Cabbages in Greenland

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environment, science, weather

Greenland Thaws is a series of 13 photos by John McConnico on the NYT website, that will give you pause. I photoshopped a few of them, including captions:

Greeland Farmers

Greenlandic farmers are experimenting with vegetables that have never been grown commercially in the country. Kenneth Hoeg, the region’s chief agriculture adviser, says he does not see why southern Greenland cannot eventually be full of vegetable farms and viable forests.

Greeland Sheep Are Fatter

Ewes are having fatter lambs, and more of them every season. The growing season, such as it is, now lasts roughly from mid-May through mid-September, about three weeks longer than a decade ago.

Greenland Decorative Cabbage

People come from all over to gape at the plants, like these decorative cabbage, growing at [agricultural research station] Upernaviarsuk.

Local Produce

A Greenlandic supermarket is stocking locally grown cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage this year for the first time.

Back in the early 1960s, when global warming was only a theory, scientists predicted that the effects would be most dramatic in the polar regions. This is borne out by the dramatic lengthening of the growing season in Greenland, versus lower latitudes.

This posting is kind of a Rorshach test. Those from a limited perspective may see this single data point as evidence of human ingenuity and adaptability in the face of change, a triumph of free market economics, and conclude that global warming is not as serious as some make it to be. Those from a larger, planetary perspective, will likely be alarmed, for they understand that the earth’s climate is a large and complex system, with many feedback loops and interdependencies, and that a change at one point can trigger dramatic, and less benign changes elsewhere. The world’s leading scientists have articulated many of them.

I’m not a climate scientist, but I am a student of chaos mathematics and physics. I wish I could tell you where I first heard this, but a useful analogy is to envision the earth’s climate as a beach ball at rest between a particular set of sand dunes. It has mostly been in this stable state – resting between a particular set of dunes – since the last ice age. A few breezes may have rocked the ball from time to time, creating mini ice ages for example, but the earth’s atmospheric and oceanic currents have remained in the same configuration since the end of the last ice age.

Global warming represents a large enough energy input that could cause this ball to move, potentially kicking it into the air, where it would ultimately come down and find a new equilibrium, a new resting spot, possibly between a new set of sand dunes. As the beach ball moves to a new resting point, the ocean and atmospheric currents are reconfigured, dramatically altering worldwide weather and habitat.

The ice ages, and the intervening, opposite periods of relative warmth – are similar reconfigurations from the past, times when the beach ball was kicked into a new region on the beach. Transition periods – when the climate is seeking a new equilibrium – when the old pattern is dissolving and the new has yet to emerge – analgous to times when the beach ball is in motion – is the disaster scenario that disrupts everything, not just the lives of farmers in Greenland.

No one knows whether the climate has reached this particular tipping point – whether the ball is airborn and seeking a new equilibrium, invoking this disaster scenario – but it’s significant that the system has feedback loops, amplifying the inputs which push it toward this point of no return.

Al Gore is more optimistic than I, regarding our ability to deal with global warming. It would be one thing if we had a functioning, forward thinking government that could lead the world’s richest, most able nation – as well as the rest of the planet – into something approaching ecotopia, but we’re presently cursed with the most backward, unconscious leaders this country has ever seen, and lots of inertia and brokenness after they leave. This doesn’t even consider Lord Cheney’s demonic lust for a massively bigger conflagration in the Middle East by attacking Iran.

Despite the Democrats’ likely sweep in 2008, and despite the relative sanity of the leading Democratic candidates, my fear about 2008 is that it may be too little, too late – all the moreso if a triangulator like Hillary wins. I hope I’m wrong. I’d be more optimistic if the leading candidates were serious about getting out of Iraq, which is a proxy for admitting and coming to terms with America’s oil addiction, a root cause of global warming. I’d be even more optimistic if the leading candidates were serious about atoning for our country’s shameful acts overseas – necessary to move past war, and to get to cooperation, and to begin to make real progress on living in harmony on the earth. It can be done, if we want it. If the leaders are unwilling, we individual citizens will have to find ways to do this from the grass roots.

If we don’t change course in time, I foresee a period of resource wars – Iraq is the opening battle – which will ultimately be trumphed by the accelerating effects of climate change. It will spread well beyond farmers blessed with cabbages in Greenland. Erratic weather, disease and starvation – the horsemen of the apocalypse – will trumph and finally put an end to war, as people will be too busy simply trying to survive. The Hopi call it the time of Purification, which will either be achieved peacefully, or by force, until we humans get the message. And evolve.

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11 Comments

10 Comments

  1. whig  •  Nov 5, 2007 @4:12 am

    It isn’t maize that’s sacred corn, but hemp. And if humans begin to understand their connection to this plant, perhaps we can share a peace pipe and end war.

