Colson: As polar ice melts, there go our favorite foods
January 7, 2016
As the millennials like to put it, "OMG!"
Over the weekend I got a jolt of climate-change reality, and it was not a comfortable experience.
I just read, on the EcoWatch website (ecowatch.com), that among the types of food threatened with extinction due to global warming is the avocado.
Also threatened are the less-sweet, crispier types of apples, along with coffee, beer, peanut butter and chocolate, according to the website.
There are other food types listed on the website as being threatened in one way or another by global warming, but in that group alone I find ingredients needed for four foods that are critical to my continued survival on this planet — guacamole; PB&J sandwiches; crisp and slightly sour apples and the applesauce that comes from them; and the darkest of dark chocolate.
Beer, interestingly enough, doesn't cause me great concern, as I'm only occasional consumer, although I have to admit that the reason beer is threatened (shortage of clean, fresh water for brewing) is troublesome in many other ways than just limiting the output of beer.
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But if beer were to go away I wouldn't weep, though I know many who would.
Now, Scotch whisky, on the other hand, is an entirely different matter.
If climate change ever threatens the global supply of barley, and thereby the production of my favorite Scotch, I might get a little upset.
What got me thinking about all this was an emailed link from Carbondale Trustee John Hoffmann to the EcoWatch website and a video on the site showing 25 years of changes in the Arctic polar ice cap, from 1987 through early November 2014.
It's a remarkable stop-action video, assembled from images on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), showing that as recently as a quarter of a century ago there was still a lot of what was called "old ice" throughout the arctic region. Another term for it is "permanent ice," referring to ice floes that are older than nine years and were once considered a key part of the permanent ecology of the arctic environment.
In the video clip, permanent ice is white, seasonal ice (meaning ice that forms over the winter but disappears in the summer) is blue, and in 1987 there still was a lot of white in evidence, serving as the foundation of an ecosystem that developed over millennia.
But the white ice in the clip starts to disappear over the years, with the most dramatic changes noticeable after 2005. By 2014, the white stuff had diminished to a thin strip in the Beaufort Sea that borders Canada's northern network of islands and shoreline.
And you don't have to simply rely on EcoWatch for this information.
The latest National Geographic (January, 2016) has a story about the same phenomenon, as studied by a team of scientists who regularly spend months on the ice sheet to gather data.
"Since satellites began regularly measuring Arctic sea ice in 1979," the article states, "it has declined sharply in extent and thickness."
As the ice thins, it loses its ability to reflect sunlight back into space, thereby increasing the pace of global warming. When the ice disappears, the ocean does what it does best, which is absorb all that heat that used to be reflected by the ice, thereby deepening the effects of global warming everywhere.
Getting the picture? The evidence is mounting that we human beings are making global warming worse than it otherwise would be, because the geologic record has shown that these kinds of climactic changes historically have taken a lot longer than what we're observing today.
Elsewhere in the same issue of National Geo, I should point out, is a story about rubber trees, and how they are becoming a monoculture of profit in growing parts of the developing world, particularly in the erstwhile jungles of Southeast Asia, displacing existing native species as everyone from governments down to the peasant farmers grasp desperately for the riches offered by rubber production.
But rubber trees don't do well when planted uniformly and close together, scientists say. Never mind the eradication of some of the most diverse plant and animal life in the regions where this is happening; the density of rubber-tree plantations makes the trees vulnerable to disease and pests that could wipe them out.
If that happened, it could leave scars on the face of the planet where, as global warming worsens, we could easily find that nothing is able to grow in what once was a thriving jungle, which would increase the already rapidly expanding desertification of large parts of the Earth's surface.
The lesson to be learned from this rubber-tainted tale is this — we haven't learned a damned thing from our depredations of the planet's ecosphere over the past couple of centuries, because we're still pulling the same old stunts.
And as the reality of climate-change comes home to roost, the loss of our favorite foods may be the least of our worries.