SUMMARY: Super scientist Kevin Trenberth on why oceans now hottest in recorded history, why that can make Europe colder. Stephen Leahy: we bankrupt water supplies with consumer purchases. Rob Aldrich on a generation with Nature Deficit Disorder. Radio Ecoshock 141203
Welcome back to Radio Ecoshock. Not a week goes by without a new, strange, and dangerous threat emerging out of the shadowy future. We start with the biggest under-reported story: unseen by land mammals, the world’s oceans are heating up. That determines the future and the new coastlines for hundreds of years. We’ll talk with Dr. Kevin Trenberth, one of the world’s top climate scientists.
Did you know great rivers of fresh water are travelling around the world, hidden in the consumer products we buy? Environmental journalist Stephen Leahy explains his new book “Your Water Footprint”.
Then Rob Aldrich says “yes, there is a growing health crisis in the Western world, and the cause is Nature Deficit Disorder”.
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KEVIN TRENBERTH ON THE HOT OCEAN
Not sure about global warming? Here’s a little fact that should grab your attention. According to scientists at the University of Hawaii, the world’s oceans are hotter than they have ever been in recorded history. It’s a dangerous trend, and you and I may have triggered that fever.
We have one of the world’s top climate scientists joining us now. Dr. Kevin Trenberth is a transplanted New Zealander. He’s now the Distinguished Senior Scientist in the Climate Analysis Section, at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, in Boulder Colorado. His advice and science is cited all over the world.
Dr. Kevin Trenberth
According to news reports, water off New England is warming faster than almost anywhere on earth. Why is that, and what does it mean? We find an interesting connection between colder weather in Europe in recent years, and a warmer North Atlantic ocean.
He says the hotter North Atlantic may be partly a decadal rhythm. Then he adds:
“We think part of the reason the North Atlantic is as hot as it is actually stems back to some of the actions in the Pacific Ocean, through what atmospheric scientists call “Tally connections” – large waves in the atmosphere that have been associated actually with cooler conditions in Europe at that time. So the main cold outbreaks that have occurred in recent years have been in Europe rather than over the North Atlantic. As a result, the North Atlantic has been more benign and the temperatures have warmed up there.“
In his answer Dr. Trenberth mentions “Talley Connections” named after Professor Lynne D. Talley, Scripps Institution. Dr. Talley is an oceanographer and co-editor of a textbook and scientific reference used by millions.
EL NINO – YES
Even though scientists have not declared a full El Nino for 2014, Trenberth says:
“There’s a developing El Nino and I think we are actually in El Nino conditions, and that has altered conditions throughout the tropics and sub-tropics, and is also having an influence over the West Coast of North America.”
He also connects this developing El Nino for the very active hurricane season (with major and even record storms) hitting places in the Eastern Pacific (including Japan).
SEA LEVEL RISE IS THE BEST INDICATOR OF GLOBAL WARMING
One way we can be sure ocean temperatures are rising, beyond the wide-spread network of ocean buoys, is the steadily rising sea level. Since 1992, we have satellites accurately measuring sea level. It’s going up at 3.2 millimeters a year, now. That’s expected to increase as warming gathers strength. For non-metric people, that adds up to a rate of a little over a foot per century – caused by two processes: ice melt from land-based glaciers like Greenland or West Antarctica; and heating of the oceans (heated water expands).
He says that sea level rise is a better indicator of climate change than measuring just global atmospheric temperatures. Other new science suggests we have underestimated warming in the oceans.
IS THERE A WARMING “HIATUS” AND IS IT OVER?
I ask one of the key questions for both scientists and the public: a few scientists suggest this ocean heating may signal the end of the alleged hiatus in global warming. Do you agree there has been a pause in warming, and second, does this imply a new warming spell is arriving?
Kevin Trenberth explains that ocean temperatures, global mean temperatures, and temperatures experienced by humans over land all operate differently. The alleged “pause” experienced on land temperatures has not been mirrored by any pause in ocean heating, or the rise of sea levels, which are steadily upwards. 2014 is on track to be the hottest year on record. I will add this note: even though North America is experiencing a cold spell, Australia is quite hot, and the Arctic is way over normal temperatures.
Trenberth also says starting from the previous hottest year on record, during the 1997/98 El Nino distorts our view. We need to start from at least 1990, and then the trend is up, up, and up. “The two thousands are certainly a lot warmer than the 1990’s. The “haitus” could be over, but it’s hard to tell, because the current El Nino conditions are releasing heat from the Pacific Ocean.
He describes the strange increase in Antarctic sea ice area (though not necessarily an increase in volume). A change in the winds are part of that. Just as the northern hemisphere Jet Stream has loosened into larger slow loops of weather, the southern Polar winds have drawn closer to Antarctica, reducing rainfall in Australia.
I ask if this just shows the different in polar geographies, where the North Pole is in an ocean surrounded by continental land, while the South Pole is itself a small continent, surrounded by vast oceans. He says that is partly true, especially since the Arctic sea ice can never expand beyond the boundaries imposed by land.
