March 24, 2014

Extreme Ice Survey

Whether we consciously engage them or not, we all, to a degree, possess certain notions about “normalcy.” For example, 98.6 F is generally considered to be “normal” human body temperature. Sleeping in on Saturday mornings is considered “normal.”  And these beliefs about what constitutes “normal” extend to things like weather, and tend to be informed by experiences from previous years. With the onset of climate change, however, these notions of “normal” weather are now regularly challenged, as temperatures lunge from one extreme to the other  and “epic” winter storms work their way towards us weekly.

Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska - James Balog

In monitoring the toll that climate change is exacting globally, there are also certain established notions of normalcy, otherwise known as “baselines,” people turn to when assessing damage or the extent of change.

One project aims to establish such a baseline through the constant photographing of glaciers around the world, while serving the dual purpose of creating a memory of a rapidly and permanently changing landscape. The Extreme Ice Survey, founded in 2007 by nature photojournalist and extreme adventurer James Balog, has scaled harsh terrain in order to mount 28 cameras far above 13 glaciers around the world in places of high scientific value, such as Greenland, Iceland, the Nepalese Himalaya, Alaska and the Rocky Mountains (U.S.), South America and Antarctica.

Ilulissat Isfjord, Greenland - James Balog

The Extreme Ice Survey was the subject of the Academy Award nominated documentary feature film “Chasing Ice” (2012), which chronicled the EIS team’s expedition to document rapid glacial melt in the Arctic Circle, and, in fact, captured the largest glacial ice break-up (calving) ever recorded on film; roughly 7.4 cubic km of ice breaking away and tumbling off of the Ilulissat glacier in Greenland. The highly anticipated sequel “Chasing Ice II,” which follows Mr. Balog’s journey to Antarctica is expected in the next few years.

So, what is the take-away message of such an extreme project? In a recent interview with ABC News, Mr. Balog likens glacial melt and calving to “seeing, touching, hearing, and feeling climate change in action. It’s happening right now, all around us,” he declares. 

March 18, 2014

Visualizing Climate Change: The HighWaterLine

Climate change is a downright abstract concept to get your head around. The science is complicated, the effects are broad yet nuanced, and not everyone will be impacted in the same way. So, what is an impactful way to represent the dangers posed by climate change that everyone can understand?

One project is raising eyebrows by literally drawing a line through the community. The HighWaterLine is a visual representation of projected, future sea-level rise as a result of global warming and more frequent and stronger storms and storm surges. Using various media, such as a blue chalk outline, or even a human chain, a revised flood zone based on current climate data is delineated within an urban/suburban area, bringing the reality of a warming planet home to local residents.

HighWaterLine | NYC, Brooklyn, 2007 Attribute: Hose Cedeno

The HighWaterLine is the brainchild of NYC-based artist, Eve Mosher, who initially based the project on climate change data contained within a NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies report issued in 2001. Having read the report and witnessing a watered-down response from public officials, Ms. Mosher was determined to take matters into her own hands.

After nearly eight months of research and planning, Ms. Mosher installed the first iteration of The HighWaterLine in August 2007 along 70 miles of coastline in Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan, demarcating the 10 foot about sea level rise with a 4-inch wide blue chalk line.

To encourage others to replicate the project in their own communities, Ms. Mosher devised a HighWaterLine “Action Guide,” in essence a simplified toolkit of knowledge bites and best practices, to ensure easy replication of the project elsewhere. 

November 28, 2012

Feeling the Heat of Climate Change Now More Than Ever

So this summer was a little hot. You get used to feeling like the sun is constantly melting your face off, right? Well, not exactly. It’s hard to think of climate change as having an extreme detrimental effect to our future when we hear about people trying to keep the planet from warming more than a mere 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2020, but the fact of the matter is that we are closing in on the end of a critical period to prevent it from becoming catastrophic. And if we don’t do something to combat it’s progress soon, in a matter of decades climate change is going to come back and smack us in our already fried up faces for not having done more when we had the chance.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change didn’t waste any time on Monday when the convention opened. They began with a discussion of greenhouse gas emissions and how most countries aren’t pulling their weight in terms of working to minimize them. The world’s band of dirty little mistresses, or fossil fuels as some like to call them, are just so hard to say no to! However, according to their report unless this issue is addressed soon we will be putting the planet on a fast-track to devastating climate change. Click HERE to see some of the discussions live and to find links to some of the past discussions on Youtube! Also, the Kyoto Protocol – which usually forces countries to put in at least a little effort to combat rising levels of greenhouse gas emissions – expires this year. So it’s no wonder that climate change proponents are begging everyone at the convention to understand the urgency and criticalness of this situation.

