global warming

Noah’s Ark and a New Atlantis

I’ve recently been thinking about the unexpected connections between the weather

Cracks in Frozen Lake by Evgeni Dinev, courtesy of
Cracks in Frozen Lake by Evgeni Dinev, courtesy of

news and Howard Norman’s book In Fond Remembrance of Me. Norman worked in Churchill, Manitoba collecting Inuit folklore during the mid-1970s but from the start everything went wrong. As soon as he arrived in northern Manitoba in 1977 he learned that a Japanese linguist and Arctic expert, Helen Tanizaki, was interviewing the same Inuit elder. While she was willing to collaborate, their informant loved Helen but could not stand Norman. The befuddled Norman also soon realized that his informant was also making up much of the folklore that he was documenting. These tales centered upon a cycle of stories in which Noah drifted into Hudson Bay, where the ice trapped the ark during the winter. In all these stories Noah encountered Inuit peoples, who would paddle their kayaks out to the ark to understand why both he and this remarkable boat was there. In every case these people would make a request –a piece of wood to burn or perhaps some animals to eat- to which Noah would always answer “No!” This denial would be incomprehensible to the Inuit. After all, Noah had many animals- why shouldn’t he share the giraffes with them? The result was always a disaster for Noah, who might witness his family deserting him so that his wife could marry a better hunter, or his animals dying in the dark of winter. In the end, Noah was usually left on the ice to be rescued by the Inuit. In the spring Noah would leave the Inuit to walk south, from where –as so often in folklore- he “was never seen again.” …

The Keystone Pipeline and the Arkansas Leak

This image of Oil Barrels courtesy of Victor Habbick at

We are all still waiting for President Obama to make a decision about the Keystone pipeline, which would bring oil from the Tar Sands of Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. The President has been under intense pressure, because environmentalists believe that this is their best opportunity to win a victory against global warming. Their case probably just became politically stronger this week when an Exxon Mobile pipeline in Arkansas leaked Albertan oil. This is the second spill of Oil Sands petroleum this week, because on Wednesday a train derailed in Minnesota and also released oil, although far less than the 10,000 barrels spilled in Arkansas. Given the fact that the Keystone pipeline would carry 800,000 barrels a day -much more than the pipeline that just leaked- it’s clear that the Keystone XL pipeline presents significant environmental risks, despite promises by the petroleum industry that this will be the safest pipeline ever built.

The GOP pushed Obama to approve Keystone in their weekly radio address, with the argument that Keystone would create 140,000 jobs. In fact, this number is much too high, and there is no credible evidence to support this figure. Indeed, the State Department recently stated that once the pipeline is built, it will only create 35 permanent jobs in the U.S. Still, such arguments have gained the pipeline critical support. A recent poll found that most Americans support the pipeline, and believe that it can be built in an environmentally sound manner. Other groups -in particular native peoples- are much more skeptical. Recently an alliance of U.S. and Canadian indigenous groups promised to unite to block not only Keystone, but also two other pipelines that are intended to bring Oil Sands petroleum to market.

In the end, the key issue for environmentalists cannot be the risk of a leak, although this is real, but rather the pipelines’ impact on carbon dioxide emissions, given that oil from Oil Sands takes more energy to process than traditional petroleum sources. And in the background, there is Venezuela, with its huge reserves of unconventional oil. I enjoy reading posts at a website, The Oil Drum, which is a venue for people who believe in Hubbert’s Peak; that is, that the world has reached the half-way mark in its production of fossil fuels, an event which will determine the planet’s future. It’s a great source for energy news and analysis, but I don’t agree with the central premise. I don’t think the question is when will we run out of oil, but rather how dirty will oil have to become before we stop using it. In this debate, the Keystone XL pipeline will be a key decision. Events in Arkansas this week may help to shape that outcome.

Prof. Shawn Smallman


Infographic on Global Warming

I want to share an infographic on global warming that I recently received from a team of designers and researchers at The website has other materials for classes, including an infographic on the environmental impact of plastic bags. Check out the infographic on global warming here. My thanks to all those at who worked on this, and I liked the references at the end. Shawn Smallman, Portland State University …

Global Warming and Australia

"Cracked Soil" by prozac1 at
“Cracked Soil” by prozac1 at

Like many of you, i’ve been following the story of the terrible fires and heat in Australia. The picture of the Holmes family, who escaped a firestorm by fleeing into the water, is striking. The photos with the grandmother clutching the children, not all of whom could swim, in the eerie light from the flames, brings home the human impact of this disaster. Fortunately, the Holmes family’s quick thinking and courage meant that everyone survived. To me, however, these images are less frightening than the news that the Australian Bureau of Meteorology has to add new colors to weather maps. It used to be that the top temperature on the map was 50 degrees Celsius. They’ve added purple and pink now so that they can go up to 54 degrees. This is only the most striking aspect of how global warming is already affecting Australia

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