Coatless Canadians in Ketchican

Our last Alaska stop was Ketchican and it was only a short 4 hour stopover, so we just roamed the town centre, which had a funner spirit about it than the previous two stops. A playfulness overlying the need to make the most of the tourist season to carry over.

Back at the Skeptic Conference, we were treated to interactive lectures by Don Prothero who blogged here about the conference.

It’s important to note the the melting of glaciers and ice sheets is significant not only for increased sea levels, which means less land, but also the loss of ice sheets means that the global tectonic plates are responsible for earthquakes as the weight of the ice sheets stops pressing down on the plates, the plates rise back to their pre-ice sheet positions, causing earthquakes, such as the August, 2011 on the east coast of the US and Canada.

We were also treated to a lecture about Emergency Preparedness, which is a passion of mine, by  Randall Duncan, Director of Emergency Management in Sedgwick County (Wichita), Kansas, and instructor for FEMA and Park University in Missouri. His lecture was very layperson friendly and clear – the cost of doing nothing to prepare is too high, and it comes down to three simple choices:

There’s two obstacles to the adapt and mitigate strategies: Lack of political will and religion.

Politicians are about securing enough benefits to their constituents so that they will be re-elected – this being the case, politicians do not take a long view or make the hard decisions – they are driven by what is popular so they get re-elected.

It is difficult to convince people to prepared for potential negatives, despite the cycle of famine or feast, because when we are feasting, we forget about the famine days.

When financial resources are scarce, people are more likely to hold onto the money or deal with what’s necessary in the short term, rather than spend money to mitigate future disasters, which may or may not occur.

This is where the religious obstacle comes into play – people who beleive that disasters are god’s punishment for human behaviours (usually the things they don’t like or approve of, such as the fact of there being gays and lesbians, abortion, women’s rights and so on) – they are not prepared to mitigate against their god.

Moreover, people who beleive in the rapture are also not going to be willing to have the government mitigate against god’s wrath and don’t see a need to, since after the wrath, god will restore the earth to it’s original factory settings for the believers.

People who throw their hands in the air and say the universe and the earth is too complex for humans and resort to god as if that explains anything are saying that understanding science is too hard, so they won’t listen.

They don’t want to understand climate science or even that climate scientists are all in agreement that human activities – transportation, industry, commerce, resource extraction, conversion of natural habitat to farmland or urban sprawl are all contributing more pollutants and gases that contribute to warming than the earth can store.

Sure, a lot of the warming is natural – volcanic ash, coal seam fire – but natural processes have natural offsets – it’s human activity that is unchecked and unbalanced – especially since we are no longer subjected to natural limitations on infant mortality rates. Modern medicine means more people live and modern dentistry enhances the lifespan of people.

More people living means more infrastructure, more livestock, more carbon and more more more.

Humans are outbreeding the earth’s ability to balance our polluting output. Fortunately, there are some check and balances occurring on this front too – most countries are not breeding at replacement levels. Some even point to pollution as a link with the drop in sperm counts in the industrialized nations.

Mr. Duncan put it plainly – we have to plan for future contingencies or we will cease to survive. Adapt or die – and it’s the adaptivity that’s the meaning of Darwinian fitness.

Coatless Canadians at the Glacier

The first cruise stop was Glacier Bay!

Our first sea ice sighting was a little disappointing, more ice berglette than berg:

Of course, with the ice off the bow and using a telephoto lens, while the ice was low to the water line, it could easily have been twenty feet across without anything as a size comparison. Size becomes deceiving, depending on where you are viewing, as we came to understand when the cruise ship parked a half mile from the glacier. More sea ice:

Our first glacier!

The sheer size, the cold air, the blueness was very exciting – but sad as well – our new friends James and Rebecca (callout!) showed us the pictures they’d taken of this same glacier just a month before – and there was no ice cave then – of course, with the glaciers moving several feet a day, each month brings a fresh new face to the glaciers.

Around this time, another family asked me to take a photo of them with their camera with the glacier as a backdrop – I was entirely happy to do so.When we reached the next glacier, which we had to change sides of the ship – the family sought me out again – which was no problem – I often get asked to take other people’s pictures with their point and shoot (or PHD cameras for push here dummy) because I have a digital SLR camera with a nice looooong lens that make people expect I am a professional shooter when I am just a camera buff.

Anyway, while we were watching the second glacier and the US Park Ranger who had come on board was talking about it, the Dad of the photo family said: “Yup, yup, completely natural melting.”

I was stunned, first because you can’t know a cause of anything by merely looking and one data point doesn’t say anything – but having spent not only the time in the conference, but understanding climate change concepts, I was horrified at the willful ignorance, confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance the man was engaged in – and for someone who has had children and given no understanding to the world that we are leaving the children to grow up in – how can people continue to believe that the world is as it always was and will be or that some deity will come and fix what we have polluted.

Canadian on an American dominated cruise or not, I blurted out “it’s not natural, ice sheets are disappearing since the Industrial revolution. It’s human activity that’s not natural.”

“You’re kidding” he gasped at me – and I launched into an abbreviated version of the climate convention, too stunned to really get that he was in total denial that humans have the ability to impact the climate.

