Delicate Balance

What better way to start the new year than with a ponder. Something to think about, talk about, learn more about.

Scientists from Harvard and GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research,  have announced that melting ice due to global warming,  effects volcanic activity. Water is heavy; as it flows to and collects in our oceans, extraordinary pressure is put on the tectonic plates. In a nutshell – continents get lighter, oceans heavier.  By looking at core samples up to a million years old, evidence of volcanic ash were present in times of warmer climates. The conclusion being; extra pressure forced more magma towards the surface.

Climate change is not the hot topic it was a few years ago. Al Gore has faded from the talk show and speaker for hire circuit. In 2011 Stephen Harper pulled Canada out of the Kyoto Protocol; an international agreement aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions. Certainly a move that sent a jubilant cry throughout the “oil sands” in his home province of Alberta. Big business has settled nicely into the practice of trading carbon credits. Global warming came as a boom for the plastics industry; it created “environmental awareness” demanding millions of recycling bins. Ironic that plastic production is one of the worst offenders, not to mention the millions of barrels of oil required.

Life is a delicate balance; every action has a reaction. Life could not exist without a precise natural order. Cycles of climate change are part of that order. Are greenhouse gasses speeding up the process? Who can say for sure.

I look at it much like the “dust bowl’ in the 1930’s. Credited as the worst man made disaster in North America. A natural ten year cycle of drought occurred; the problem was, poor farming practices had stripped the great plains of grass. With natural grass gone, along with the 5 foot root system that kept soil in place – the plains simply blew away.

Global warming is a natural occurrence, charging full speed towards modern greed and indifference. Glaciers and the ice shelf are melting faster than they can be replenished. Ocean levels will rise, weather will become increasingly severe, and it seems volcanic activity will increase. Taking the lesson of dust bowl farmers; we can’t stop natural cycles, but can take steps to soften their impact.

Jacobshavn Glacier retreat lines

Jacobshavn Glacier retreat: The rapidly retreating Jakobshavn Glacier in western Greenland drains the central ice sheet. This image shows the glacier in 2001, flowing from upper right to lower left. Terminus locations before 2001 were determined by surveys and more recent contours were derived from Landsat data. The recent stages of retreat have widened the ice front, placing more of the glacier in contact with the ocean. Image courtesy NASA Earth Observatory, Cindy Starr, based on data from Ole Bennike and Anker Weidick (Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland) and Landsat data.

The Greatest Man Made Disaster in North America

The Great Plains stretch from Texas to Canada. In a time before settlement, home to massive herds of buffalo who fed on the thick  layer of protective grass. Prone to periods of drought, it was the grass, with root systems reaching up to five feet deep that trapped moisture and maintained a perfect balance.

In the late 18th and early 19th century the plains enjoyed a period of relief from draught. Believing the rain would continue to fall settlers arrived by the thousands. Land was plentiful. The Homestead Act was revised in 1909 offering 320 acres of free federal land to “homesteaders” willing to try their hand at dryland farming. Up from 160 acres in the original Homestead Act of 1862, and considering the pattern of plentiful rain, it seemed to good to be true.

So began “the great plow”- mile after mile of grassland turned gold, wheat blanketed the land. Throughout the 1920s rain fell, farmers prospered with wheat prices at $2.00 a bushel – possibilities seemed endless. When the stock market crashed in 1929 wheat prices began to slide. Farmers responded by plowing more land, they reasoned that more wheat even at lower prices would maintain their families until conditions improved.

They never considered the rain would stop – the plains fell under a catastrophic drought that would last for the next ten years. The terms “dust bowl” and “dirty thirties” can’t begin to describe the misery. With the protective grass plowed under barren fields, nothing prevented the top soil from turning to dust in the wind.

Imagine day after day, year after year, never being able to go outside without a face mask. Livestock died, their noses, mouths, and lungs caked in mud. Starving rabbits and hungry insects devouring any attempt to grow vegetables. A home where you couldn’t open your windows. Ponder the sun disappearing in the middle of the day behind a curtain of dust, at times hundreds of miles wide. Then your children fall sick, victims of dust related pneumonia.

Hundreds died, thousands left, many more endured. The “dust bowl” is a cautionary tale of what can happen if we ignore the balance of nature. We seem to forget that we can’t control the environment. All the technological advances in the world can’t stop a force of nature. Time to ponder the consequences of our actions.