Archive for December 23, 2012


As a startling United Nations report recently said, by 2050, or much, much sooner, the world will be”unrecognizable,” because OF melting ice caps, drought, desertification, food shortages, scarcity wars, and rapid human population growth. The consequences will be systematic and affect humans, animals, and the environment in profound ways, the melting of the Arctic ice is just one of many profound, simultaneously unfolding anthropogenic-induced changes that will wreak utter havoc on this planet.

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Fen Montaigne, August 30, 2012, Yale Environment 360

Scientists say this year’s record declines in Arctic sea ice extent and volume are powerful evidence that the giant cap of ice at the top of the planet is on a trajectory to largely disappear in summer within a decade or two, with profound global consequences.

As the northern summer draws to a close, two milestones have been reached in the Arctic Ocean — record-low sea ice extent, and an even more dramatic new low in Arctic sea ice volume. This extreme melting offers dramatic evidence, many scientists say, that the region’s sea ice has passed a tipping point and that sometime in the next decade or two the North Pole will be largely ice-free in summer.

NASA and U.S. ice experts announced earlier this week that the extent of Arctic sea ice has dropped to 4.1 million square kilometers (1.58 million square miles) — breaking the previous record set in 2007 — and will likely continue to fall even farther until mid-September. As the summer melt season ends, the Arctic Ocean will be covered with 45 percent less ice than the average from 1979 to 2000.


Arctic Sea Ice Extent August 2012

On August 26, Arctic sea ice reached a new record-low summer extent.

Even more striking is the precipitous decline in the volume of ice in the Arctic Ocean. An analysis conducted by the University of Washington’s Pan Arctic Ice Ocean Model Assimilation System (PIOMAS) estimates that sea ice volumes fell in late August to roughly 3,500 cubic kilometers — a 72-percent drop from the 1979-2010 mean.

Peter Wadhams, who heads the Polar Ocean Physics Group at the University of Cambridge and who has been measuring Arctic Ocean ice thickness from British Navy submarines, says that earlier calculations about Arctic sea ice loss have grossly underestimated how rapidly the ice is disappearing. He believes that the Arctic is likely to become ice-free before 2020 and possibly as early as 2015 or 2016 — decades ahead of projections made just a few years ago.

Mark Drinkwater, mission scientist for the European Space Agency’s CryoSat satellite and the agency’s senior advisor on polar regions, said he and his colleagues have been taken aback by the swiftness of Arctic sea ice retreat in the last 5 years. “If this rate of melting [in 2012] is sustained in 2013, we are staring down the barrel and looking at a summer Arctic which is potentially free of sea ice within this decade,” Drinkwater said in an e-mail interview.

A small number of climate scientists say that natural variability may be playing a significant role in the rapid retreat of Arctic sea ice, intensifying human-caused climate change, and they caution against predicting the imminent demise of the region’s summer sea ice. But an overwhelming majority of Arctic ice experts say that recent data offer powerful evidence that summer sea ice has passed a point of no return.

The dramatic ice loss is being driven by a several key factors, scientists say. Chief among them is that decades of warming have so extensively melted and thinned Arctic sea ice that rapidly expanding areas of dark, open water are absorbing ever-greater amounts of the sun’s radiation, further warming the region in a vicious cycle.

Second, swiftly warming air and ocean temperatures in the Arctic have, for now at least, altered atmospheric activity, with two consequences: Warmer air is being pulled into the Arctic, and increased storms and cyclones in summer are not only driving ice out of the Arctic basin, but also breaking up the ice pack and further exposing more dark water.

And finally there is the inescapable reality that steadily rising levels of carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere by human activity are continuing to warm the Arctic and the rest of the globe, further hastening the loss of Arctic Ocean ice. Several experts say that the only thing that could slow this disappearance — and then only for a few years — would be a major volcanic eruption that reduces the amount of the sun’s energy striking the earth.

“It’s sobering to see the Arctic change so rapidly,” said Ted Scambos, senior research scientist at the National Snow & Ice Data Center in Colorado. “Simply staring at the satellite data that we’re seeing every day is awesome, but in a sad sort of way. It doesn’t look like the Arctic anymore. The summer ice used to look like a cap that nearly filled the Arctic basin. It now looks like a raft with room on every side. You can imagine what it’s going to look like when the North Pole is open water, when there is only a tiny amount of ice left in August and September. The planet will look a lot different.”

