Our Future Depends on the Arctic
Save it from the ravages of warming and we can save the planet.
By Durwood J. Zaelke and Paul Bledsoe
The authors work for groups focused on climate policy.
Dec. 14, 2019, NYTimes California Today
Delegates from all over the world spent two weeks in Madrid, trying to work out how to reach a global goal of net zero emissions by 2050. As the United Nations’ secretary general, António Guterres, warned in opening the meeting: “The point of no return is no longer over the horizon. It is in sight and hurtling toward us.”
Perhaps nowhere is that more true than in the Arctic. The surface air there is warming at twice the global rate and temperatures over the past five years have exceeded all previous records since 1900.
A study published in Geophysical Research Letters in June described the catastrophic consequences of losing the Arctic’s reflective summer sea ice, which reflects incoming solar warming back to space, that would otherwise be absorbed by the ocean. Equal to an extra 25 years of current levels of emissions, it will push us more quickly towards catastrophic damage: more intense heat waves and coastal flooding, extinctions of species and threats to food supplies.
The heating up of the Arctic is also speeding the thawing of permafrost, causing the release of more carbon dioxide and methane, a greenhouse gas 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide when measured over 20 years, along with nitrous oxide, a powerful long-lived climate pollutant.
If we are to keep the Arctic ice strong, we not only need to cut diesel emissions, limit methane emissions from landfills, and keep strict regulations on refrigerants in air-conditioners and consumer products. California has cut these emissions by more than 90% since the 1960s.
Several other geoengineering ideas are being floated, such as putting a covering of white sand over first year ice, to enhance its reflectivity, or introduce particles into the atmosphere to reflect solar radiation. There are potential risks with these procedures, and there could be experiments to see if the risks are worth the effort.
New Clean-Car Rules for New Mexico,
December 4, 2019, Sierra Club
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that New Mexico will join 14 other states in adopting clean-car standards requiring new cars sold in the state to emit fewer greenhouse gases. The standards also mandate an increasing percentage of cars to have zero emissions.
Lujan Grisham made the announcement in September at Climate Week in New York City, where U.S. governors met to discuss states advancing ambitious climate action in the face of federal inaction. The move came on the heels of the announcement that the Trump administration is revoking California’s authority to set fuel-efficiency and greenhouse-gas standards stricter than federal standards. California and nearly two dozen other states are suing the administration over the attack.
Where Eagle Feathers Fall Like Snow,
By Helen Sullivan, NYTimes Climate Forward
January 6, 2020
Adonis Al Khatib, of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon, works with students, community leaders and hunting associations to instill sustainable hunting practices. Hunting is ubiquitous in Lebanon, which has the 11th-highest rate of small-arms ownership in the world. Half to three-quarters of boys own guns, and birds can be a common target.
Among the Society’s top concerns is protecting the 2.5 billion migratory birds that pass over the country twice a year. During those journeys, 2.6 million migratory birds are shot or trapped illegally, according to BirdLife International; S.P.N.L. is that organization’s official partner in Lebanon. As other countries examine why some of their protected birds aren’t returning from migration, Lebanon has come under the spotlight.
Lebanon’s topography is dominated by two long mountain ranges. Various bird migration routes, or flyways, pass through the country; when squeezed between mountains, the routes narrow, forming bottlenecks. The bottlenecks create conditions for satisfying bird-watching, and make it easier for organizations like S.P.N.L. to conduct bird counts.
But the bottlenecks also serve hunters. At certain points throughout the country, the narrow flyways funnel birds through elevated vantage points from which hunters can get easy shots.
Assad Serhal, a founder of S.P.N.L., is a reformed hunter. The organization has lobbied Lebanon’s government for stricter anti-poaching laws, and has reintroduced a traditional Islamic system of conservation to Lebanon.
Twenty years ago, on very old military maps, he noticed areas labeled, “hima.” In Arabic, hima can mean refuge, protected area, private pasture or homeland; “Humat al-Hima” (Defenders of the Homeland) is Tunisia’s national anthem. Mr. Serhal had known vaguely of the idea, but had no idea that hima had existed in Lebanon.
He discovered that the concept dates back more than 1,000 years, with a mention in the Quran. Muhammad had designated certain areas as hima, which meant they were subject to rules about grazing, hunting or even trade. On Mr. Serhal’s maps, it turned out, hima signified communal areas. The word’s appearance gave him an idea: Perhaps he could revive its traditional meaning.
Mr. Serhal thought that, instead, hima might be accepted as a traditional concept; it also would include communities and municipalities in the design of the conservation areas. Hima wouldn’t be just about protecting nature, Mr. Serhal said; it would be “nature plus people.” When S.P.N.L. helped a community design a local hima, the group suggested additional conservation methods, like banning hunting.
The first hima was established in southern Lebanon in 2004. Today there are 25; they have been given legal status by the government and cover more land than Lebanon’s national parks. Five of the designated hima are also what BirdLife calls “Important Bird Areas,” of which there are 15 in the country.
And in “Spotlight On”
Our native Sunflower was domesticated and cultivated by indigenous Americans, possibly as long as five thousand years ago, when seeds were selected for the best size and shape to produce the largest crop. They were used to make flour, cooking oil, dye, and medicinal ointments. It has been suggested that the sunflower was domesticated before the maize plant. Some American Indian tribes planted sunflowers as a “fourth sister” to the combination of corn, beans, and squash.
Early Spanish explorers took seeds back to Europe around 1500. In 1716, the English granted a patent for a process of squeezing oil from sunflower seed. By 1769, sunflower oil had become a popular commodity with members of the Russian Orthodox Church, because it was one of the few oils not forbidden during Lent.
By 1830, the manufacture of sunflower oil had become a commercial enterprise, and Russian farmers were growing over two million acres of the plant. By 1880, sunflower seeds called the “Mammoth Russian” were being marketed in catalogs in the U.S.
Canada began the first government sponsored breeding program in 1930, and because of high demand for sunflower oil, production grew. More recently, because of increasing concerns about high cholesterol in the diet, demand increased further, and U.S. production took off. Today the sunflower is the most important native crop plant produced in the United States. (from Volume 2, Elm Companions)
And again, don’t forget you can buy all three volumes of Secret Voices from the Forest, Thoughts and Dreams of North American Trees, on Amazon.