The Witness Tree is moving!

Well – not moving exactly – but as I move on in my work with climate change I am using my  expanded Witness Tree website as a place to continue to tell stories, share pictures and post information about news and events.

Thanks to those of you who were subscribers to this site. It is being archived so you can still access the posts here but I invite you to visit www.TheWitnessTree.org and to follow my work on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. 

COP21 Paris: Recap # 3

Day 3: Monday – November 30th

Each day the creative minds of Place to B asked us to focus on a different message. Sunday’s topic was B the message and asked us to consider: Why doesn’t the environmental message come across? How can we involve citizens in changing the climate? How can we refresh the climate and rewrite the story?” I felt this was a theme that ran throughout much of the week as different groups met in the “Creative Factory” to work on various projects aimed at rewriting the climate narrative to be more effective.

And on this Monday the theme was, How shall we learn from the past? We were asked to take a look at the past, at the history of civilizations, at the meaning of progress, at the way we understand the notion of “transition” and “transformation.” This fit in well as a follow-up to the Transition Paris events I had attended on Saturday.

Every evening, there was Place to Brief – a live web-streamed TV show hosted primarily by Anne Sophie Novel and Joe Ross with help from other “correspondents” and many amazing guests. Since my French is a bit rusty and there were not always enough English-translation headsets to go around, I sometimes missed some of the content, but it was still interesting to sit in on these briefings with my climate colleagues.

I was fascinated by the corps of young female bloggers who, every briefing, sat on the floor against the walls of the room typing away. I admired their ease at doing live posts as the briefings were unfolding. With so much happening every day, I was pleased just to get out a few Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook posts while in Paris. This past week confirmed for me that I subscribe to the “slow blogger” movement.

Rob Hopkins showcasing local currencies

At two of the TV briefings early in the week, I was in luck as several of the special guests were not only English speakers, but people whose work on climate change I greatly respect: On Monday night, Rob Hopkins of The Transition Network was fittingly brought in for the day’s theme of transitions and transformation. He was paired up with John D. Liu, who has a project entitled the Environmental Education Media Project and Barbara Glowczewski an anthropologist with the French National Scientific Research Centre whose work focuses on the indigenous people of Australia.

The conversations with these guests were mostly upbeat, recognizing the problems but focusing on solutions and the need to move forward. Rather than giving a full play-by-play of the briefing, I will share some of the inspirational comments from each of the guests:

Barbara Glowczewski stressed that we should pay closer attention to indigenous cultures since they have of years of experience that we can learn from. When asked what she thinks is the most fundamental, basic organizing principle for humanity, she replied, “It’s sharing.” In response to the question of what has value in the indigenous communities she studies, she noted that “songs, dance and storytelling are exchanged according to a system of law. You give them to someone else and they can then be transformed from generation to generation.”

John Liu: “In our current economic system, the things that are bought and sold are given a value but our natural resources are not. We’ve devalued the source of life. In order to have another outcome we’re going to have to move to this recognition that things are really happening. We need to understand these things and act on a planetary scale.”

“We can now look and see that climate regulation, fresh water, soil and water with zero pollution, biodiversity – this is where the real value is. And everything that’s ever been made [by humans] is worthless and ends up on the trash heap. If we were to base human economy on ecological function, than all human effort would go toward conserving, protecting, and restoring ecological function on the planet. And that’s what we need to do to have a regulated climate.”

“What is wealth? Wealth is not having more stuff but having more time so we can work less and spend more time with our families and friends. We need more time so we can have lemonade under the fig tree.”

Anne Sophie Novel and Joe Ross (on the left) listening to John D. Liu speak with Rob Hopkins at his side.

Rob Hopkins: “Early on [when starting the Transition movement] one of the most patronizing things someone said to me was ‘ Well you aren’t going to change very much with just a few community gardens.’” [Note: there are now over 1,000 Transition Initiatives worldwide.] We chose the word transition because we need to think about getting from where we are to where we need to be. Like a good permaculture design project, we design a process that removes as many obstacles as possible so that people can get the work done that they want to.

In response to the question: “ How do you go about empowering people?” Rob responded: “One way is that we recognize that as climate activists that we don’t just tell people about how terrible climate change is without giving them ideas of how to take a part in making things better…If you collapse people’s world view you have to stick around to help them pick up the pieces. We try to invite people to step into something and one of the ways [we do this] is by telling them stories about people like themselves.” [He then shared a couple stories from his new book 21 Stories of Transition which I had heard even more highlights from on Saturday night at a Transition Paris event.)

Rob Hopkins showcasing local currencies from Transition Network Towns in the UK. Yes, that is David Bowie on the Bristol pound note.

Rob Hopkins showcasing local currencies from Transition Network towns in the UK. Yes, that is David Bowie on the Brixton 10 pound note.

“We used to say that Transition was a response to the energy crisis, to climate change, to the economy. But now we say, Transition is a movement of people who are re-imagining and rebuilding the world. And you don’t always need to start with a problem up front, because what they are doing is sufficiently fantastic all over the world.”
And I have to agree. Despite all the terrible stories I heard while photographing the effects of climate change around the world for The Witness Tree, again and again, I was buoyed by tales of individuals taking steps to better their local world and communities coming together to problem-solve. I hope that our leaders who are making the decisions out at the COP listen to the stories that their delegates have to tell. I am sure they are fantastic.

Day 4: Tuesday, December 1st

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In the afternoon I went to Gaîté lyrique for an ARTCOP21 roundtable discussion entitled: Culture and the Arts Engage with the Climate Challenge for COP21. The event was co-sponsored by COAL and was part of the opening day of the Summit of Creatives – “an opportunity to review the involvement of the cultural industry and inspire artists to get involved and put culture on the agenda of the negotiations.”

There were eight panelists including poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner from the Marshall Islands, Kevin Buckland from 350.org, American climatologist Cynthia Rosenzweig, and Teresa Borasino, Head of the festival Futuro Caliente in Peru (which took place during COP20 in Lima). The discussion revolved around how the cultural industry has had, and can continue to have, an impact on societal transformation.

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Some of the panelists, from left to right: Cynthia Rosenzweig, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, Anne-Marie Melster, and architect Anna Heringer.