The loss of the great white dome of ice at the top of the world in summer will have profound effects, scientists say. These include a reduction of the amount of solar radiation reflected back into space by the ice, significant changes to the jet stream and Northern Hemispheric weather patterns, and even-more rapid warming in the far north, speeding the melting of Greenland’s massive ice sheets and increasing global sea levels.

In addition to these impacts, said Drinkwater, “Increased storminess will generate ocean wave systems which, un-damped by the presence of sea ice, will pound the circumpolar north coastlines. Current rates of coastal permafrost degradation will be accelerated, leading to significant coastal erosion and reconfiguration of the high-latitude shoreline. Meanwhile, we have also recently heard about the potential for release of sub-sea methane deposits and thereby an acceleration of the current greenhouse effect.”

The record low sea ice extent in 2007 of 4.2 million square kilometers was due to some unusual circumstances, including a sunny summer in the Arctic and higher temperatures. Summer sea ice extent rebounded somewhat in the next several years, rising to 5.3 million square kilometers in 2009, giving some hope to mainstream scientists that Arctic sea ice was not in a “death spiral.”

But Scambos and other experts say that recent data on plummeting ice extent and volume show that the Arctic has entered a “new normal” in which ice decline seems irreversible. Because of thinning ice and swiftly expanding areas of open water, the Arctic Ocean will no longer be kept frigid in summer by the reflectivity of snow and ice — the so-called ice-albedo effect, in which ice and snow reflect a high percentage of the sun’s energy back into space.

Arctic Sea Ice NASA

Melting Arctic sea ice.

Thick sea ice that formed over many years is increasingly rare in the Arctic. In the 1960s, submarines routinely encountered 12-foot-thick ice around the North Pole and 20-foot-thick ice in some other areas; now those regions often contain ice that is only three to four feet thick. Many parts of the Arctic Ocean are now covered with thin, year-old ice that melts quickly in spring and summer.

This spring, noted Scambos, extensive late winter snow cover on land melted unusually rapidly, reaching record low levels by June. Sea ice across much of the Arctic began to melt 10 to 14 days earlier than in the preceding few decades. Relatively clear skies from late May through June further hastened the melting of sea ice, but even as cloudier weather prevailed in July and August, the record sea ice retreat continued.

“The sensitivity of the Arctic to a warm summer is much higher now than it was in the 1990s or early 2000s,” said Scambos. “What we’re seeing last year and this year is that 2007 wasn’t a fluke. As we’ve gone forward a few years, we’re seeing that many different patterns of weather lead to significant sea ice loss in the Arctic.”

Scambos does not foresee summer sea ice in the Arctic largely disappearing this decade, estimating that such an event could occur around 2030, “plus or minus a decade.” He said the “endgame” of Arctic summer sea ice will probably mean that around 1 million square kilometers — about 15 percent of what existed in the mid-20th century — will remain in the Canadian High Arctic and some other regions, leaving the North Pole generally ice-free in August and September.

Drinkwater said that changing weather patterns, related to more heat and moisture being released into the Arctic atmosphere, have played a significant role in accelerating sea ice loss. Sea ice retreat in the past decade has been accompanied by a trend toward lower atmospheric pressure and more storms and cyclonic activity, which in turn breaks up the pack ice and exposes more open water. A powerful Arctic storm earlier this month did just that, Drinkwater noted.

He said that Arctic sea ice could conceivably rebound for some period of time if atmospheric circulation changes and a pattern known as the Arctic Oscillation — currently in a positive phase — moves into a negative phase and ushers in a period of prolonged high atmospheric pressure and fewer storms. This, said Drinkwater, would enable sea ice to remain trapped in the Arctic basin and thicken.

“However,” added Drinkwater, “this seems like blind hope in a system whose feedbacks all appear geared to getting rid of sea ice.”

