Thin ice and the importance of Quaternary geology

From NASA Earth Observatory:

2011 Sea Ice Minimum

From the description (emphasis added):

In September 2011, sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean declined to the second-lowest extent on record. Satellite data from NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) showed that the summertime ice cover narrowly avoided a new record low.


Melt season in 2011 brought higher-than-average summer temperatures, but not the unusual weather conditions that contributed to the extreme melt of 2007, the record low. “Atmospheric and oceanic conditions were not as conducive to ice loss this year, but the melt still neared 2007 levels,” said Walt Meier of NSIDC. “This probably reflects loss of multi-year ice in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, as well as other factors that are making the ice more vulnerable.”

The low sea ice level in 2011 fits the pattern of decline over the past three decades, said Joey Comiso of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Since 1979, September Arctic sea ice extent has declined by 12 percent per decade.

“The sea ice is not only declining; the pace of the decline is becoming more drastic,” he noted. “The older, thicker ice is declining faster than the rest, making for a more vulnerable perennial ice cover.”

While the sea ice extent did not dip below the record, the area did drop slightly lower than 2007 levels for about ten days in early September 2011. Sea ice “area” differs from “extent” in that it equals the actual surface area covered by ice, while extent includes any area where ice covers at least 15 percent of the ocean.

Arctic sea ice extent on September 9, 2011, was 4.33 million square kilometers (1.67 million square miles). Averaged over the month of September, ice extent was 4.61 million square kilometers (1.78 million square miles). This places 2011 as the second lowest ice extent for both the daily minimum and the monthly average. Ice extent was 2.43 million square kilometers (938,000 square miles) below the 1979 to 2000 average.

Climate models have suggested that the Arctic could lose almost all of its summer ice cover by 2100, but in recent years, ice extent has declined faster than the models predicted.

A few years back, I blogged about a report that the Arctic Ocean may have been ice-free around 6000-7000 years ago, so this may be a natural cycle. Or it may be caused by human-induced global warming. I don’t know. I ended that post with the following:

I’m not a global warming denier, which bothers some of my friends. I do believe that human activities are affecting Earth’s climate. This does point out, however, the importance of geological studies of Quaternary (ice age to present) climate systems. Whatever is happening today, even if caused by humans, can only be fully understood in its geological context.

Grace and Peace

Does dirt have the same value as a human? Some thoughts on Bolivian Mother Earthism

From FoxNews: U.N. Prepares to Debate Whether ‘Mother Earth’ Deserves Human Rights Status

United Nations diplomats on Wednesday will set aside pressing issues of international peace and security to devote an entire day debating the rights of “Mother Earth.”

A bloc of mostly socialist governments lead by Bolivia have put the issue on the General Assembly agenda to discuss the creation of a U.N. treaty that would grant the same rights found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to Mother Nature.

Treaty supporters want the establishment of legal systems to maintain balance between human rights and what they perceive as the inalienable rights of other members of the Earth community — plants, animals, and terrain.

Communities and environmental activists would be given more legal power to monitor and control industries and development to ensure harmony between humans and nature. Though the United States and other Western governments are supportive of sustainable development, some see the upcoming event, “Harmony with Nature,” as political grandstanding — an attempt to blame environmental degradation and climate change on capitalism.

Being a conciliatory person by nature, I like to start with the positive.  What the Bolivians and animal rights people get correct is the recognition that all is not right in the relationship between humans and nature. This is seen in Genesis 3 where it is clear that Adam and Eve’s fall into sin led to broken relationships between man and God, between man and man, and between man and creation. This broken relationship with the creation continues to this day, and is certainly part of the reason why the New Testament says that the whole creation is groaning as it waits for humans to be made right again (Romans 8:19-23).