I was pleased to see Cynthia Rosenzweig, a senior research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, included in this diverse group as I feel it is very important to bring artists and scientists together to help get across the climate message. I had first met Cynthia last June at a Climate sHeros event sponsored by The Human Impacts Institute in New York City and was struck by her friendliness. In this panel discussion, both her warmth and knowledge were apparent. She brought up the important link between science and art and acknowledged, “artists have been talking about ‘transformation’ for awhile and scientists are only now just catching on.” She noted her recent collaboration with Australian visual artist Shaun Gladwell:  A Climate Change Hip-Pop Opera, as an example of how artists and scientists can intertwine their different languages to create a new language.

One of the other panelists, Anne-Marie Melster, co-founder and head of ARTPORT_making waves, was critical of the fact that officials at the COP made it very hard for artists to get involved with the actual conference. “You have to be connected with an NGO in order to get in…They think art is something that is just in museums. They live in their U.N box and don’t look outside of it.” Knowing I would not be able to get in to hear the actual COP negotiations was something that had originally deterred me from planning to come to Paris. But once I realized how many artists were going to be there making their voices heard through other activities, I was convinced it would be a worthwhile expedition. Ms. Melster was not completely negative. She ended by saying: “Don’t blame the people who don’t know about the arts. We can try to inspire them.”

I know I was inspired by this panel discussion and learned about some very engaging art projects including Artport and one called “The Blackmarket for Useful Knowledge and Non-Knowledge.” First started in 2005 by, Hannah Hurtzig, a Berlin-based curator and dramaturge, these one-night events are structured so that visitors can book 30-minute sessions with “experts” of their choosing (“natural scientists, craftsmen, artists, philosophers, and neighbors”) allowing them to visit a variety of people and topics during the evening. There was one held in Paris, on November 21st, as part of ARTCOP21. This 18th edition of the Blackmarket exchange and the first one to be held in France, asked visitors to bring a gift to give to the experts they wished to speak with instead of the usual symbolic fee of 1 euro. Subtitled: On Becoming Earthlings, several dozen experts met with visitors at the Musée de l’Homme and discussed “what does it mean to live in the Anthropocene?” I really wish I could have attended this event but even if the topic is not focused on the climate, I hope the Blackmarket makes it to New York one day soon.

One of the creative organizers of Place to B, drawing a map of the world on the wall.

One of the creative organizers of Place to B drawing a map of the world on the wall.

Meanwhile back at Place to B, my home away from home for the week, the topic for the day was: How can scientists talk about climate change differently? A new social contract between scientists and society is needed. Its purpose? Produce more engagement with climate policies.

At the Place to Brief live TV show that night the featured guests were Naomi Klein – author of This Changes Everything and scientist James Hansen whose book, Storms of My Grandchildren, along with Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature and Eaarth provided some of the early inspiration for my Witness Tree project. Also on the docket were Nicolas Hulot, Didier Pourquery, Ghislain Bardout, and opera singer Barbara Hendricks.

Naomi Klein and Nicolas Hulot.

Naomi Klein and Nicolas Hulot.

Each of these guests were very emphatic about the fact that things need to change now. We must stop burning fossil fuels – not only at the rate that we currently are – but at an even more reduced rate than has been proposed by many of the countries at COP21. The window of time that we used to talk about as our safety net (IE – we have until 2050 to reduce emissions) has closed in on us. If we want to reduce the warming to a maximum of 2 degrees Celcius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) as scientists have has stated is the only way to keep things in check, we must sharply curb emissions. Hansen, in a slideshow presentation entitled: Climate (In)Justice and Governmental (Dis)Honesty argued that at this point we don’t need “cap and trade” but an actual carbon tax to be levied against the oil, gas and coal companies.

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Hansen worked for NASA for 46 years before retiring in 2013 to be able to become a more vocal climate activist. “As a government employee, you can’t testify against the government,” he said in an interview with the New York TimesI had already been planning to hear him give a presentation later this month back in New York, so it was a treat to get to meet him (albeit briefly) that night at Place to B even though it turned out to not be my only encounter with him during the week.

COP21 Paris: Recap # 1

Six months ago when I mentioned I was planning to go to Paris for COP21, many people had no idea what I was talking about (“You are going to a conference about cops?” Cops is American slang for the police). A month ago when I told people I was going to the 21st Conference of Parties climate negotiations most had now heard of the COP, but the response was one of envy that I would visiting the “City of Light.” But after November 13th, when I told people I was traveling to Paris soon, many expressed concern and asked if I was still going.monastra_151204_4915

The ISOL attacks around Paris on November 13th were senseless and have left many people in shock. There has also been a terrible backlash against Muslims and refugees that I find mind-boggling. Thus, I felt it was even more important to come to Paris with climate activists from around the world who are committed to work together, in peace, over an issue that is affecting all of us, albeit some more than others. By the very nature of climate change, no one country or culture will be left untouched, so we must work as a collective whole to try to change the course of our future.

As an artist, since I did not have any affiliation with an NGO, I did not have access to the actual negotiations in Le Bourget, a town just outside of Paris. In fact, when I arrived in Paris, I learned there are many who were originally granted permission to be observers, but since the attacks, those numbers were drastically cut back. Apparently cIty officials want to keep a cap on how many people will be congregating for the talks. I presume this is to limit the chances of another terrorist attack, but it is a shame that so many stakeholders with great knowledge and experience will not get to directly be a part of these talks. I heard that one NGO that had planned to bring 70 delegates had their number cut to just 14!

The COP21 meetings are still going on in Paris until the end of this week and I wish I could have stayed until the end. Even without having access to the inner “blue” circle of negotiations (a designation defined by a blue lanyard on one’s name tag) there were so many other related events that I would have liked to participate in. Still, in the time I was there, I met many concerned citizens, climate activists, and even a scientist I greatly admire, that it felt well worth what seemed like a quick visit. Since I had so little downtime while I was there, I just took notes and photos and decided to write up fuller posts highlighting each day’s events and will publish them over the next week.

For me, going to Paris feels like an apt culmination to my Witness Tree project. Although I will continue to document the effects of climate change, I have grown increasingly more interested in focusing on community-based solutions than the problems. My new project is focusing on permaculture and The Transition Network (TNT) and I will write more about it as the project progresses.