Judith Curry, a climatologist and chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said that while global warming is “almost certainly” affecting Arctic sea ice, she cautioned that there is a great deal of annual and decadal variability in sea ice cover. She said that the next 5 to 10 years could see a shift in Arctic sea ice behavior, though exactly in which direction is difficult to predict.

“I don’t see [the] summer of 2012 portending some sort of near-term `spiral of death’ in the sea ice behavior,” Curry said in an e-mail interview. “I don’t think this apparent record sea ice minimum is of particular significance in our understanding of climate variability and change of Arctic sea ice.”

 

A vivid example of how the politics of nature – relating to the struggles to preserve animals, biodiversity, and ecosystems — has become at least as important as any social movement struggle. Of course, the article shows that the two political struggles are hardly inseparable, and that if we want to preserve biodiversity and ecological integrity, then we must also preserve the existence and rights of indigenous peoples. Because sure as hell, global corporations, bankers, dictators, imperialists, militarists, and mercenaries exist only to rob and destroy, not protect and disturb. Yet another example of how we need to speak of total liberation, or don’t speak of liberation at all.

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William Allen, Yale Environment 360, October 8, 2012

In Guatemala’s vast Maya Biosphere Reserve, conservation groups are battling to preserve a unique rainforest now under threat from Mexican drug cartels, Salvadoran drug gangs, and Chinese-backed groups illegally logging prime tropical hardwoods.The 200-foot summit of Temple IV in the ancient Maya city of Tikal provides a spectacular view of Central America’s largest expanse of intact rainforest. In the late afternoon, spider monkeys dangle from nearby branches, stretching to pick small fruits. The guttural barks of howler monkeys echo through the canopy — a lush green broken only by the occasional flash of lemon yellow from a swooping toucan.This lowland forest is the heart of the Maya Biosphere Reserve of northern Guatemala, a 2.1 million-hectare (5.2 million-acre) sanctuary that covers 19 percent of the country and contains roughly 60 percent of its protected area. The UNESCO-designated biosphere reserve sustains a wide array of biodiversity, most notably the last remaining population of a key subspecies of scarlet macaw.

In Guatemala’s vast Maya Biosphere Reserve, conservation groups are battling to preserve a unique rainforest now under threat from Mexican drug cartels, Salvadoran drug gangs, and Chinese-backed groups illegally logging prime tropical hardwoods.The 200-foot summit of Temple IV in the ancient Maya city of Tikal provides a spectacular view of Central America’s largest expanse of intact rainforest. In the late afternoon, spider monkeys dangle from nearby branches, stretching to pick small fruits. The guttural barks of howler monkeys echo through the canopy — a lush green broken only by the occasional flash of lemon yellow from a swooping toucan.This lowland forest is the heart of the Maya Biosphere Reserve of northern Guatemala, a 2.1 million-hectare (5.2 million-acre) sanctuary that covers 19 percent of the country and contains roughly 60 percent of its protected area. The UNESCO-designated biosphere reserve sustains a wide array of biodiversity, most notably the last remaining population of a key subspecies of scarlet macaw.

Conservation groups are helping restore scarlet macaw populations in the Maya Biosphere Reserve.

But this magnificent creature and others that inhabit the reserve — jaguars, pumas, Guatemalan black howler monkeys, Baird’s tapirs — are being pressured not just by the standard threats common to tropical regions, such as illegal logging, fires, and commercial hunting. Even more virulent forces are gnawing away at the Maya Biosphere Reserve, including Mexican drug cartels that cut into the forest to build airstrips to transport drugs, Salvadoran gangs that carve out huge cattle ranches to launder drug money, and Chinese organized crime groups moving their illegal logging network toward the reserve to supply Asian markets with prime tropical hardwoods.

As a result, this natural and cultural treasure — the heart of the Selva Maya, a forest spanning the borders of Guatemala, Mexico, and Belize — has in recent years effectively been cut in two. The western side, which includes two of the reserve’s five national parks and is bordered on the west and the north by Mexico, is under siege, according to Guatemalan park officials. The eastern part of the reserve, where Tikal rises above the jungle canopy and which borders Belize, is lush and intact.

