Taro Island: The First Provincial Capital to Relocate Thanks to Climate Change

“Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative.”
H. G. Wells

It was only a matter of time. It was bound to happen eventually, although perhaps nobody thought it would be this soon. Climate change isn’t going away any time soon and that leaves adaptation as the only short-term strategy available for any group suffering its consequences.

Case in point: a township on Taro Island (a provincial capital in the Solomon Islands) is planning to relocate itself. According to Reuters, it’s the first time a provincial capital in the Pacific Islands will have moved its entire population, in this case a group of up to one thousand people.

Taro is located east of Papua New Guinea and northeast of Australia. It’s a mere two metres above sea level. Given the latest projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change with sea level rise of up to one metre (although many expect that’s underestimated) by the end of the 21st century, it’s the most pragmatic move Taro’s citizens can consider. Given the increasing risk of storm surges, tsunamis and floods, they made the decision to build a completely new town on higher ground at a larger nearby island which will be able to accommodate about 5,000 inhabitants in total. Taro’s citizens will move there in stages but it’s easy to imagine that other climate change refugees in the south Pacific may want to reserve spots as well. Continue reading

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The Late, Great Robin Williams and His Take on Global Warming

This past week, we lost a comedy giant. Like many, I adored Robin Williams from the first moment I saw him as Mork from Ork on “Happy Days.” I even got the opportunity to meet him briefly a few years ago in a Meet & Greet after he did a comedy show at Casino Rama not too far from where I live.

So like many, I was devastated when we lost him this past week. I found a clip from his 2002 show “Robin Williams Live on Broadway” where he addressed global warming. I appreciate the opportunity to laugh about global warming because it eases the pain. Not only the pain of our planetary plight, but also the pain of losing a great comedy giant.

Enjoy.

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Bill Nye Teaches Climate Change 101

“Climate change is happening, humans are causing it, and I think this is perhaps the most serious environmental issue facing us.”
—Bill Nye, the Science Guy

Most people know about Bill Nye the Science Guy. He’s helped to educate many kids about scientific issues with his Disney / PBS television program that ran during the 1990s entitled “Bill Nye the Science Guy.” (I think many adults learned from that show as well; I for one can tell you it was very entertaining.)

Bill Nye continues to educate and advance science in many ways. One that’s particularly meaningful to me as an astronomy buff is that he is connected to the Planetary Society, an organization co-founded by Carl Sagan and of which I have been a member for nearly thirty years. From 2005 to 2010 he served as vice president and since then he has been its Executive Director.

I found a short video that Bill Nye narrates called Climate Change 101. In just four and a half minutes he touches on many important aspects of the problem of climate change. There’s even a simple yet elegant experiment showing the impact of carbon dioxide on increasing atmospheric temperature that helps make the point clear: carbon dioxide is a major player in global warming.

Watch the video and see how well and how eloquently Bill Nye defines this important issue, making it very clear that the time for us to act is now.

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Ozone: Good Up High, Bad Down Below

“It isn’t pollution that’s harming the environment. It’s the impurities in our air and water that are doing it.”
—Dan Quayle

Once I made a comment on a blog post about some of the polluting effects from the use of fossil fuels. Among other things, I referred to the harm caused by ozone. I didn’t specifically refer to the type of ozone, but at least one person was misled because he commented back to me that the Montreal Protocol from 1989 helped the problem of depletion of the ozone layer and questioned whether I really knew what I was talking about.

So to clear things up, let’s look at the different types of ozone we have on our planet. My comment wasn’t referring to the ozone layer high up in the stratosphere as that reader was misled to believe. That ozone layer is referred to as stratospheric ozone for that very reason. It’s very high up, about 20 to 30 kilometres above Earth’s surface. Its concentration is very small, about 600 parts per billion on average. It forms when ultraviolet (UV) radiation strikes oxygen molecules (O2), splitting them into two separate oxygen atoms. Each separate oxygen atom can combine with another complete oxygen molecule, allowing ozone (O3) to form.

Decades ago concerns were raised about chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) destroying the ozone layer which is known to be very protective from the harmful effects of UV radiation. This is because ozone is very good at absorbing UV energy. But CFCs break apart ozone molecules, depleting them from our atmosphere and allowing more UV to hit the Earth’s surface. The Montreal Protocol in 1989 helped to ban CFCs and in the decades since, we’ve begun to see some increase in the ozone layer, demonstrating that we’ve made some progress in one component of protecting our planet’s atmosphere.

Ground level ozone is different. It exists in the troposhere and is, therefore, referred to as tropospheric ozone. The troposhere is located from Earth’s surface up to anywhere between 12 and 20 kilometres up. Continue reading

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Merchants of Doubt: A Must-Read

“Doubt is our product, since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.
—from an internal memo written in 1969 by a tobacco company executive

When you put yourself out there writing a regular blog on global warming and climate change, you open yourself up to attacks from skeptics and deniers and I get them all the time. A few of them are reasonably-framed questions from people who are intelligent and well-read, but who choose to accept certain theories that are far from mainstream. Most, however, are simple attacks with no basis in facts, science, or evidence. How do you respond to someone who writes “Environmentalists are going to destroy the economy with their left-wing agendas.” Whether in blog comments or tweets, I’ve gotten used to these and have developed a thick skin.

Many deniers make the argument that people who promote alternate energy sources have a hidden agenda. Namely, to push socialist, left-wing policies, advocating bigger government, greater regulations, and higher taxes. (This, of course, flies in the face of some simple reality. Behind these arguments are individuals ultimately connected to the fossil fuel industry who obviously have their own agenda: to protect profits.)

But it’s more complicated than that. Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway have written a brilliant book entitled “Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming.” Through their exhaustive research, they have been able to dissect exactly how doubt is used to sway people away from science and facts. The book reviews how various groups in the last fifty years have done their best to maintain their own agendas (which are typically motivated by profits) and denigrate scientists and science. This has happened a number of times:

  • the tobacco industry argued that tobacco doesn’t cause cancer, that science hadn’t answered the question definitively, and that enough doubt was present such that enforcing any regulations would be premature and costly.
  • big business argued that their emissions containing sulphur dioxide didn’t cause acid rain to any harmful extent, that science hadn’t answered the question definitively, and that enough doubt was present such that enforcing any regulations would be premature and costly.
  • the chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) industry argued that CFCs don’t damage the ozone layer, that science hadn’t answered the question definitively, and that enough doubt was present such that enforcing any regulations would be premature and costly.

Sound familiar? How many groups out there—with misinformation that can always be traced back to the fossil fuel industry—have made the same argument today regarding global warming? “Greenhouse gases don’t contribute significantly to global warming, science hasn’t answered the question definitively, and enough doubt is present such that enforcing any regulations would be premature and costly.” Continue reading

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