Monday, January 08, 2007

It's Global Warming Week in the Vigorous North!

The hot topic around Portland these days is the heat - 66 degrees of it this past weekend, and no ice or snow to be found anywhere. The Saturday Press Herald printed this picture of an ice fisherman who's adapting by putting his shack onto a raft in lieu of absent ice.

NPR had a good interview Sunday morning with Robert Henson of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (listen here). He explained that the heat wave - which extends to a Europe and the Rockies (warmer-than-usual air over Colorado has been responsible for the blizzards there, since warmer air can carry more moisture in the typically dry West) - is due to a convergence of El Nino in the Pacific, southerly jet streams over the Atlantic, and melting sea ice in the Arctic. The first two factors are cyclical, and it's uncertain to what extent climate change affects them. The ice caps, on the other hand, are getting smaller every year, and global warming is clearly responsible. We'll still have a few cold winters when ocean and air currents cooperate, but they'll become rarer and rarer as sea ice disappears: Henson described the trend as "two steps forward, one step back."

At least the warm weekend extends the season for practical bicycling and walking, forms of transportation that emit no climate-changing pollutants. On Saturday, Portland's streets were almost as lively as they are in the months of cruise ships and whale watches. We rode bikes to Yarmouth in order to visit the giant globe at Delorme. It took 45 minutes to get there at a no-sweat pace on our road bikes, and the same 28-mile round trip in a hybrid car would have spewed 16 pounds of carbon pollution into the capsizing atmosphere.

Plus, it was a lot more fun than a car ride. Suburb-dwellers, take note: if you're not enjoying the problem of climate change on your bike or as a pedestrian, you're not a part of the solution, either.


Turboglacier said...

Just out of curiousity, and forgive my ignorance, but how does the math work to get the 16 lbs of carbon? Even a car getting only 28 mpg uses only one gallon of gas to go 28 miles. I don't recall the density of gasoline, but it's less than water, and a gallon of water is 8lbs... and gas is mostly but not entirely carbon... so... wouldn't the trip in a hybrid produce more like 4-6 lbs of carbon (bound up, of course, with lots of oxygen-- oh, maybe that's it-- 16lbs of CO2?)

C Neal said...

Thanks for finding my website again, TG. And for being the number one commenter here.

You've got the idea: each atom of carbon binds with two of oxygen, so that the six pounds of carbon in a gallon of gas turns into twenty pounds of CO2.

There's a good description of the process, with technical details if you're so inclined, here.