“The story of the Maya Biosphere Reserve has increasingly become a tale of two reserves — one of conservation successes and one of failures,” says Roan McNab, director of the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Guatemala program. McNab is a pivotal figure in a coalition of Guatemalan and foreign conservation groups battling to preserve the eastern half of the reserve and claw back some of the denuded lands of the western sector.

Much is at stake, as the reserve and the surrounding Selva Maya are the largest block of intact forest north of the Amazon Basin. The reserve supports 513 of Guatemala’s bird species (71 percent of the national total), 122 mammal species (64 percent), 95 reptile species (39 percent), and more than 80 species of neotropical migrant birds from North America. It enshrouds Tikal, a national park and World Heritage Site, and hundreds of other vestiges of Mayan civilization.

The international coalition struggling to preserve the heart of the reserve has enjoyed some important successes. Scarlet macaws are making a comeback thanks to intensive restoration efforts. The presence of the civilian government and military has grown. Prosecution of environmental crimes is up, albeit slightly. And community-based forest concessions have brought some rural Guatemalans sustainable income and empowered them in managing parts of the reserve.

“There’s a greater social awareness now of the importance of preserving environmental stability,” says Rolman Hernandez, director of the Petén region of Consejo Nacional de Areas Protegidas (CONAP), the Guatemalan park service. The reserve covers more than half of the Petén, the largest and northernmost of Guatemala’s 22 departments, or provinces.

Tikal

The World Heritage site at Tikal is among hundreds of historic Mayan sites in the Maya Biosphere Reserve.

The region that became the Maya Biosphere Reserve was once a vast mix of lowland rainforest, wetlands, lagoons, lakes, rivers, and mangrove forests. As many as 2 million people lived here at the peak of Mayan civilization, around 800 A.D., archeologists estimate. Then came the Mayan decline and Spanish conquest.

Until the 1960s, the region consisted of a few isolated forest villages. Then roads, built mainly to access oil and timber, opened the the area to illegal colonization and slash-and-burn agriculture. The reserve was created in 1990 to help control deforestation, but CONAP, financially strapped and often overruled by government officials friendly to the ranchers, has been hampered in its attempts to control the wave of destruction, McNab and others say. Today the human population is 118,000, with most living in poverty.

Criminal activity in the area began to intensify a decade ago, further accelerating the destruction of the western half of the reserve. An important factor is that northern Guatemala is ideally situated to refuel drug aircraft flying from South America and transfer narcotics to trucks for the easy drive to Mexico. The cartels operated in a “climate of impunity” since the army and police lacked the power to take them on, McNab says. The ranchers built dozens of airstrips, including one dubbed the “international airport,” which had three runways and more than a dozen abandoned aircraft. The result was a loss of 40,000 hectares of forest.

Guatemalans have developed a new term for what’s happening in the region: narcoganaderia, a combination of the Spanish words for drugs and cattle ranching. The cartels launder drug money by investing in cattle production and reaping profits from cattle sales in Mexican markets.

CONAP officials say evidence of the work of Chinese-backed criminal groups lies in the yard behind the agency’s Petén headquarters, in San Benito. The yard is crowded with timber and confiscated vehicles. Victor Penados, CONAP’s coordinator of control and vigilance for the reserve, points to a pile of rosewood confiscated from suppliers to Chinese criminal groups. The wood comes from one of several recent timber-smuggling busts by the government reported in national news media. This pile, confiscated from a truck delivering the wood to the Caribbean seaport of Puerto San Tomas de Castillo for shipment to China, has a market value of $125,000, Penados estimates.

Operatives with Chinese criminal cartels have been conducting illegal logging just south of the reserve, according to CONAP. McNab fears it won’t be long before the Chinese-backed groups start cutting inside the reserve itself and then turn to intensive jaguar poaching for body parts to serve a Chinese market that is already driving Asian big cats toward extinction.

This conservation drama is playing out under extreme conditions. CONAP and WCS staffers have been threatened many times. Some have been taken hostage, while others have had to “disappear” for several weeks after raids to reclaim illegally acquired ranchland. McNab himself was held at gunpoint by two looters of a Mayan ruin deep in the jungle. I was accompanied into the forest with as many as five armed security guards as we traveled near cartel ranches. Always in the back of my mind were the nation’s poverty, corruption, history of dictatorship, lawlessness, and 36-year civil war, which ended in 1996.

