The world including the sea level, climate, and landscape has been shaped by the power of ice for billions of years. And now, as we’ve pushed co2 concentrations well beyond historical ranges (at least the range of the last 800,000 years), ice is becoming harder to find. There’s even the potential that earth may become ice free in the near future. I never really thought much about ice and it’s importance in my life and the lives of others, and most of my interactions with ice involve ice cubes and freezer burn. And, although some people may never even interact directly with ice, “one quarter of Earth’s population will within another decade be affected significantly by lesser snowfall and glacial ice loss. That number translates to two billion people–and most of them live in Asia.”
“A World Without Ice” is a new book by Henry Pollack that examines geological, biological, and human history and how it has directly and indirectly been shaped by ice. This historical context (from billions of years ago and even into 2009) creates a foundation that prepares the reader for not only to understand the importance of ice in our earth’s system but also the huge and immediate threat posed by the current climate crisis to humans and all species on earth. Pollack is a scientist, has been a professor for more than forty years at the University of Michigan and was a member of the Nobel-Peace-Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007. read on for more on the book, the opportunity to send in questions for the author and the chance to win a copy of the book!
Pollack writes in a really accessible way making this book especially good for folks who have little background in science or with global warming to gain a general understanding of global warming in the context of the power and importance of ice to our earth. He doesn’t go into much depth about global warming until the end of the book, but he makes the connection to global warming in every chapter. Additionally, he addresses the “trenches of [climate] denial” multiple times throughout the book and very succinctly refutes the main points that are made by the “climate contras” who continue to fight against any action on global warming.
Although I knew a number of the statistics and points about ice and climate from conferences, speakers, media and science articles about climate change over the last eight years, Pollack kept my attention with his thoroughness, first-hand stories, historical context and interesting facts and connections that helped me fill in gaps in my knowledge of ice and global warming. Here’s one of the many first-hand stories:
I have been to Palmer Station four times over eighteen years. When I first visited in 1991 there was a big Adelie [penguin] population on the islands around Palmer–noisy, smelly, coming, going. But on my most recent stop, in early 2008, the Adelies were largely gone.
Pollack talks about his studies on the temperatures of the the upper thousands of feet of the earth’s crust, which I feel I’ve heard very little about. And, I was intrigued to learn that he and other scientists have been able to track past atmospheric temperature changes through temperature measurements at different depths in the ground. These measurements are compared with what the expected temperature would be without any change in climate and then the differences show past atmospheric temperatures slowly propagating down through the earth. For example, “The Little Ice Age can be “seen” in the temperatures 500 feet down in the Greenland ice sheet, and the warm plateau of the mid-Holocene at depths between 1,500 and 2,500 feet.”
Pollack touches many times on the importance of “Cinderella Scientists,” the often under-appreciated people who grudgingly take regular measurements for years on end that specifically track how earth is changing locally and on a global scale.
One interesting example he uses of a group of these “Cinderella Scientists” were the Jesuits who established and kept up meteorological and later seismographic stations around the world beginning in the seventeenth century. Although unfortunately (I think on many levels), their work was thwarted because they were early advocates of “liberation theology” and the European royalty and other authorities had the Jesuits recalled from their remote outposts.
Overall, I really enjoyed the book, but I have a few qualms with the last chapter. This chapter includes quick overviews of technologies to reduce our emissions, and I think it is imperative to start with efficiency and conservation as he did. He fails, however, to mention the extremely destructive, dangerous and dirty practices of mining for either uranium (for nuclear power) or coal (to burn in this case with carbon sequestration), although he mentions the destruction of mountaintop removal mining earlier in the book. And, although he mentions the “very high capital costs of construction” for nuclear power plants, there is no mention under carbon sequestration about the high capital costs for this technology. I mention this because I think we have limited resources, especially in this recession, and we need to invest in the cleanest and most cost-efficient technologies (taking ecological costs/externalities into consideration) being aware of and working to reduce all impacts of any “solutions.”
In terms of citizen action, Dr. Pollack is focused on the ballot box as one of the most powerful tools that citizens have to make change. While I agree that this is powerful, I think that, especially given the immediacy of our climate crisis, there is a dire need to go beyond the ballot box and use direct action to stop new coal and other fossil fuel plants, tar sands extraction, mountaintop removal to help us get to 350 ppm of co2 that we need for a stable climate as soon as possible!
In short, this is a very thorough and yet accessible book about global warming especially the role that ice has and is playing in the warming of the planet, and I would definitely recommend it. Check out the book website.
Post comments below with any questions you have for Dr. Pollack and I will work on getting a response from him and posting a follow up piece later this month. The first person to answer this question correctly (or the first person who gets really close) will receive a free copy of the book from TLC book tours.
Henry Pollack talks about estimates of the per capita rate of energy consumption in terms of horsepower (hp), which helps me in visualizing this use of energy. For the average global citizen this rate is 3.5 hp. “What is the per capita rate of energy consumption for the average American in hp?”