IT’S NOT AS SIMPLE AS IT SEEMS
As this gentle and snow-scarce winter winds down, I was checking the observed vs. expected data accumulation and began to worry that there was not enough cold – or snow to validate the models. Old Faithful experienced temperatures above 40 degrees on two days last week.
Not to worry, ancillary factors such as cloud cover, reduced visitation, (from 5 years ago,) in Yellowstone, increased NOx, and the robustness of the models have combined to make my ego expand. The models and data showed a gratifying coincidence. There is still a significant amount of pollution along the traffic corridors in the winter.
One byproduct of the current trend in commercialization for winter visitation is the increase in emissions from diesel engines and reduced efficiency of gasoline and diesel engines. This, combined with the near tripling of gasoline engine emissions has not reduced the pollution as much as anticipated by Chicken Little.
The use of tracked vehicles is inefficient and forces the engines to work harder than if they were propelling the same vehicles on wheels. One example will suffice to illustrate the point. A 15-passenger bus uses about five or six gallons of gasoline to make the 62-mile round trip between the west entrance and Old Faithful when on wheels.
The same vehicle with after-market devices for over-the-snow travel uses between 24 and 35 gallons of gasoline for the same trip, (depending on the condition of the snow and the right foot of the “guide”.) The emissions have to go somewhere.
All is not as simple or as clear cut as it seems. Yellowstone National Park is not going to be much cleaner under the new winter use plan than it was without a plan. It will be quieter for a while though, and the white plumes of 2 cycle exhaust won’t be seen. But, as they say in Los Angeles: “Don’t trust air that you can’t see.”
Global warming is a wonderful catch phrase. It is the ultimate simplistic semantic form for a complex situation. Of course the globe is warming. We know this by measurement and by observation. No longer is there a glacier a mile thick on top of Fountain Flats. Yet the globe is also cooling. It depends on one’s perspective and the time scale involved, and the forces at work. Ultimately this planet will be as dead and cold as the moon, (which is running away from us.)
The Pliocene was warmer – generally – than now. The Pleistocene was colder – generally – than now. The Hypsithermal was warmer – persistently – than now. The Little Ice Age was colder – measurably – than now.
The impact on humans has varied from significant to negligible. Extinctions were coincident with parts of several different climatic periods. And, of course, we are beginning to understand that the changes are not uniform around the world in all places and most assuredly not synchronous.
I certainly don’t hear many folks talking about ‘Global Dimming,’ or ‘Darkening,’ or ‘Pollution Reflection,’ or preservation of ‘Angular Momentum(PDF)‘ and, certainly there is seldom heard “Geophysical Impacts of Earth’s Slowing Rotation on Climate.” Regarding our current warming trend: there is more than just a battle against simple foes.
The variables are many, and our understanding is just beginning to become clear. Will sea levels really rise 60 meters in New York, or will a bulge of ocean near the equator compensate and preserve the earth’s angular momentum? Will the aerosols really conspire to cook us all, or will the increased cloud cover reduce the absorption of the sun’s rays?
These kinds of questions occupy conscientious scientists – not Chicken Little. An interesting article by Jeff Jacoby in the Boston Globe points us toward some careful thinking, rather than alarmist arm waving. Simplistic thinking is always easier for politicians, journalists, bloggers, and activists. It’s the old “. . . Don’t confuse me with facts . . .” syndrome.
There are a few competent scientists and others that are not in the alarmist camp. Timothy Ball, (Chairman of the Natural Resources Stewardship Project,) writes in the Canadian Free Press that we had better get our facts straight before we act or react. Even the Wall Street Journal carried a piece by Richard S. Lindzen about the need for more facts and less lassitude in our popular perceptions of climatology.
So, what’s this have to do with Yellowstone? First off, The vegetation and rest of the biota in the park will change with warming; in ways that we may anticipate but cannot precisely predict.
Secondly, the pollution problem in winter is more complex than the just the exhaust of snowmobiles would lead one to believe. The problem is one of constraint & logistics. Total emissions are a function of cubic inches, fuel consumed, and effeciency of transport, (among others.)
As warmer weather continues to make over-the-snow travel more problematic, increasing loads of hydrocarbons will accumulate. Snow packed roads in the ameliorating climate will produce more and more ice crystals as the freeze-thaw boundary gets crossed more frequently. Grooming will be harder, less efficient, and the road conditions will deteriorate more rapidly. (This grooming expense is 100% born by the NPS to subsidize commercial interests.)
Unanticipated factors will come to play in scenarios not yet fully understood. The burden on the National Park Service will grow as it continues to defend the novelty of over-the-snow travel. Snow making machines will be purchased to continue the ‘tradition.’ Additional staff and equipment will be required to appease the money hungry gateway concessionaires. Fewer visitors will be allowed in the park in order to “save the snow.”
The length of the ‘shoulder seasons’ will increase to the point that the park will stay open longer for the summer season and shorter for the winter season. Additional fees and higher prices will ensue for the winter season as the NPS allows the over-the-snow crowd to dictate operations.
Current snowmobile visitation is down, (though rebounding,) and only the most wealthy will be allowed into Yellowstone via bus and baby tank. Petroleum products will continue to provide unhealthy levels of pollution – but will be unseen and therefore unregulated.
Finally, by 2070, the park will close in winter – rather than admit that plowing of the roads will reduce pollution, reduce budgets, and enhance the visitor experience.
Yes, there is global warming, it will affect Yellowstone in very short order, and maybe Chicken Little was right.
What about the rest of the planet? We need to know considerably more than we do now. For instance; is it true, as suggested by the Financial Times that we only have 15 – 20 year’s worth of undiscovered oil reserves? Can we count on philanthropy to take up the slack? Will the SLATE 60 come to the rescue?
Can we count on the private sector to rescue Yellowstone and the rest of the parks? Can the government continue to resist cogent planning in favor of novelty transportation? There’s much more to account for in the global arena than in Yellowstone National Park – and we can’t even get that right.
Should you be the sort of person that considers social action, I direct you to STEP IT UP. This grass roots movement has 687 rallies planned for April 14, 2007. A guest post by Cheryl Long, (editor of The Mother Earth News,) provides us with a perfect ending quote.
The Iraq war will cost American taxpayers $2,200,000,000,000—that’s 2.2 trillion dollars—according to Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. If instead, we had invested that $2.2 trillion in wind turbines, we would now have enough electricity to provide roughly 150 percent of total U.S. energy needs.