The influence of illegal logging and ranching in the reserve is evident in a series of three CONAP land-use maps showing a wave of fires and land clearing that gobbled up large green swaths of forest from 2000 to 2011, especially in the western section. McNab warns that if law enforcement does not improve, the reserve faces a “chain of falling dominoes threatening to sweep eastward all the way to Guatemala’s border with Belize.”

Maya Biosphere Map

The 2.1 million-hectare Maya Biosphere Reserve covers 19 percent of Guatemala.

Nowhere is the tale of two reserves more visible than at the Guacamayas Biological Station in Laguna del Tigre National Park. To the south, across the Rio San Pedro and beyond, stretches a vast plain of ranchland, the raw result of deforestation. To the north, the rainforest canopy rolls untattered all the way to the border with Mexico. In 2008, scientists discovered a 1,100-hectare clear-cut smack in the middle of that expanse. It turned out to be a large cattle ranch linked to a Salvadoran gang involved in drug trafficking.

Such forest destruction has in recent decades reduced by 75 percent the habitat of the region’s scarlet macaws, a subspecies of the scarlet macaws found farther south in Latin America and the last remaining macaws in the wild in Guatemala. By 2000, scarlet macaws had nearly been extirpated in the reserve. A 2003 WCS study estimated that the population, mostly centered in the forest to the east of Laguna del Tigre park, had dropped to 200 birds. That year, the researchers monitored 15 nests, but only one chick successfully fledged.

But a program of predator control, environmental education in local schools, and hand-rearing by veterinarians brought the number of successful macaw fledglings to 29 in 2011 and 49 for this year’s nesting season. Says McNab, “We feel pretty good about adding that number of birds to the population. That’s big in terms of saving the species.”

To halt continuing deforestation, CONAP and its allies have established what they call “the Shield” — a lattice of trails running along the eastern border of Laguna del Tigre park, anchored by three major bases for patrols by CONAP, the army, national police, and others. Patrols and arrests have risen steadily over the past four years.

If the success or failure of the Shield will determine whether the western front of the reserve holds, what happens in villages like Uaxactún will decide whether the eastern part will avoid destruction from within.

Uaxactún, population 280, is one of 14 villages awarded government concessions more than a decade ago as part of an experiment in community-based forest management. The concessions, covering nearly one-fourth of the reserve, require residents to protect the forest ecosystems and manage its wood and other resources sustainably.

The villagers must refrain from poaching, intensive logging, slash-and-burn farming, and other unsustainable practices, as well as patrol for and report any such illegal activity. In return, CONAP, WCS, and other groups provide technical and financial support for forest-product ventures. Dozens of residents now work in sustainable harvesting of timber, date palm fronds, chicle for chewing gum, and other non-timber products from the forest. Others work in the village sawmill and woodworking shop.

Village leaders say the concession is working well. But not all the concessions have been so successful, according to a study published in March in the journal Forest Ecology and Management. Among reasons for the problems were limited funding, the low CONAP budget, pressure from illegal ranching, and land speculation.

The effort in the village of Cruce a la Colorada was one of the failures. In 2010, disputes between ranchers and concession managers became so heated that concession members received death threats. A community leader was assassinated. In the ensuing climate of fear, the project collapsed.

But the conservation groups remain hopeful.

“You can grapple with these governance issues and you can have success,” McNab says. “It takes an integrated strategy working with a huge suite of partners, but it can be done.”

The End Is Near: It’s Not Mayan Prophecy, It’s US Imperialism

By Colin TodhunterGlobal Research, December 20, 2012

mayacalendar

According to some who believe in signs and prophecies, based on the ancient Mayan calendar, the world may have ended by the time you read this, in which case you won’t be reading it! Maybe those people know a thing or two because, given the current state of play, would it come as a great surprise if the world were to actually come to an end?