Just a few weeks before the convention opened The European Environment Agency released a report stating that the effects of climate change are already becoming evident in Europe and are only likely to get worse if action is not taken to diminish them. In conjunction with the UN Environment Program, they have found that the “emissions gap”- the difference between current levels of carbon emissions and the levels of carbon emissions needed to avert climate change- is becoming greater rather than lessening. The European Environment Agency also reported that climate change has already impacted environmental systems and society, and further impacts are predicted for the future. We’re effectively delivering our climate a one-two punch. Between carbon and greenhouse gas emissions we’re setting our climate up for a knock-out blow. Unfortunately for us though, that knock out will take us down with it.

The Midwestern United States can attest to the fact that they’re already feeling the burn of climate change, too. In Iowa, 138 scientists and researchers from 27 Iowa colleges and universities signed a report called the Iowa Climate Statement linking global warming to past and recent extreme weather patterns that have caused severe damage not only in Iowa, but in surrounding states as well. Iowa alone experienced $10 billion in damages from major flooding that occurred in 2008, and it is common knowledge that this summer’s drought didn’t exactly extend a helping hand to help counter the previous damage.

But the UN can’t effect fighting climate change on its own, and others are on board to help spread the word. Just check out this article from the Huffington Post that features a video of Naomi Klein (her video segment on Democracy Now! is below), award winning author of “The Shock Doctrine”, discussing how Hurricane Sandy has the potential to be an impetus to keep fighting against climate change. And she’s not alone. A coalition of the world’s largest investors is currently pushing the government to act too! (Yep, you read that right- “A coalition of the world’s largest investors”. Who’d a thunk it?) They say that the government may face losing trillions of dollars in investments and disruptions to the economy if we can’t make more of an effort to combat climate change. Hopefully, countries, including the U.S., will leave the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change with some fresh ideas and the motivation to put them into action. But Rome wasn’t built in a day. It’s going to take a global effort to combat climate change and we need to get that effort into gear as soon as possible.

February 8, 2012

It’s a bird, it’s a… green airplane?

I’m partial to ships, but that doesn’t mean I don’t pay attention to other forms of transportation.  When I was a little one, I went nuts for just about anything that moved people from one place to another:  trucks, trains, cars, ships, and planes.  For some reason the thrill of spotting everything but ships faded.  I guess ’cause they’re just so darn easy to see.  But I’d love to spot these things in the air:

‘The hell is this, you ask?  Why, let me explain:

Science Daily’s reporting on how the good folks at NASA challenged three aeronautics firms — Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman — to come up with new designs that’ll help the aircrafts of the future burn 50% less fuel than those that started flying in 1998 (the study’s baseline), AND with 75% fewer harmful emissions, AND will shrink the areas affected by airport noise by 83%.  It’s all part of NASA’s .Environmentally Responsible Aviation Project.  (Who knew?  I guess you and me now.)  The three aircraft you see in the picture represent the three firms’ various efforts to meet the criteria.

“The real challenge is we want to accomplish all these things simultaneously,” “It’s never been done before. We looked at some very difficult metrics and tried to push all those metrics down at the same time… We’ll be digesting the three studies and we’ll be looking into what to do next.”

– Fay Collier, Project Manager

Dare I say this makes me feel rather excited?  It could just be a nice warm belly full of Swanson’s beef pot pie and Sanka talking, but this seems like a really good, absolutely not bad, potentially wonderful thing.  I might just do a jig!

If you wanna read more about the different designs, the whole article is a great read.

Back to the binocs.

December 14, 2011

My spiritual cousins, The Birdwatchers

This sounds like a pretty neat group art exhibit about observing nature.  It’s called “The Birdwatchers.”  Opened not too long ago in some fancy gallery in New York City.  It’s gonna be going on until January 22nd.

On display. Makes you think.

First off, did you know that people who’re bird watchers actually call themselves “Birders”?  Well, they do.  Insider jargon, I guess.

The equivalent doesn’t really work for ship spotting, because then I’d be calling myself a “shipper,” which really just reminds me of a FedEx label.  Not much romance in that.

Anyhoo, I liked something they said about their art show:

Artists have always used nature, as subjects of inspiration or objects of manipulation. Art that engages nature can establish connections to a wide range of scientific, historical and philosophical concepts. Advances in biological and telecommunication technology make our interference with natural systems both sophisticated and substantial, modifying the way we look at and represent nature. It is human nature to compare, describe, and sort in order to form our own explanations of the world. We strive to acquire better understanding, prognostication, and control of our surroundings. But is there a purpose to observation if action is not taken?

Interesting points.

That said, I wish somebody would make an art exhibit called “Ship Spotters.”  Maybe they could serve some nice piping hot Sanka and make everybody wear slippers as they walked around.

I can dream…




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