Perhaps there are many in the “Mother Earth rights” crowd who are well-intentioned—I won’t question their motives here—but I see several serious problems with this movement:

  • I believe a Biblical view of the creation is the correct one, and the one that will lead to the best care of the environment: land, water, air, plants, and animals. The Biblical view starts with God as the creator and owner of everything. In this Biblical view of creation, humans are embedded in nature, being created on the same day as the land animals and being made of the same material. But they are also over the creation, not as exploiters, but as gardeners who are charged with tending the earth only in ways that do not degrade it. When we wander from our role as stewards of the creation (and this wandering can be done by both capitalists and socialists) then the earth suffers along with humanity.
  • The attempt to elevate the “rights” of the earth (where do rights come from anyway if not from God?) can easily lead not to greater protection for plants and animals, but to a degraded status for humans in the environment. If a dog has the same value as a human, then doesn’t a human have the same value as a dog?
  • Socialism (pushed by the Bolivian Mother Earthers) has a horrendous environmental record. While the capitalist West was making great progress in pollution reduction in the 1960s through 1980s (aided by strong environmental activism and regulation), the socialist economies of the Soviet Union and its satellites poisoned their land, air, and water with reckless abandon. Socialism fails because of a failure to recognize both the individual and collective sinfulness of humans, and therefore cannot provide a solid foundation for environmental stewardship.

What further thoughts do you have about Bolivian Mother Earthism?

Grace and Peace

P.S. Or perhaps I should have said, “If a cockroach has the same value as a human, then doesn’t a human have the same value as a cockroach?”

Serve the poor, serve the Earth

Helping the poor and caring for the creation often go hand in hand. From Scott Sabin of Plant With Purpose: The Connection Between the Poor and the Earth.

Here are a couple quotes:

I frequently get asked how we, as Christians, choose between caring for the poor and caring for creation, as if we have to choose one or the other. As often as I have been asked that question, it still catches me by surprise because my own concern for the earth first grew out of a concern for the poor.

As someone told me recently, creation care seems like a cause for bored middle-class Americans who want to have chickens in their backyard, whereas the poor don’t have the luxury of worrying about their environment. The idea is that environmental issues are primarily aesthetic and fall pretty high up on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

However, if you live in a world in which water comes in plastic bottles and food comes from the supermarket, it is easy to see the environment as purely decorative. In the US, we have been able to use our material wealth to purchase several layers of insulation from the earth. Therefore, I believe we have much to learn from our brothers and sisters in rural communities throughout the world. They recognize that there is a direct connection between environmental quality and the most basic of needs: food, water and air.


We quickly learned that the problem was not one of ignorance, but rather a lack of opportunity. I have had more than one poor, illiterate farmer give me an elegant description of how a watershed works. But, as I was told recently in Haiti, they also have a saying that translates to “Either this tree must die or I must die in its place.” Nonetheless, they are aware of the long-term stakes and would do more to care for the environment if they had the opportunity.

Thus, helping to create opportunity – serving the poor – helps to serve the environment and helping to restore the environment serves the poor. Both activities serve the Creator. We need not make a choice between the poor and the earth.

HT: Flourish

Grace and Peace

Creation care quotes from Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II had much to say about the environment and human responsibility for good stewardship of the creation. Here are a few quotes:

“When man turns his back on the Creator’s plan, he provokes a disorder which has inevitable repercussions on the rest of the created order. If man is not at peace with God, then earth itself cannot be at peace.” — Peace with God the Creator, Peace with All of Creation


“The seriousness of ecological degradation lays bare the depth of man’s moral crisis… Simplicity, moderation, and discipline as well as the spirit of sacrifice must become a part of everyday life.” — Peace with God the Creator, Peace with All of Creation


“Around the world, we can see the results of exploitation which destroys much without taking future generations into account. Today, all men have a duty to show themselves worthy of the mission given them by the Creator by ensuring the safekeeping of that creation.” — press conference, Antannanarivo, Malagasy Republic


“Christians will want to be in the vanguard in favoring ways of life that decisively break with the exhausting and joyless frenzy of consumerism.” — speech at Yankee Stadium

Quotes are taken from The Green Bible introduction: Teachings on Creation Throughout the Ages

Grace and Peace