Our Iceberg is Melting!

The President’s Hoot
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
January 2007

Nita and I received a number of thoughtful holiday greetings this year. Two reminded me of our fragile environment: Former PIAS President Judy Orcutt and her husband John said, “Have a great Green 2007,” and gave us a list of ten simple ways to reduce atmospheric carbon; Ellie and Andy Van Os’ was Ellie’s beautiful photograph (below) of a polar bear on ice and inside said, “Stay cool.” Both reminded me of our future problems with the warming of our planet.

The title of this month’s Hoot is also the title of a fable, recently written by John Kotter, a professor at Harvard’s Business School, as a way to help corporations and organizations deal with change. The book must be well thought of as our defense department bought the first 500 copies! The fable is about how beautiful emperor penguins deal with the potential melting of their home. The title seems even more apropos as we learn on the news that major glaciers and icebergs have broken loose.

Photo/image by Ellie Van Os.

Because of the high density and thermal conductivity of seawater, most of the melting of an iceberg takes place on its submerged surface where we do not see it. We should be concerned as only three percent of our planet’s water is fresh and 2 % is tied up in glaciers and icebergs, which are now melting into the oceans. We also should be noticing that deserts are expanding and our water tables are falling worldwide. In 2005 Exxon Mobil made $36 billion in profits, the highest for any company in history, and might make more in 2006 and 2007! Is there an opportunistic rise in gas prices? Or is this an indication of dwindling oil reserves? Or both?

There is good news: Thanks to science’s observations and measurements, environmental groups’ education and advocacy, and Al Gore’s movie, “An Inconvenient Truth” the public is finally beginning to face the reality of global warming. Even the White House has suggested putting polar bears on the endangered list. Other positive signs from 2005 are reports that solar power production grew 45%, wind power capacity 24%, and biofuels production 22%. Even sales of large SUVs have plummeted while hybrid cars have doubled. Perhaps gas prices remaining high are also good news, as they put pressure for consumers to choose alternative energy sources.

Locally, our new county commission now seems aware that Indian River County’s uncontrolled growth needs is unsustainable. Even our own county utility department at the December 6th workshop has admitted we have a water problem right here in Indian River County! At the same workshop the St. Johns River Water management District supported the view that our county’s wells may show problems by 2013—only 6 years away.

In making New Year’s resolutions, there is a lot our government, local, and national can do including:

  • Ratify the Kyoto Agreement
  • Require more efficient vehicles and power plants
  • Adapt bottle recycling and provide more comprehensive reuse-recycling opportunities
  • Install bicycle paths everywhere
  • Purchase land for the storage of the 50 inches of rain we receive on average every year, (fresh water now flows into the lagoon or to the St. John’s River marsh)
  • Preserve vegetation in urban areas.

In addition, there is much we can do in 2007 as individuals, to help our environment –actions that should go onto each of our New Year’s resolutions list:

To reduce global warming:

  • Use compact fluorescent light bulbs, available at Wal-Mart
  • Buy highly efficient and insulated refrigerators and water heaters
  • Turn off unneeded electric devices
  • Drive less, rely on light-rail, buses, and bicycles
  • Check your tire pressure
  • Use less hot water
  • Reuse-recycle more- paper, bottles, cans, and compost all garbage
  • Avoid products with a lot of packaging
  • Install a programmable thermostat (turning it higher/lower when away or at night)
  • Install insulation where possible –hot water pipes, roof, walls, water heater
  • Buy local produce
  • Plant a tree

To save water:

  • Landscape your yard with plants not requiring watering or water-efficient irrigation systems
  • Keep showers to less than 5 minutes. Are we too compulsively clean?
  • Don’t let the water run while brushing your teeth, peeling vegetables, washing dishes
  • Put water in the sink when washing up
  • Flush the toilet only when necessary, not just to flush tissues
  • Better yet, get a composting toilet
  • Use a broom to clean the driveway or sidewalk
  • Use a bucket instead of a running hose when washing the car
  • Turn-off nozzle on the end of the hose to adjust the water flow and turn the water off and on
  • Fix any slow water leaks (faucets, toilets, etc), turn water faucet off tight
  • Put water in the kitchen sink to wash and rinse dishes
  • Run the dishwasher only when it’s full
  • Install a cisterns to collect rainwater from roofs

Who would have thought that Bing Crosby’s “I am dreaming of a White Christmas” would be a protest song?

Have a Happy Environmental New Year!

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