 becoming the hottest on record.

Oceans remain embattled. More species are extinct. There is more CO2 in the air than ever before.

Businesses still need to move from pure ROI models to sustainable long term visions that embrace long term community health. We as people need to awaken to our wonton consumerism.

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The Anatomy of a Glacier

Cerro Torre Looms Over Glaciar Grande

Above, you can see Cerre Torre, a new mountain created in the last ice age, with Glacier Grande at its foot. The lake providing the reflection has been created by the ice sheet’s melting waters, and formerly was the bed of the glacier in previous eras.

Walking on a glacier can change your view of water (don’t forget to sign up for the Live Earth Dow Run for Water). An important fresh water reserve, the Southern Patagonia Ice Field is the second largest extrapolar ice field in the world, and has been dubbed a global resource by UNESCO. While touring the glaciers of Patagonia last month, I did such a walk, and received an education on these shrinking resources.

Cerro Torre Looms Over Glaciar Grande

When you see a glacier in its various stages moving towards the inevitable lake that awaits its melting waters, you are stunned (In the picture above, you can see me about to walk Glacier Grande’s ablation zone). I literally sat, watching several glaciers, poised for the crack of ice and the calving of their walls as they fell into the water.

The part most people see is the ablation zone, where net loss occurs. It’s in this area that you watch the ice flows falling or floating away from the glacier. It is also where you can see the greatest effects of global warming.

Glacial Melt.jpg

In the above picture of Glacier Grande, you’ll see several notations that highlight the glacier’s melting process over the past 25 years:

  • The section marked A represents the current glacier wall, 30 meters above the water surface.
  • B is a granite formation uncovered by the glacier, which is more than 40 meters high in points. This is also where the glacier wall was located approximately ten years ago.
  • With C we see where the glacier wall was 25 years ago. Global warming has had a significant impact on Glacier Grande.
  • D shows you sediment lines, depicting how high the glacier has been in past eras.
  • The ice floes depicted by E where originally part of the wall (A), and have calved. These mini icebergs were caught by the granite formation and eventually either melt or make their way into the larger lake.
  • F represents the larger ablation zone.
  • 4272981186_af0f7c4dc9_m.jpgIf you participate in a glacier walk you can see incredible ravines caused by glacial melt, shrinking and growing. The fracture zone occurs right before the mouth of the glacier where melting occurs. The constant creeking, the deep ravines, the imminent danger, and the fact that the valley you are walking in was carved out by an older form of the very same glacier reminds you of the great power water posesses.

    Walking a glacier can be a surreal experience, but can also be quite dangerous. In some cases the water moves in torrents, and carves massive falls and dangerous ice caves.

    Make sure you hire a guide who can show you how to do it using crampons, picks, and other equipment. In our case, we had three tour guides who helped ten of us. Believe me, we needed them. There were several dangerous bridges that could have yielded a 45-50 meter drop into the freezing lake water under the glacier.

    Glaciar Grande

    Geoff Livingston is a regular contributor to the Live Earth blog.

Five Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

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It’s one thing to acknowledge the climate change crisis, it’s another to actually change behavior. So here are some simple ways that I have changed to reduce my personal carbon footprint.

1) Eat less meat: One quarter of greenhouse gas emission have been created by the livestock industry. It takes many, many times the amount of grain to create that one pound of beef or chicken, than one pound of vegetarian food. While I like a great steak still, I have committed to eating vegetarian every other day, and trying to eat meat only once on the days that I do partake.

2) Buy a hybrid: It’s important to pay a little extra to support new environmentally savvy technologies. I did, albeit a Toyota Highlander Hybrid, and it’s 28 MPG local far surpasses the 20 MPG I was getting in my Acura TL. Further my Ducati gets 52 MPG, and is my preferred “off hours” vehicle of choice.

3) Metal or plastic canteen: I’ve got three metal ones now. Carrying filtered water instead of buying plastic bottles represents a significant reduction in greenhouse gas. Americans consume so much bottled water that one could compare it to an additional 500,000 cars on the road.

4) Weatherize your house: Homes are responsible for 21% of greenhouse gases in the United States, so this is a big one. We actually bought a weatherized home right before we got married four plus years ago. Even with high gas prices, the house still rarely sees a heating or electric (AC) bill greater than $100.

5) Shut down your computer at night: If you are a blogger like me, it’s easy to leave your computer on. That way you don’t have to boot up in the morning, right? But you are hurting the environment for those precious two minutes of time. According to MIT, “the surge of power when a computer is turned off lasts a few seconds and is insignifcant compared to the sustained energy used in keeping it on during periods of inactivity.” Admittedly, I forget to do this, but mindful power consumption (including light usage) is a continuing effort in our house.

What would you add to the list?

The Plight of the Bee

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I was stung by a bee the other day while bike riding on the Mt. Vernon Trail. The little bugger got into my helmet, and the sting was painful, causing quite a spastic moment for onlookers. But I have to say, when I got my helmet off and saw that the offender had survived its attack, I was happy. Bees, while little pests at times, are very needed… and endangered.

Bees, in particular honey bees, are disappearing from our world. There are a few reasons scientists are debating, but the impact on our food supply cannot be underestimated. Bees are a top pollinator and are often used in farms to ensure well, that crops actually grow. Without bees you are looking at a serious food crisis.

There’s a vaccine for honey bees now, which will hopefully resolve the issue. It’s not just honey bees. I’ve noticed that there a lot less bees around, in general. Yellow jackets, for example, are much less present in my neighborhood as compared to five years ago. They’ve migrated north.

Beyond bees there’s a larger trend at play, amphibians and bats have suddenly started dropping dead. The New Yorker chronicled the mass endangerment and possible extinction of these species in a recent article, which showed empirically that we are in the Sixth Age of Extinction.

It’s hard to argue deny that the rise of the human race is having a dramatic affect on our earth. Our incredibly burgeoning population and the resulting vast amount of pollution and excess energy burned is creating what I continue to believe is the crisis of our generation. The evidence is mounting, and worse, it’s accelerating. Whether it’s the bees or frogs, the Antarctic ice or the ocean temperature, we’ve created a ticking time bomb called climate change.

I’ve been blessed to do a lot of nonprofit work over the years, but this is the crisis of our generation. It seems though we acknowledge the issue, we are intent on letting it escalate until the consequences become dire. And that scares the daylights our of me. See climate change is nondiscriminatory, race, ethnicity, sex, age, region, economic status. It will affect us all. We have to do something.

And when I think of my own actions, increasingly I am focussing on this crisis. I continue to work with Live Earth as a social media advisor, and increasingly I am doing more privately to work on climate change. While I am sure this activity will continue to accelerate in my life, in the interim I’ll be grateful for my bee sting. I hope to get a few more this lifetime, climate change willing.