It seems to me to be part of that religious throwing up of hands that the universe is too complex for humans to understand, therefore goddidit and it’s godsplan which we can’t know but they are sure doesn’t include gays and atheists, that somehow to believers that the world is too big and they are too small, so they can’t imagine that 7 billion people can make a huge difference to the pollution.

Apparently, the resolving the acid rain problem has made people forget that we do have widespread pollution impact on the planet on a planet wide and impacting scale. There are simply too many people, with too much resource extraction, industry, commerce and transportation – never mind excrement – output to not have an impact on the world’s ecosystems, which are all inter-dependent and connected. The human caused arrival of rabbits in Australia continues to be an elusive point for people to be able to generalize that human activity impacts the environment both locally and globally.

In any event, the family scurried away from the crazy Coatless Canadian trying to explain science to them – probably to delete the picture that I took for them.

The same glacier from a bit farther away as we moved to see the John Hopkins glacier – what struck me was the stripes of dirt, showing how the glacier is melting and the dirt and pollution concentrating into visible dark bands.

A Glacier Bay scenery shot of higher elevation snow/ice with moraine deposits, water erosion and a sea ice field:

The John Hopkins Glacier:

We moved off to the next glacier, where we parked for an hour and watched ice calve off – no huge ice bergs, but the glacier was moving at 7 feet a day and there was a lot of falling activity – we could hear the ice groan and crack and then have a fall of ice chunks plummet into the water with a splash. This glacier was over 2 miles across and 25 building stories hight.

ice henge

crack bang splash

At 7 feet a day, it won’t take long for all the ice fronting this glacier to be sea ice – this glacier is moving forward because there’s more precipitation at the source in the mountains than the melt at the front at the sea level.

We didn’t see another glacier in the bay because it had receded farther inland, leaving only the rocks and debris at the water line, not enough precipitation at the source to balance the movement of the glacier to the water.

Next stop for the Coatless Canadians: Juneau, Alaska

and not just to buy coats!

Coatless Canadians in Alaska – Part 1

We were very excited to go on our first cruise but also my first Skeptic Society conference – the science of climate change.

Being in Vancouver, British Columbia – we are very spoiled by the temperate climate – so much so that we focused on the word “cruise” and not the word “Alaska”. We didn’t pack coats, to the entertainment of many of our southern cruise-mates.

Seattle was gorgeous and to our eyes, not different at all from Vancouver. Trees and coffee shops as far as the eye can see.

We didn’t expect to see much sea life – well, we saw a lot of sea gulls – but we didn’t expect to see much in the way of whales so close to human activity – but we did get treated to an orca once we were closer to Vancouver Island.Not much of one, but one nonetheless.

But the draw of a cruise isn’t only the random animals, but the scenery and the British Columbia coast does not disappoint.

In addition to the Skeptics conference, my choice of cruise reading material was:

It added another level to the experience, as AJ Jacobs immersed himself in Biblical literalism and shared the experience and revelations of trying to obey all the rules of the bible, not just the big 10 – I exposed myself to hard science and emergency preparedness and some political challenges of not only climate change – but climate change resistance that is largely down to religion.

What struck me over and over is how religion is not only retarding social change, but acceptance of science and science literacy. I also wonder why religion sets itself against a hard science like biology and evolution which is supported by the spectrum of biology sciences and geology and not a softer one like anthropology.

I think the answer lies in that anthropology, being the study of people, is easier to understand on many levels so people aren’t as intimidated by the complexity, but also because even the laziest of reviewers of history can see that every civilization has had distinct religions that reflect and reinforced the values of the culture and that no two cultures ever came up with the same religion were there wasn’t a migration path connecting them.

Even so, believers in current practiced religions have to deal with the cognitive dissonance that this god(s) didn’t reveal themselves to earlier humans – but I have yet to hear the explanation for the shyness and allowing people to worship other gods for so long before their pet god made an appearance in the literature and as a social movement.

The first day of lectures was Dr. Donald Prothero on “How Glaciers Work and How Climate Changes” and Dr. Bruce Molnia on “The Retreat of the Glaciers.”

Both presented detailed college level presentations and did not disappoint. The obvious lack of science literacy and the current media trend of equating loud opinion with expert opinion in the USA was disconcerting. There simply is no way to comprehend the resistance to that human activity – industrial, commercial, transportation and resource extraction is impacting the earth’s systems – often overwhelmingly.

The data is overwhelming when you understand it – and that’s the problem, the lack of science literacy means people don’t understand the data coupled with a business, political or religious interest to deny the information.

It is not surprising that the people who most deny climate change is connected to human activity are the same people who denied tobacco was harmful, and with much overlap with the groups trying to define creationism/intelligent design as being science and that the groups who are anti-vaccine use many of the same tactics. Which is to claim the science needs more data, that the data is too complex and then to attack the messenger when they can’t deny the message.

Attacking the messenger is the signal that the battle is lost, since the evidence is no longer deniable and smear tactics are all that remains to the losing defender.

Tomorrow: Glacier pictures and the denier encounter!

Yours – the crusading coatless Canadian!