THE LINK BETWEEN THE OZONE HOLE AND ANTARCTIC SEA ICE
A second important factor is the ozone hole in Antarctica!
“And so the ozone whole has been a really big contributor to ….the ‘polar vortex’. There’s a very strong set of circumpolar Westerly winds in the Southern Hemisphere. That is partly caused by the lack of ozone. That’s for the most part a separate problem relative to global warming but it’s contributed so some of the changes and is probably one of the factors in the differences between the two hemispheres as well.”
MORE WATER IN THE AIR FUELS STORMS
Kevin reminds us that the warmer atmosphere means there is about 4% more water in the atmosphere now, compared to 1970. That adds energy to storms. It can also lead to extreme precipitation events (happening all over the world) which can be record rain, or snow if the air is colder. Sound familiar?
Increased winds have also created more ocean mixing. That means more heat is being drawn down into deeper levels of the ocean, thus hiding some of our warming impact. But that heat will also come back out at some time. Warmer seas, Kevin agrees, can lead to warming that goes on for centuries, even after we stop pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Kevin Trenberth: “What we are doing now has consequences for decades and even centuries into the future. And this is why scientists are quite concerned, very concerned about the global warming phenomenon.
By the time we, maybe the general public recognizes that it’s a serious problem, it’s a bit too late to do very much about it, because a lot of it’s going to continue regardless, and we will then have to live with the consequences. So this is one of the clarion calls of scientists that we need to worry about the fact that the oceans respond in a very slow and sluggish fashion.“
Finally I ask Kevin Trenberth what he thinks of the observations by Dr. Jennifer Francis, that weather over North America has been heavily influenced by summer melt-back of sea ice in the Arctic. He’s not entirely sure about that proposal. Instead, Trenberth points out the recent impact of tropical storm Nuri, which pushed Arctic air south. In any case, the Arctic sea ice is frozen over during winter, and so should not be affecting winter weather.
Something is twisting winter weather out of shape, that’s for sure. Next week I hope to get in a short ramble about how the Arctic has been abnormally hot, while most of North America suffers through an unusually early deep freeze.
MORE WATER NEWS WITH STEPHEN LEAHY
Either you have enough water or you don’t. Life of all kinds depends upon the answer to that question. Along with farmers, all big cities wrestle with water issues. And some of that precious water disappears half a world away, to make the products we buy.
That’s all in the new book “Your Water Footprint, The Shocking Facts About How Much Water We Use To Make Everyday Products.” It’s by the professional environmental journalist Stephen Leahy.
Environmental journalist Stephen Leahy
This book takes us places I didn’t expect. Just the cover is shocking. Really – does it take 240 gallons of water to make a modern mobile phone? How is that possible?
Steve explains all the components of that smart phone take large amounts of water to mine, process, and assemble. That’s true when we add up the water required to make practically everything we buy.
Stephen Leahy says “I’m probably wearing about 20,000 liters of water right now. And that’s just pants, a shirt, a sweatshirt, socks, and a pair of shoes.” That’s over 5200 gallons of water for one set of clothing!!!
I remember Lester Brown of World Watch saying on Radio Ecoshock that countries don’t export wheat, they export the water used to grow it. Places like Australia can hardly afford to do that.
All this adds up to a hidden international water trade, via consumer and industrial products. If we could see it, Leahy says, these would be rivers of water flowing out of North America as food, and back in from places like China and Malaysia as clothing, gear, appliances and all that.
So what? Isn’t there enough water? That depends where you live. There’s been a lot of news about millions of people in Sao Paulo Brazil almost running out of water. In the United States, more millions of people depend on the big underground reserves in the Ogallala Aquifer. Folks joke without that, certain States would dry up and blow away.
On the plains of India, farmers are drilling deeper and deeper. Water use is far greater than the rate of replenishment. Those wells will eventually run dry.
Leahy tells us right now about 1.2 billion people on earth face chronic water shortages. There’s another 2.5 billion who occasionally have water shortages. “Only about half of the people in the world has access to piped water.” The rest have to haul it. About 20 percent of people in the world have no access to clean water. They have to use whatever polluted water they can find, and of course many die from easily preventable diseases.
DIRE PREDICTIONS FOR FRESH WATER AVAILABILITY
Leahy tells us:
“Even by 2025, which isn’t that far away now, three in five people will be facing water shortages, the experts predict.“
That’s partly because we need water to produce energy. The oil and coal industry sucks up millions of gallons of water. Fracking grabs mountains of fresh water, pollutes it terrible, and then removes that water from general circulation by pumping it into deep wells.
Add in all the irrigation and other needs to grow food, as the population expands by more billions, and as that larger population demands more consumer products (and meat) – we are headed to a big, big water crisis.
Here’s the thing I like about Stephen Leahy’s new book (which is based on years of his reporting global environment stories for major news services): it’s crammed full of charts and graphs which make it easy. Frankly, I wasn’t looking forward to reading another thick book of print. So it was a welcome surprise to find this one beams shocking and important info directly to your eye and brain. Pretty well every page is a large well-illustrated and labelled graphic. It’s staying near my desk as a reference.