Day 1 – Saturday November, 28, 2015

With that project in mind, it seemed fitting that soon after arriving I ran into Albert Bates, an American permaculture instructor  who invited me to join him at an event hosted by the group Transition Paris. I had met Albert in September at the International Permaculture Conference in the UK (IPCUK) where I exhibited photographs from my Witness Tree project. In Paris we were both staying at Place to B – a headquarters of sorts for over 400 climate activists from around the world. (more on this in future posts)

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Thomas Munier, one of the local Transition organizers

 

The Transition Paris event was being held in a former electrical distribution facility that was being used as studios by a group of artists. It was a wonderful space both inside and out. One of the artists welcomed us and mentioned that they would be losing the space at the end of the year as it was going to be turned into a movie theater. It seemed a shame since the artists did not keep this cool space to themselves but often let groups like the Paris  Transition Network use it for community-based events. monastra_151128_4528

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This French branch of TNT had planned a day of presentations and workshops around such topics as Recycle with Creativity, Transition in Big Cities, and Creating Better Infographics. The crowd was a mix of young and old, ex-pats and native Frenchmen and women.

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One of the younger participants who was doing his own “research” while I chatted with his mother Alice Leroy.

Most of the workshops were being conducted in French so I chose to sit in on one about Infographics which was being facilitated by a British woman.

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The Infographics workshop with Albert Bates in the foreground.

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The highlight of the evening was a presentation by Rob Hopkins, a professor of permaculture who helped initiate the first Transition Town in Totnes, a community of 8,000 in Devon, UK. I had first met Rob at the IPCUK and spoken with him again when I visited Totnes after the September conference. Rob was in Paris to promote his new book, 21 Stories of Transition: How a movement of communities is coming together to reimagine and rebuild our world. 

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Etienne Lecomte and English translator Corinne, introducing Rob Hopkins. Both are very active in planning Transition events in Paris

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Rob Hopkins presenting one of the 21 stories to a full house.

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Rob was joined by some of the people whose communities were featured in the book including Jeanne-Claude Mensch, the mayor of Ungersheim, a village in the Alsace region of France, and a couple from Belgium (left) who helped plant community gardens on concrete blockades (shown on the screen behind them) that had been installed to cut back on traffic in the red light district.

Although my jet-lag crept up on me and I was unable to stay for the closing party of the Transition event I was excited to meet so many locals who were already involved in community projects and, like me, were hoping that COP21 would yield some concrete results and no blockades at the negotiations.

New Witness Tree website

I am very pleased to announce that my new website for The Witness Tree project is live! I will be rolling out the 12 chapter portfolios – three at a time – over the coming weeks/ months. I want visitors to have the time to absorb the essays, photos and information in each chapter before I introduce new work. Here is a screen grab of how the whole site will look once completed:

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For now, please spend time looking over the chapters on WHY / ICE / FIRE as well as the MAP that shows all the places I have visited and documented the effects of climate change. I also encourage you to read my recent NEWS and check our the SUPPORT and GET INVOLVED pages too.

I could not have made this website without the help of my friend Tim Donahue and his help in writing the essays and my web designers – Roman Jaster and Nicole Jaffee of Yay Brigade! 

I look forward to hearing your comments about the site and my work.

I had taken a break from writing on this blog while organizing this website but now that it is nearing completion, I hope to be making more blog posts about this project as well as current issues surrounding climate change.

A Winter’s Tale

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One morning a few years ago while I was visiting my parents in Cleveland for the holidays, my father pointed to a newspaper picture taken in Germany of snow piled high on the sides of a road after a major snowstorm. “So, is that an example of global warming?” he asked. “No, it’s an example of climate change,” I replied.

On Tuesday when most of NYC awoke to only a few inches of snow but closed roads, subways, and schools. people were joking about the Snowpocalypse that never came. Well, it may not have hit us here in the city, but out on Long Island where I teach, especially  on the East End, residents were socked in with over 2 feet of snow and blinding driving conditions. I was happy (as were my students) that classes were cancelled.

Parts of Massachusetts were hit even harder. Some areas got over 3 feet of snow and the entire island of Nantucket lost power. Most homes had no electricity for more than two days. Along with the snow came 76 mile an hour winds and flooding of the downtown streets. Not your average Nor’easter of days of old.

So, no, this is not exactly an example of “global warming,” but it is an example of our changing climate, and many of these changes are due to warming temperatures, both air and sea. Warm air holds more moisture than cold air, making downpours, whether of rain or snow, potentially more disastrous. Also, higher sea levels will add to more flooding during these storms, even in the winter months.

Although not every storm can be tied directly to climate change, with a warmer world we can expect (as we are already witnessing) more extreme storms of all kinds: superstorms, hurricanes, cyclones, blizzards, and likely tornadoes too. Climate scientists, like Kevin Trenberth, at the National Center for Atmospheric Research are finding that even though winters are getting shorter, heavy snowstorms are going to be more extreme and more common. This article in The Guardian helps explain why in further detail.

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When I woke up Tuesday morning it was still snowing so I decided to go out and investigate my Brooklyn neighborhood with my camera. The streets were quiet but not completely empty. I saw a guy clearing his block’s sidewalks with a snow-blower,

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three day-laborers looking for driveways to shovel and cars to dig out,

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a few dedicated joggers in Prospect Park,

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a  lone little snowman,

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and several pre-teens heading out to go sledding.

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Lachlan, Nate, and Henry

 

I asked them if they were learning about climate change in school to which they replied yes. Lochlan said that he’d even attended the NYC Climate March last September for which I gave him a high-five. I asked him what concerns he had about how global warming could affect his world. “Well, I love sledding, so it would be bad if there weren’t a lot of snow in the future to play in.”

I also ran into a few folks just out enjoying the beauty of it all. I asked this rosy-cheeked group if I could take their picture and mentioned that I was doing a project about climate change.

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from left to right: Paul Younger holding his son Wyatt, Meredith, his wife holding Emmett, and his sister Alyssa.

 

When I emailed Meredith copies of these pictures, I asked her what her thoughts on climate change were to which she replied,

Climate change should be getting all of our focus right now.  It is truly terrifying, and any news of fossil fuel development is distressing.  I want to see more reporting on climate change in the media, and more research into renewable energy sources, particularly solar.  Surely the sun has enough power to satisfy our puny human energy needs here on earth!  

 I couldn’t have said it better myself. And like Lochlan and his pals, I agree: I like snow, to play in, photograph, and because it’s a part of our natural climate. It also provides opportunities for some sweet cuddling. Who wants to lose that?

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Don’t let climate change take away…

 

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Inspired by Maya Lin’s powerful project What is Missing  (about species extinction) and the upcoming People’s Climate March I decided to begin this quick portrait project while so many people from around the world are gathered in NYC for the March. I asked people I met on the street or at climate events to finish the phrase… “Don’t let climate change take away….” Some people responded right away. Others wanted some time to think about their answers. Miriam and her three sons (from Kuwait) were my first participants. They had just attended a presentation I gave as part of the Climate Convergence conference.  Surrounded by her sons, she knew immediately her greatest concern.