But, regardless of any prophecy, I can guarantee right now that the world will shortly be coming to an end – for many people. US-backed conflict in Syria will fuel even more death and destruction in that unfortunate country. The US is banking on it. Where would its plans be to dominate the world if it could not rely on killing and brutality brought about by stoking ethnic and sectarian conflict? Such tactics have already caused hundreds of thousands of deaths in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. The strategy persists and the killing goes on.

What is happening in Syria at this moment is symptomatic of a criminality that too often goes unquestioned, that is too often regarded as normal and thus acceptable thanks mainly to the mainstream media. People have been softened up to accept barbarity as normal and thus as acceptable by a global corporate media that takes as fact whitewashed official statements and press releases justifying militarism and consequent mass murder by the US government, the British government or any other number of governments.

The result is that this criminality pervades all aspects of life in 2012.

Thanks to a toothless mainstream media, it is regarded as normal and thus acceptable that the international system of trade and finance has allowed capital to be shifted around the globe at ease, resulting in big profits and environmental degradation, easy money and cheap labour, private gain and public havoc. All of this is done according to the warped rationale of the market, supported by dogma masquerading as economic theory.

It is regarded as normal and thus acceptable that the food and pharmaceuticals industries work to sicken and treat us and that ‘big oil’ works hand in glove with agribusiness to impose a system of water intensive, chemical-industrial agriculture at the expense of biodiversity and environmental sustainability.

US militarism is implemented on behalf of bankers and any other number of corporate interests and is carried out under the lie of ‘humanitarianism’ or the ‘war on terror’. The profiteering nuclear energy and resource extraction industries are destroying democracy and placing people and environments in jeopardy in India.

The mainstream media serves to make barbarity acceptable.

Governments are working overtime to attack and deceive their populations on behalf of rich corporations, which have succeeded in bending the machineries of state and media to their will. The end-result is diminishing democracy, the increasing influence of international finance, the destruction of local economies, science pressed into the service of a worldwide arms industry, endless conflict over finite resources and unnecessary suffering.

There is an alternative and it entails debunking the myth that the endless pursuit of high GDP growth on the back of increased power for the market, speculators and huge corporate concerns is how we define normality. The current system is not only ecologically destructive and fuels and relies on perpetual conflict, but wrongly privileges urban over rural and promotes the excessive consumption of energy to engage in unnecessary work to produce unnecessary goods that have a built-in planned obsolescence. This socially divisive, wasteful and unsustainable system is tied to an image of the world laid down by powerful transnational corporations and which is translated into policies by the IMF, WTO, World Bank and national governments.

This is the current state of play. It’s become matter of fact. It’s become acceptable.

It’s also quite normal that 130 countries have recognised opposition forces in Syria as the legitimate ‘government’ there, even though the US, NATO, oil rich Gulf states and Israel have done their damnedest to interfere in the workings of a sovereign state in order to create civil war and bolster the position of the said opposition. It’s quite normal that many of those 130 countries only support such tactics because not to do so would incur the bullying of the US in terms of economic, military and political aid or support being cut or other pressures and sanctions being applied. And the mainstream media regards this as constituting the will of the ‘international community’, of ‘independent’ sovereign states acting according to conscience.

Where would we be without such a media? There are many examples from across the world of how we could address the problems we currently face and of how we could challenge what is spoon-fed to us as ‘normality’.

Unfortunately, those who comprise the US-led military-financial-industrial complex and who control and own the corporate media have no interest in solutions. From Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and General Electric to BP, Shell and others, they seek to maintain the current system at all costs.

And that entails seeking to impose their warped version of normality through media propaganda and the barrel of a gun, the attack of a drone and all illegal means necessary. Those who refuse to cave in to US-led hegemony could well face a similar fate as Syria.  You don’t need to refer to the Mayan calendar to know for some the end could be near. The message from the US is that it will be – if you fail to fall into line.

Also see:

The Mayan 2012 Prophecy: The Orwellian “End of the World” Doomsday is “Made in America”

The Mayan 2012 Prophecy: The Orwellian “End of the World” Doomsday is “Made in America”

End of the World: Hear the 2012 Prophecy … Direct from the Mouths of the Mayan Priests

The Mayans, the ecological crisis and the end of the world: a little sanity please

The Maya collapsed – could we?

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