You can find “Your Water Footprint, The Shocking Facts About How Much Water We Use To Make Everyday Products” wherever books are sold. Follow Stephen Leahy’s reporting at stephenleahy.net.
Many times, I’ve read one of Leahy’s stories, and then found it trending in major media up to six months later. He’s one of the last true full-time environmental journalists around. Support him if you can.
As just one example, I ask Steve what he’s working on. It involves stories about the next toxic waste sites springing up across the developing world. Factories with little supervision, with the blessing (or corruption) of local governments, are using old toxic techniques to create local labor (and wealth) at any price to the environment.
Think about “Love Canal” the toxic site famous in New York State. The U.S. has hundreds of “superfund sites” that are slowly being cleaned up (somewhat). That manufacturing moves East to China, the Philippines, Malaysia, India, and parts of South America. We can expect to find loads of places where it’s unsafe to live, due to chemical or even radiological pollution. Due to poverty, people will live there anyway, and get sick, and their babies will get sick.
Someday a map of the ruined world will be published, and people will wonder why anyone let that happen. We don’t ask about toxic pollution from factories that make our consumer goodies. And they don’t tell. Stephen Leahy is one of the few journalists on that story. It’s going to be huge, and you’ll hear about it from mainstream media years from now, after the damage is done. So sad.
For a surprising twist, try this article from the US Geological Survey people. In parallel with the slight US reduction in energy, Americans are actually used 13% less water in 2013 than in 2005. There is less industry, and those that remain have improved their water handling. All that is being counter-balanced by huge increases in water use in other parts of the world.
NATURE DEFICIT DISORDER – ROB ALDRICH
It’s not an official disorder taught in medical schools. Yet. But as you’ll hear in this interview with Rob Aldrich of the Land Trust Alliance, some doctors are prescribing time in nature for problem children.
The term and idea of “Nature Deficit Disorder” was originated by author Richard Louv in his 2005 book “Last Child in the Woods“. The Land Trust Alliance joined other groups in raising the alarm, that this separation from nature is developing into a national health crisis in America, and likely in all industrialized countries.
Rob Aldrich is the community conservation director for the Land Trust Alliance, in Washington D.C. The Land Trust Alliance is formed by about 1200 land trusts, large and small, in the United States. In a land trust, the owners sign a covenant that prevents the land from being broken up, or from being wrecked. Taken together, these land trust are an important buffer where nature still exists.
The land trust movement is also growing because it has tax advantages, especially for farmers. A farmer may not be able to pass on the farm to the next generation, due to inheritance taxes. But if that farmer guarantees it will remain a farm, they can reduce the value of the land (because it won’t be developed into suburbs), and so reduce the inheritance taxes.
THE NATIONAL HEALTH CRISIS
Meanwhile, I’ve had reports that teachers in inner city schools can find up to 20% of the students have an inhaler with them. Asthma is that bad. Obesity is worse. Rob Aldrich describes the awful slide to obesity, even since 1990, in countless American states. Actually, they have counted those states, and in some, a full 30% of all citizens are greatly overweight, meaning 30 pounds or more for a person of about five feet five inches. It’s become a national health crisis.
Rob tells us another harsh story. Apparently some maximum security prisons are showing pictures of nature to their inmates, to help them cope with 23 hours of lock-up. But think about it – are some children now kept static in classroom seats, and then driven home to spend hours watching screens on phones, TV and video games – are they not also in a kind of 23 hour lock-down?
We hear about Dr. Robert Zarr and his Parks RX project. Parents with a “hyper-active” and hard to handle young girl came to them. He prescribed two or three hours a day, each weekend, in the largest park in the Washington D.C. area. The girl didn’t need drugs, or a fixed program of things to do in the park. Just take her there and let her run around, discovering things. She was cured. She really had “nature deficit disorder.”
Here is an NPR story “To Make Children Healthier A Doctor Prescribes A Trip to the Park.”
We hear about the “Wingspread Declaration” to get more people out into nature. Visit www.healthandnature.org to learn more about and endorse the Wingspread Declaration.
African Americans are getting on board with this health need for nature, with groups like “Outdoor Afro“.
Nature Deficit Disorder: I think we all have it. I make myself go outside for at least a couple of hours a day, more during the warmer months. We moved from the big city to see hills and the night sky. It’s working. How about you?
That’s it for another week of Radio Ecoshock. Please support your non-profit radio station, the people brave enough to tell it like it is. As always, you can listen again on our Soundcloud page, or download any and all of our past programs, from the web site, ecoshock.org.
As an aside, I’m adding some Indian instruments to my new tracks, thanks to an amazing plug in for my computer music program. It’s called “Swar Plug” from swarsystems.com. In Sanscrit, “Swara” means a musical note in the octave. You can listen to my first production with sitar and veena at the “Swar Cafe.” Scroll down on this page. It’s called “California East“.
I’m Alex Smith. Thank you for listening – and caring about your world.