With this audience-engagment project, I am making climate change more personal by asking people to consider the things they cherish that may disappear if climate change continues unabated. Almost everyone I’ve approached has agreed to participate. Only a few people said “I don’t think I have been affected yet.” I am hoping this week’s events will  help them realize that what is happening in the Arctic and elsewhere is already affecting them.

I will be adding more portraits as the project progresses. See the Climate Portraits tab above for more images. If you want to be included in this project – just show up for my Witness Tree performance in Tompkins Square Park on 9/28 from 1 – 4pm.

Rising Sea Levels, Part 2: Thailand and a nod to Oz

Last week I wrote about how rising sea levels are affecting low-lying nations such as the Kingdom of Tonga. Six weeks later, I was in Thailand primarily to photograph the effects of the flooding in the Fall of 2011, but while there I also learned from a new friend about how sea level rise is affecting some communities near Bangkok.

Since I was mid-way on my around-the-world journey, I decided it would be a good time to take a break from working and so went on a week-long Buddhist meditation retreat with my new German friend Nathalie. I did not quite reach nirvana but it was a welcome respite  from work (I only brought a point-and-shoot), I tried some new Thai food, I learned more about Buddhism and meditation, and best of all, I made several new friends.

Natalie mediating on our retreat.

Natalie mediating on our retreat.

One of whom, Bisidth, was very eager to help me with my project.  A couple of days after the retreat he emailed about Ban Khun Samut Chin (บ้านขุนสมุทรจีน), a small fishing village on the Gulf of Thailand that he remembered learning about on a TV show.  He sent me a link to the show and even though it was all in Thai I got the gist of it: This small village was being inundated by sea level rise. He offered to take me there so we quickly planned a weekend outing.

Some of the monks and Bongkot heading out on a canal on a longboat.

Some of the monks heading out onto a canal on a longboat.

Even though it is only ­about 50 km southwest of Bangkok, Khun Samut Chin felt much more remote. Getting there itself was an adventure. Bisdith picked me up and after an hour’s drive through snarled Bangkok traffic we reached a small town where we met another new friend from the retreat, Sutanit (who charmingly goes by her chosen English name, Dear, and Bongkot, Bisdith’s friend. We stopped to have lunch with some of the monks from the Khun Samut Chin temple then drove a bit farther and got on a longboat for a 15 minute ride through several canals. These canals are the primary “roadways” for the people in these seaside communities in the Laem Fapha area of Samut Prakan Province. We were dropped off at a pier where we each got a community-shared bicycle and rode another 10 minutes down a concrete walkway. We parked the bikes under a shelter and then walked another 5-10 minutes over a series of dirt paths, wooden walkways, and planks to arrive in the heart of the village.

Bisdith riding a bike too small for his tall frame down one of the walkways into the village.

Bisdith riding a bike (too small for his tall frame) down one of the walkways into the village.

Walking into the center of the village over the wooden walkways. A new community center is being built on the left.

The main entrance into the center of the village over a wooden walkway. A new community center is being built on the left.

Bisidth, myself, Bongot, Dear, and the village chief, Samorn Khengsamut (seated)

Bisidth, myself, Bongot, Dear, and the village chief, Samorn Khengsamut (seated).

monastra_120505_1383We were greeted by several dogs, the village chief Samorn Khengsamut, and other local residents who were busy packing shrimp and shrimp paste into bags to sell to local communities. Formerly populated by the Chinese, it is very connected to its roots. They have a small museum with old coins, pottery, and other Chinese artifacts found on their grounds. Mrs. Samorn showed us a 2003 newspaper article stating that the villagers were hoping to build a museum to house these treasures that were scattered among various households. I was glad to see that they achieved that goal. It’s a sweet little museum jam-packed with curiosities.

Inside the museum housing Chinese artifacts

Inside the museum housing Chinese artifacts

Pieces of Chinese pottery.

Pieces of Chinese pottery.

Since shrimp and cockles are the primary source of income for this village, much of the town is made up of large plots of water where this seafood is harvested. But not all the surrounding water is a welcome presence.

Some of the villagers harvesting cockles behind our hut. I felt like I had front row seats to some of the best action in town.

Some of the villagers harvesting cockles behind our hut. I felt like I had front row seats to some of the best action in town.

A bowl of fresh-caught cockles.

A bowl of fresh-caught cockles.

A wooden walkway over one of the shrimp plots.

A wooden walkway over one of the shrimp plots photographed at dusk.

In the past fifty years, the villagers have had to relocate their homes and school four or five times due to rising sea levels and the resulting soil erosion. The only building that has not been moved is the temple. The monks refuse to move it. To try to protect it (and other small temples still being constructed) they have installed concrete triangular pillars to break the surf as well as a sea wall. I find this a rather bold move since in their current temple, which has been flooded several times, they have had to raise the floor 5-6 feet to be able to still use the temple for prayers. I noticed there are places where the power of the surf is already breaking through their new sea wall. They must have a lot of faith to believe that it will hold and not be “taken” by the sea the way Sonny’s bench in Tonga was.

One of the many village dogs that acted as my guide down the walkway to the temple.

One of the many village dogs that acted as my guide down the walkway to the temple.

The temple in Khun Samut Chin showing water damage from rising sea levels.

The temple in Khun Samut Chin shows water damage along the windows  from rising sea levels. The temple is now separated from the rest of the village buildings that have relocated inland several times. To get to the temple one must walk or ride a bike down these concrete walkways. The Gulf of Thailand can be seen in the background.

One of the monks looking at a photo of the temple being flooded during a recent storm.

One of the monks sitting in a doorway on the raised floor of the temple looking at a photo of it being flooded during a recent storm.

Samut Khun Chun is a lovely village with an interesting history, but the chief is worried about their future. There is not much solid land left in this area on which to relocate if the seas keep rising and they need to move yet again. Some of the residents are already living on land they do not own. Student volunteers have come in and planted mangrove trees to try to curb the erosion (like in Tonga) but the sea is rising faster than the trees can grow. The school has had to be rebuilt several times. From their new pier, one of the monks pointed out one of its earlier locations to us in the midst of the ocean. All that was left was a concrete block barely visible in the waves. More apparent are the old power lines that used to run along the main road of the village. Now they look like toothpicks sticking out of the water.