  2. erinyes  •  Nov 5, 2007 @6:45 am

    I fear you are right Maha.
    In the last Democrat debate, Hillary said she would pull our Military Forces out of Iraq, except for a number to deal with Al qaida and to protect “Our Embasy” , which is a euphanism for the sprawling base near Baghdad.
    In other words, if Hillary is elected, our military will be in Iraq for many years to come.

    I live on about an acre and a half lot near Orlando, I grow a lot of exotic plants like rare bamboos, bananas, macadamia, papayas. Orlando is about as far north as these plants will grow well because we generally get killing frosts in late Dec-Jan.
    Not so for the past few years, and I’m giving bananas away as fast as they pop up, I’m up to my ears in in them!

    Unless things change politically, I’m quite sure we will have resource wars not only in the ME, but across Central Asia, Africa, and even in the Arctic. Sadly, the majority of Earth’s oil and gas lies beneath Muslim lands,all the easier to sell this war on “terror”.
    All who resist will be “terrorists”, and all who oppose the wars will be friends of the “terrorists”.

  3. maha  •  Nov 5, 2007 @10:16 am

    I just came back from my morning exercise walk. Most of the sugar and norway maple trees are nearly as green as they were in mid-summer. I passed one tree that I think is a red maple because its leaves are smaller, and it was blazing orange, but that was an exception. Most other varieties of trees are just beginning to turn. Roses are gone, but I saw a patch of impatience that showed no sign of cold damage. This was all just a few miles north of The Bronx. Once upon a time the leaves were mostly gone by this time of year.

  4. goatherd  •  Nov 5, 2007 @11:52 am

    I am writing this from Bend, Oregon. There is one comforting difference between being here and being back home in NC, people are more aware and more willing to accept that we are seeing the effects of global warming. Of a dozen or so spontaneous conversations with people in Portland, lastweek most involved a healthy bit about global warming.

    Back home we are in the middle of an extensive drought, which is the category beyond extreme drought. It is the driest year on record, worse than 2002, which was the driest year on record at that time. Both the apple and the hay crops failed. Unfortunately, most people are still resistant to the idea that we may be part of the cause. After a few more years of difficulties, maybe they will face the facts.

    By the way, my smarter half estimates that our trees are six to eight weeks out of whack. Usually they have changed and dropped by now.

    Michael Byron of “Thoughts and Speculations” used an analogy similar to your “beachball” in a post about society and systems theory. Maybe that was where you got the analogy.

    I think about Alvin Toffler suggesting the need for “Cognicenti” to interpret and settle questions involving science, economics, etc, which have become far too complicated for the common stock of humanity, like myself, to deal with on our own. Instead we have a kind of ersatz cognicenti like the various “think tanks” who peddle their idealogical wares on issues which are well outside of their expertise. E.g. a local NPR program had a single guest from the American Enterprise Institute for an hour long talk show on global waming. Does that make any sense to anyone out there?

  5. Donna  •  Nov 5, 2007 @12:58 pm

    Extremes of climate change really put into perspective all those usual political wedge issues that fill so many minds. Kind of like dusting the furniture while a tornado approaches.

  6. Dave  •  Nov 5, 2007 @2:48 pm

    I’m waiting for Dana Perino to tell us that locally-grown-in-Greenland vegetables are one example of the obvious health benefits of global warming that she was talking about two weeks ago. Oy.

  7. Marcia Zuvanich  •  Nov 5, 2007 @4:01 pm

    Here in northern Oklahoma the trees are also about two to four weeks slow in turning colors and losing leaves. And while we have had almost 3 times the annual amount of rain this year, it has been in “gully-washers” and then very dry in between. My only thought about cabbages in Greenland was that maybe they’d be pesticide free. You think? I’m up in years and probably won’t experience all the fallout of global warming but I am concerned for the family I will leave behind. And I see nothing good in the political scene, so I just keep reading you, Maha, and hoping for the best.

  8. Ms. Clear  •  Nov 5, 2007 @6:59 pm

    Not that I don’t think global climate change may potentially be very serious, but there have been similar conditions in Greenland before. It’s known as the Medieval Warm Period.

  9. Doug Hughes  •  Nov 5, 2007 @8:54 pm

    Ms Clear – Any one of the symptoms of global warming might be a fluke. But the circumstantial evidence is becoming so damning, even the prez is giving the situation lip service. Lip service is all it is, as he wants all the objectives to be met voluntarily.

    We have to lay some heavy restrictions on coal-burning elec plants. We have to move to fuel efficiant cars. We have to fund the development of electric cars as the 2nd car for every family with 2+ cars. And we need to fund fusion R&D as a source for electric power.

    Which means we need a President AND Congress willing to stand up against the auto industry, big oil, the energy industry.. damn near every organized lobby except the Girl Scouts. And I don’t see it happening, even with the Democrats sweeping in ’08. All those industries have ways of spreading money around in DC.

  10. MNPundit  •  Nov 5, 2007 @9:02 pm

    Assuming anyone does survive, when things finally stabilized again, the opportunities for control (assuming the knowledge has been preserved) will be staggering.

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