Thursday, December 3, 2015

#337 / [Ab] Sense Of Snow

I loved reading Smilla's Sense of Snow, the English language title given to a crime thriller by Peter H√łeg. The book was published in 1992, and it was then made into a wonderful movie.

A very brief article in the November 17, 2015 edition of The New York Times has caused me to think about an "absence" of snow. Do we really have any "sense" of what that will mean to the world?

If you missed the article when it first appeared, you can recapture it here, by clicking this link. The article is titled, "Billions of People Depend on Water From Shrinking Snowpacks." That includes a significant number in California, though our "local" problems with the anticipated disappearance of snow from the world are minuscule compared to what will happen in other places. 

To get beyond the U.S. framework, which is what is mentioned in the article in The Times, you'll need to read the full report, which comes in the form of an "Environmental Research Letter," published on the website of IOP Science, and titled, "The potential for snow to supply human water demand in the present and future."

We have built our human societies, locally and globally, on the idea that the Natural World will be constant, and reliable, and will sustain us into the future as it has made our lives possible in the past. The Natural World is the world that sustains all life, but our own actions can modify that world, and that is what we are doing as we raise global temperatures by continuing to emit greenhouse gases at an unprecedented rate.

As we disregard the limits of this Natural World, we put the world that we have created in great danger. None of us will want to live in a world with an absence of snow.

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  1. Gary, as much as I enjoy your commentary and support your writing here, this is one instance where I can't empathize and support this conclusion.

    Even if global warming were to be caused by human emissions and continues linearly, a warmer world does not mean a world of less snow. In fact, if one researches the geological record, one finds exactly the opposite.

    A warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor resulting in more precipitation. A warmer world is a wetter world, not a drier world. Desertification occurs during colder periods, not during warmer periods.

    All ice ages are preceded by warm periods during which precipitation (snow) increases at the poles, thus initiating glaciation.

    So we need not worry about lack of snow in the future!

    Present snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains is a function of weather fluctuation, not global warming.

    It seems counterintuitive, doesn't it? Science is not always common sense.

  2. Michael, I would be delighted if turns out that the New York Times article is in error, and that historically available snowpacks continue to be available to provide water sources for those areas that are virtually 100% dependent on such sources. Time will tell. My own sense is that the scientists that say that snow is going to disappear as the planet's temperature rises are probably correct. Again, hope they're not!

  3. Gary, I read the paper referenced in the New York Times article.

    There is no mention of "absence" of snow. The paper concludes there is a 67% probability that snow packs in some sensitive watersheds will be reduced, if climate change scenarios proceed as projected, potentially reducing water available for downstream users.

    The New York Times article doesn't mention "absence of snow" either. So I'm puzzled why this alarming statement is central to today's blog.

    Yes, resources are variable, and always have been. Humans have now reached a level of population and energy usage that makes variable resources critical in the lives of billions of people. We can no longer depend on artificially cheap energy to get us out of the mess we have created through unlimited population and economic growth.

    Historically available snowpacks will indeed continue to be available to provide water sources for those areas that are virtually 100% dependent on such sources. They will provide variable quantities of water, just as they have for millennia. It is up to humans to adjust the way we live to exist within natural cycles and limitations rather than pretending that present trends will continue indefinitely.


Thanks for your comment!