Sea barriers that were put in several years ago to try "break" the power of the surf and protect the area where the temple is situated.

Sea barriers  that were put in several years ago to try “break” the power of the surf and protect the area where the temple is situated. In the distance (on the left) can be seen the old telephone poles that used to mark the main road.

The new sea wall already showing signs of being worn away by the surf

The new sea wall already showing signs of being worn away by the surf.

And one of the new smaller temples being constructed outside this sea wall but behind the concrete pillars.

And to the right, one of the new smaller temples being constructed outside this sea wall but behind the concrete  breakwater pillars.

At twilight, a monk mediates on their new pier behind the breakwater.

At twilight, a monk mediates on their new pier behind the breakwater. Here too, the old power lines are visible in the distance.

The village is trying to court tourists to bring in some extra income and to raise awareness of their plight.The chief has assembled an array of pictures and documents (many enlarged and neatly laminated) that she eagerly shares with visitors. They have built a small two-bedroom hut on stilts specifically for weekend tourists. Included in the price are three meals a day that included fresh crab, dried fish, and some of their homemade shrimp paste. All the food was delicious and the villagers were very friendly. I had learned a few words of Thai by this point but still had to rely on Bisdith and Dear to translate for me.

Our little hut on stilts.

Our little two bedroom hut on stilts.

Our dinner with fresh seafood. For breakfast we were served crabs. Thankfully I had already gotten used to eaten seafood for breakfast at the meditation retreat.

Our dinner with very locally sourced food. Since there is no refrigeration, most of the fish is dried.

A couple we met on one of the paths.

A couple we met on one of the paths.

The chief with her assortment of pictures, maps and diagrams explaining how rising sea levels are threatening their village.

The chief with her assortment of pictures, maps and diagrams explaining how rising sea levels are threatening their village.

A display showing how much the sea has risen and come insland over the last 40 years. The picture on the left was taken in the early 1970's, the middle one is from the mid-90's and the last one taken in the last several years. The red box marks the site of the temple.

A display showing how much the sea has risen over the last 40 years. The small red box marks the site of the temple. The picture on the left was taken in the early 1970’s, when the temple was still surrounded by land,  the middle one is from the mid-90’s and the last one taken in the last several years. (Double-click  on this or any of the photos in these blog posts to see the images larger.)

I would highly recommend a visit here except for one thing: the startling 5 AM wake-up call of the Army radio station over the loudspeaker which was right next to our hut. I told Bisidith he might want to suggest to the chief that this might not be the desired wake-up call of most tourists. Once I had wiped the sleep out of my eyes, I found it to be kind of funny. Soon the radio announcer and singers were joined by the morning birds, a rainstorm and a proper wake-up call of a rooster.

On the way back to Bangkok, Bisidith took me by Bang Pu, a seaside park run by the Royal Thai Army known for its Sunday ballroom dancing and seafood restaurant. I was excited to see the dancing, but the main reason Bisidth brought me there was to show me how the Army, along with the World Wildlife Fund of Thailand, have planted mangroves to try to break the force of the waves before they hit the land. Together these two groups have created the Bang Pu Nature Education Centre (BNEC) to educate the public on the need for environmental conservation.

Mangroves planted along the coast of Bang Pu to slow down the surf of the rising sea.

Mangroves planted along the coast of Bang Pu to slow down the surf of the rising sea.

It was a stormy day when we were there and I am not sure if it was high tide, but the water was hitting the buildings and their arboreal “breakwater” with a lot of force. Like in Tonga, the mangroves were put in to try to protect the shore but since the ballroom and restaurant are built out onto a pier there is nothing protecting them from the rising seas. Another concern is storm surges which can be more severe as sea levels rise. In recent years when there  is news that a storm surge might sweep up the Gulf of Thailand, attendance drops significantly at this seaside resort, hurting business. Many tourist destinations worldwide are located by the sea and will likely be the first to be able to tell you about the very real threat of sea level rise.

Waves crashing up alongside the Bang Pu seafood restaurant.

Waves crashing up alongside the Bang Pu seafood restaurant.

Another place from my travels abroad that bears  a brief mention in this post is Lake Cathie (pronounced – Cat-eye) in Australia. When I was in Sydney my friend Craig showed me a newspaper article on this quaint seaside town where the residents of Illaroo Road had just been informed that they were part of a “planned retreat” due to the threat rising sea levels, This means homeowners will be expected to sell their houses to the Council rather than another homeowner.

The article in the Austrailan on Illaroo Road in Lake Cathie, Australia.

The article on Illaroo Road in Lake Cathie, Australia.

Since I was already planning to drive up the coast from Sydney to Byron Bay my friend Nathalie and I made a detour to Lake Cathie. It was blustery day threatening rain but we discovered two of the article’s featured homeowners, Russell and Anne Secomb, out working in their yard. I told them I had seen the recent article in The Australian and asked what were their thoughts on climate change. “The climate is always changing,” Russell said. “Always has, always will.” He added that they, along with the other residents, were going to fight the Council’s proposed plan.

Russell Secomb working in his yard.

Russell Secomb working in his yard.

Even though Ilaroo Road lies 7 meters above the current mean sea level, the Council stated it is more concerned about erosion than rising seas. But now, after Hurricane Sandy and seeing what the combination of sea level rise and storm surge can do to oceanfront property, I will be interested to keep an eye on what happens in Lake Cathie in the coming years.

New Zealand: Land of the Long White Cloud

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When I first started researching places to photograph for this project, New Zealand was not one that came up high on the list of countries being affected by climate change. But since I had planned to go to Australia and my flight via the Star Alliance network was scheduled to go through Auckland, I decided to dig a little deeper. Although there was not a lot of news coverage about it I discovered that their two largest glaciers, The Franz Josef and the Fox in the South Island were in retreat due to global warming. And has often been the case on this journey, when I got to Aotearoa (or Land of the Long White Cloud, as the Maoris call their homeland) I learned of other climate change issues affecting New Zealand.

ImageI had an image in my mind of New Zealand being very mystical – both rugged with mountains and lush with mossy old-growth forests. I’m certain The Lord of the Rings movies, which were filmed there, reinforced that notion in my psyche. Thus I was a little dismayed to find so much clear-cutting of forests especially in the North Island.

ImageDespite the glorious double rainbow I saw with my travel partner, Jennifer – a Canadian from British Columbia, we were saddened by the geometrically planted rows of second-growth pine trees. It made the landscape look phony, like an architect’s model. Along some roads we noticed several places where landslides had occurred, an unintended side effect of cutting down so many trees and leaving hillsides bare. Thankfully once we reached the South Island the timberlands diminished and Mother Nature’s hand predominated.

Before heading south on the inter-island ferry we were privileged to spend a few days in Wellington (“the world’s smallest capital city”) with biologist Elizabeth Rose Heeg and her partner Anrik. Both of them have volunteered at the nearby Zealandia, a wildlife sanctuary where they told me I could see the tuatara, an endemic ancient reptile often called a “living fossil.” Since the tuatara’s sex is determined by temperature, with global warming of only a few degrees it’s possible that within the next eighty years only males will be born.

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I was lucky to have an avid tuatura aficionado and volunteer roaming the grounds of Zealandia the day I visited. He pointed out a few spots where these prehistoric creatures were just coming out of their underground nests to warm themselves. They were so well-camouflaged I don’t think I could have found them on my own. Since tuatura were only reintroduced to the mainland in 2005 after having been extinct there for several centuries (due to predators and human development), these reptiles have already been battling the odds. Zealandia is doing an amazing job of giving them a fighting chance, but if the world continues to heat up due to global warming, their only chance at survival might be breeding in temperature-controlled incubators and not in the wild where they belong.

Our first few days in Auckland had been very rainy but by the time we reached the South Island we had several days in a row of sunshine. Driving along under clear skies we kept hearing stories on the radio about how areas of the North Island were being hit with a “weather bomb.” With 100 km/hr winds it looked like a hurricane had gone through some areas. Several cities were experiencing flooding as a result of the storms. A few Kiwis told us that the past couple months had been unusually cold and wet and many felt they had been cheated out of having a true summer. Could this weather bomb be a sign of climate change? It’s too early to tell but most climate scientists predict an increase of extreme weather events such as unusually heavy rains, as a result of increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

When we hit the west coast of the South Island the rain started up again for us. This was expected: “They might as well call it the ‘wet coast,’” our b&b host in Murchison said. But thankfully this perpetually damp region also signaled the arrival of fertile old-growth forest. We had arrived in Middle Earth, a land definitely made for hobbits. We continued down the coast toward our destination reveling in the beauty of the scenery.

Although New Zealand has about 3000 glaciers (at last count in 2007 – it could be less by now) the Franz Josef and the Fox glaciers are the two most visited ones not because they are the largest, the Tasman at 27 km has that honor, but due to their easy access. Located in the Westland Tai Poutini National Park these two are unique in that they descend from the Southern Alps to less than 300 meters above sea level and end in a temperate rainforest. In the last ice age they reached out into the Tasman Sea. Both have a strong history of advancing and retreating in response to climactic conditions but in recent years, due to global warming, their retreat is more pronounced.

Before heading to the Franz Josef we stopped at the Info center. I learned The Maori call this glacier Ka Roimata o Hinehukatere, ‘The tears of Hine Hukatere,” which comes from a legend in which Hine convinced her lover, Tawe, to climb in the mountains with her. Unfortunately an avalanche caught him and swept him to his death. Broken-hearted Hinehukatere’s many tears flowed down the mountain and froze to form the glacier. In 1865 German explorer Julius von Haast named it after Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria.

I explained my project to the fresh-faced representative behind the counter and asked if she could give me any more information about how climate change was affecting the glacier. She didn’t have any pamphlets but recounted that when her father was­­ a boy (about forty years ago) he had been able to see the face of the glacier out the windows of the church fifty meters down the street. “Poor little glacier,” she lamented. “I first saw it when I was eleven and it was so much bigger. I’m just eighteen now which is only seven years ago and it’s shrunk so much!”

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I later discovered that a New Zealand postage stamp issued in 1946 featured a view of the glacier from the altar of St. James Anglican Church, erected in 1931. By 1954, the view of the glacier was gone but with one more significant advance, it made a brief repeat appearance in the 1990’s.

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We stopped at St. James Church and even though the doors were locked and I could not see the view from the altar, no glacier was visible from anywhere on the property. We then drove another 5k along the Waiho River (formed by glacier water) to the car park and still no ice. We headed up a trail to a viewing platform at Peter’s Pool and. at last, way in the distance, and with the help of a telephoto lens I got my first glimpse of the Franz Josef.

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Though this display (below) was erected to explain how this “kettle pool” would one day be filled in by encroaching vegetation and soil I found its pictures more of a commentary on the diminishing size of the ice sheet which is prominently seen in the photos but which we could only see a glimpse of from this vantage point.

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“Poor little glacier” was right. Its tongue, split in two like a serpent, it was riddled with dirty ice and rocks. It was hardly the majestic sheet of ice that was represented on the postcards I’d just bought.

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Top postcard is of the Fox Glacier with the Franz Josef below.

Our hope was to see the glacier in the glow of sunset but realizing that the mountains were going to block the sun long before it set we hurried down to the Glacier Valley Walk trail. It took us about forty-five minutes to reach the end of the trail where we were stopped by the stern-faced “ranger” warning us of the dangers of going any closer. Granted we were only seeing the face of its 12 km of length but it hardly seemed worth writing home about.

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According to a 2007 report, glaciologists predict the tongue of the Franz Josef could be completely gone in less than 100 years. “Even with the minimum amount of likely warming over the next century, the glacier will shrink in length by 4 km, and reduce in size to three-quarters of its current volume.” says Dr Brian Anderson from Victoria University.” On a related note, I discovered that New Zealand has kept their own measurement of the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere much like that of the Keeling Curve recorded at Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii (see my last blog post on Hawaii for more info).

The next day we headed to the 8 km Fox Glacier to see if it fared any better. The face of it looked healthier but neither of these glaciers could compare with the ones I had seen in Patagonia in December (more on them in a future post). I chatted with one couple from the curiously-named Doubtful Bay in the North Island who said they had been there just five years before and were surprised by how much smaller it was now. They said they knew it was melting fast because during their last visit there were chunks of ice as large as cars breaking off and flowing downstream in the Fox River.

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According to the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research the volume of ice in New Zealand’s glaciers have declined approximately 50% over the last century, while the country’s average temperature has increased by about 1° Celsius.

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This chart from the US Geological Survey shows that the retreats of the glaciers are definitely outweighing any recent advances. I wonder if I come back in twenty or even ten years if any ice will be visible from the valley trails. We could have paid about  $400 to get a bird’s eye view from a helicopter and/or take a trek further back on the top of the glacier but with my backpacker’s budget this free hike was our only option. And truth be told, even though there might be more ice farther up the valley – what can be seen from a worm’s eye view should be enough to give anyone cause for concern.

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The same “ranger” that we’d seen at the base of the Franz Josef was hanging out at the Fox Glacier the day we went (He seems to be everywhere in these parks!) I told him I was concerned about the rapid retreat of New Zealand’s glaciers. He agreed it’s a sad story what’s happening to the world around us due to climate change. But he gave me a pat on the back for the work I am doing with “The Witness Tree” to spread the news to everyone that we need to take care of this world since she’s the only one we’ve got!

Hawaii – A Tale in Two Parts

Part II: The Landscape

Although my primary goal in going to Hawaii was to visit the Mauna Lao Observatory to learn about atmospheric carbon dioxide (see previous blog post), I was also curious about the impact of our excess CO2 on this slice of Paradise.

When I arrived in Oahu it was mid-winter and since my first day there was quite rainy I needed to forgo the beach for an indoor activity. I chose the Waikiki Aquarium. I was already aware that oceans are absorbing some of the excess carbon dioxide humans are discharging into the atmosphere and I was hoping the aquarium might be able to shed a little more light on how this was specifically affecting marine and plant life in the Pacific.

Despite it being a small aquarium I stayed several hours reading all the wall text looking for clues about the health of the Pacific marine world. It was easy to linger since it was raining outside and the undulating jellyfish and the delicate sea horses mesmerized me.

The coral in the aquarium was gorgeous! I have not seen a lot of coral in my life but I was impressed with the variety of types showcasing a brilliant array of colors. The soft coral reminded me of showgirls, swaying seductively with the aquarium’s machine-generated currents.

Although there was a display about how monk seal populations are in decline due to various factors, there unfortunately was no mention of how climate change is taking its toll on this region.

When the skies cleared and I finally got in the ocean several days later I was dismayed by how unhealthy much of the coral reef actually is. I snorkeled in three different locations: Kealakekua Bay and Kahalu’u Beach (both near Kona on The Big Island) and also in Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve – a protected marine reserve in Honolulu, Oahu.

The fish may have been pretty but I was too distracted by the marked difference between how damaged this coral looked as compared to what I’d seen just days before in the aquarium. There have been several “bleaching” incidences over the years, most recently in the northern Hawaiian Islands that have taken their toll on the state’s coral reefs. The areas I was exploring are not the most damaged and yet they did not look the picture of good health either.

I contacted a group called “The Coral Reef Alliance” (CORAL) to see what information they could share. I did not get to meet with any of their representatives, but Liz Foote, the Hawaii Field Manager for CORAL sent me links to some interesting articles on how climate change is affecting Hawaii.

Coral is very sensitive to changes in ocean temperatures. With global warming causing the oceans as well as air temperatures to rise, much of the world’s coral has become stressed leading to “bleaching” of these fragile polyps.  Other climate changes that negatively impact coral are the rising sea level and more frequent and severe storms. I’ll be writing soon about my visit to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia so in that post will discuss in further detail the impacts of climate change on coral reefs.

photo of Chip Fletcher by Dennis Oda from the Star Bulletin

One of the other articles Liz sent is about how the projected increase of one meter in sea level (by 2100) will affect Hawaii, specifically the Honolulu area. Chip Fletcher, a marine biologist for the University of Hawaii has done research on this topic and since I spent most of my time on Oahu in the Waikiki/Honolulu area I appreciated seeing these photos of him noting where this increase in sea level would reach in spots I had visited. I also found the maps showing the breadth of this change very compelling.

Representation of what parts of Waikiki will be submerged with a one meter rise in sea level. The hostel I stayed at is marked with a red dot.

I have marked the location of the youth hostel where I stayed with a red dot. Since most of the rooms were on the 3rd and 4th floors one could conceivably still stay there in 100 years but you would need a canoe to get there!

It was on the Big Island though when I started talking to locals about my project that the effects of climate change were made even more tangible. I first stayed in Hilo, on the eastern side of the Island. Even though this is known to be the rainy side of the Island, I learned that they had just come out of 55 straight days of rain.

Terry Rose, one of the owners of the charming Hilo Bay Hostel where I stayed was the first of several people to comment on this deluge. He had brought a bowl of juicy grapefruit from his backyard to share with the guests. He apologized for them not being as juicy or as large as usual but explained that the heavy and constant rains had overwhelmed his garden even though it had been constructed with swales by the previous owners (a botanist and a landscape designer) to accommodate for Hilo’s usual rainfall. I thought the grapefruits were delicious and of a typical size I was accustomed to back home in New York – but Terry kept insisting they were sub par. He mentioned too how those almost two solid months of rain, especially since they came over the Christmas holidays had dampened everyone’s spirits as well as their yards.

 

After I had visited the Mauna Lao Observatory I got a ride to the western side of the island with two new Brazilian friends, Igor and Samantha who were taking their rental car back to the airport. Once we crossed over the northern tip of the island I was astonished how the lushness and farms of the Hilo-area gave way to bone-dry grassy hills. While I was Hilo I saw a report in the newspaper about a wildfire that had just happened on the Kona-side.  I’d forgotten about it until driving down the main road to Kona I smelled the scent of the fire still lingering even before I noticed that the trees on the side of the road were scorched.

I stopped to take a look and some photos. Having photographed after the wildfires in Bastrop, Texas that destroyed over 1,500 homes, this fire had thankfully done little damage. Still, it was a sign of the drought this side of the island was experiencing.

At The Pineapple Park Hostel on the southern edge of Kona I met Mike Holliday, the son of one of the owners of the hostel. A self-described artist, pro-skater, and farmer, Mike was born in California but his family made the journey to Maui on a houseboat when he was thirteen. From a young age he said he has felt connected to the natural world. Now forty-five, Mike discussed how he sees climate change affecting Hawaii. “I just want things to be cool and green,” Mike mused. I presume he was referring to the actual physical conditions as well as the political/social climate. From a farmer’s standpoint he noted that increasing temperatures have also led to an increase in invasive species. “There’s a weird imbalance now that wasn’t here before,” he said referring to their being more snakes and less insects.

Mike asked me if I’d been to Mauna Kea. I mentioned I’d just been there a few days before. “Did you know that its name translates as “White Mountain?” he asked. I hadn’t really thought about it.But when I later found a postcard of it this volcano, the highest peak in Hawaii, fully covered with snow the name seemed justified. Mike said wistfully, “There used to be great snowboarding  and even skiing there, but in recent years there has been barely any snow.“

And that was exactly how I had found it in the midst of winter – just a few patches of snow on the shady-side of the mountain. I wonder if I return to Hawaii in five or ten years if there will be any snow there or if will need to be renamed Mauna Ele’ele, or Black Mountain, for its rocky volcanic surface and lack of snowy white blanket.

Hawaii – A Tale in Two Parts

Part 1: Monitoring Carbon Dioxide

I went to Hawaii on a pilgrimage. Not to discover whales or surf the big waves but to visit the Mauna Loa Observatory on The Big Island. Most people, locals included, are more familiar with the shiny astronomy observatories located on the nearby Mauna Kea, the highest mountain in the Pacific. But I was interested in this lesser-known research station on this slighter lower but larger volcano. The Mauna Lao Observatory (MLO) was established in the late 1950’s by scientist Charles Keeling to measure and study the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

I was lucky enough to be touring the facilities on the same day as Dr. Kevin Harrison who had been a student of Dr. Keeling. In continuing the lineage to Keeling our guide was Aidan Colton a former student of Kevin’s.  I felt like I was among climate change science royalty. Kevin and his girlfriend Beth graciously agreed to drive me up to the lab since there is no public transportation to get there.  It was a bright warm winter day when we started out in Hilo, but the temperature dropped considerably by the time we got to the lab. And since Mauna Loa (translated as long mountain) is more than 13,680 ft / 4,170 m above sea level we also noticed that the thin air caused us to feel a bit light-headed.

Keeling  chose to build this lab in Hawaii since he wanted to a place where the atmosphere was not polluted to ensure the accuracy of his measurements. In addition to Keeling’s original carbon dioxide analyzer, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) also funds a newer separate CO2 monitoring device. The complex of several buildings are part of the Earth System Research Laboratory – Global Monitoring Division (GMD) based in Boulder, Colorado.  The GMD consists of several projects focusing on different but related issues that affect climate change: such as The Aerosol and Radiation Group and the Ozone and Water Vapor Group.

After seeing the fancy shiny observatories at Mauna Kea the day before I was surprised by the Rube Goldberg  appearance of these facilities. The complex is made up of several corrugated metal and wood buildings. Yet despite the simple construction of the labs, the work they do there is very important in monitoring the rising rate of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The MLO is responsible for the longest continuous record of atmospheric CO in the world.

 

 

 

A little background

Before the industrial revolution the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere was a steady 275 parts per million (ppm) for about 10,000 years.  When Keeling started his studies, that number was 315 ppm. On the day I visited it was 396 ppm with the average so far for this year being 391. Aidan explained they always work with averages collected over many days rather than using any one number that might signify a high or low spike. The staff is also careful to disregard any false numbers that may be influenced by other particulates in the air such as when extra sodium dioxide is blowing downwind from nearby volcanoes.

Part of the carbon dioxide analyzer at the MLO

One of the first things Keeling noted from the early measurements is that the concentration of C02 varies seasonally reflecting the growth and decay of vegetation in the Northern Hemisphere. Hence in the spring  the level drops as leafy trees and plants absorb more atmospheric C02 and in autumn the concentrations begin to increase again as trees become bare. And more importantly, over time the Keeling Curve, as it’s become known, has shown connections between the increase in the global combustion of fossil fuels and the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

A poster from 2006 showing the Keeling Curve hanging in one of the MLO buildings

Even though we don’t need scientific charts to tell us that the climate is changing, lining up the Keeling Curve with one showing the increase in global temperatures underscores the relationship between the two.

Polar ice is melting, sea levels are rising, and storms are getting worse.  And some of these effects have further feedback loops: For example, as the reflective white surface of ice sheets melt leaving more dark sea to absorb heat, ocean temperatures are also increasing. And it’s not just the atmosphere that is absorbing more carbon dioxide but the oceans as well (more on that in Hawaii: part 2).

Essentially the level of CO2 has risen steadily by 2ppm each year since the 1950’s and there has been more than a 37% increase since the Industrial Revolution level of 275 ppm. In the early years of climate change studies, scientists thought that number could safely increase to 550 ppm. But as more studies were done that number was lowered to 450. Then in 2007 NASA scientist James Hansen announced that 350 ppm is the highest level that the earth can safely sustain.  Since we surpassed that number several years ago we need to work hard to try to get it back down. Pessimists might say that it’s too late. But people like activist Bill McKibben (who started the group 350.org) believes in focusing  our efforts to motivate politicians to take action instead of just making hollow promises.

Reading McKibben’s books The End of Nature and Eaarth and Hansen’s Storms of my Grandchildren made me aware of how important the studies at Mauna Loa are. Both authors point out how dangerous it is to ignore this rising CO2 figure and just continue with a “business-as-usual” mentality. Even if we did change our dependency on fossil fuels overnight, much of the damage that has been done cannot be repaired. But I don’t think that is reason to give up the fight. I have followed the activities of 350.org for a couple of years now and am inspired by how strong their presence is worldwide. I urge you to check out their website and consider getting involved in a local chapter.

At the end of our tour Aiden gave Kevin, Beth, and I each a glass tube to capture our own CO2 sample which he sealed and marked with the date and the current level of 396 ppm when we captured it.  I periodically check NASA’s Vital Signs of the Planet website to monitor their current stories and statistics about climate change including concentrations of CO2  so I will check it with greater interest now that I have been to Mauna Loa. And I pray that the little vial of carbon dioxide on my shelf will become a relic of the past when/if the levels of carbon dioxide start dropping as we humans learn to curb our dependency on fossil fuels.

Postscript:

I am publishing this post from Sydney, Australia on March 31st marking the city’s 5th annual Earth Hour. This event was begun here in 2007 as a way of drawing attention to the issue of climate change. Now over 135 countries around the world take part in turning off their lights for at least one hour between 8:30 and 9:30 pm  I will be in the Sydney Harbour watching as they dim the lights on some of the city’s iconic landmarks and buildings.  Where will you be? Maybe there is a local event in your city that you can attend.

And if you can’t attend an Earth Hour event tonight or are reading this after the fact or are  looking for ways to reduce your own carbon footprint, here are some websites to guide you:

A carbon footprint calculator from The World Wildlife Federation (the original sponsor of Earth Hour). From Squidoo, 101 ways to cut back your footprint,and interestingly enough – a list from conservative Fox News.

Good luck and good night!