Bad News, Good News and Climate Change

The election of Donald Trump—who has called human-caused climate change a “total hoax”—was bad news for those of us concerned about the effects of global warming. The good news is that he cannot legally do anything to stop the 190 countries who have vowed to reduce carbon dioxide pollution, nor can he unilaterally erase the US commitment to the Paris agreement. But he can slow or weaken the enforcement of President Obama’s climate rules. Maybe his views will change when rising sea levels continue to threaten his coastal properties, such as “Trump Hollywood” on the vulnerable coast of Florida. Even if that area is not flooded in the near future, Trump may soon find that insurance companies will no longer insure his threatened coastal properties, effectively making those properties worthless. Such a blow to his pocketbook is bound to get his attention.

One of the reasons why Trump was elected, in spite of his obvious characterological flaws, was because people generally make decisions based on their emotions more than logical reasoning. Studies have shown that it is primarily the emotional part of the brain that lights up (as seen in PET scans) when people make political decisions, regardless of their political persuasion. The data shows that people fearful of immigrants and terrorism in US strongly favored Trump, kind of a “Brexit” mentality.

For a similar reason, I think people can’t accept the data amassed showing that global warming is not a hoax. From an emotional perspective, it is more palatable to deny it. But that denial will probably fade as more concrete events directly impact people, like flooding in Florida or the historic drought in California. Who knows…maybe even Trump believes in global warming, but declared otherwise to win votes from the people most likely to vote for him. What politicians say and what they truly believe are often at odds.

What was bad news for me about Trump’s election was more than offset by the news I received two days later. I just learned we can look forward to our second grandchild. That’s a global warming of my heart.



International Cooperation in Antarctica

In spite of the ugly politics in the US and the rest of the world, there is upbeat news regarding Antarctica. For the past year a number of nations have tried to create a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in Antarctica. The US, EU, China and twenty-one other countries were in agreement. Russia was the only holdout, but they finally agreed to join the other nations to create the worlds largest Marine Protected Area— 600,000 square miles—in the Ross Sea of Antarctica. Nothing can be taken from this area including marine life and minerals, except for scientific purposes, for the next thirty-five years. This means among other things that “Chilean Sea Bass”, the brand name for Patagonian Toothfish predominantly found in Antarctica, may still be enjoyed in our restaurants for some time.

Russia’s Special Representative for Ecology, Sergei Ivanov said “Russia has a proud history of exploration and science and Antarctica. In this time of political turbulence in so many parts of the world, we are pleased to be part of this collaborative international effort to safeguard the Ross Sea.”

When I was in Antarctica aboard the USCGC Glacier in 1970, I had the honor of visiting a Russian station along with a small group of our officers. We joined a dozen Russians for lunch that consisted mostly of pickled food washed down with the best vodka I’ve ever had. In the midst of the Cold War, we got drunk together, raised both the American and Russian flags high above their station, and then gave them a tour of our ship. That experience left me with the feeling that there could be real cooperation between our countries. The recent agreement to create a huge marine reserve in Antarctica underscores that such cooperation can and does happen.

Antarctica is the only continent that has never experienced a war. The Antarctic Treaty has been a model for international cooperation since 1959.

Polar Regions, Vikings and Tomatoes

So what’s the relationship between the three things in the title you may ask? Since I’m three quarters Norwegian by heritage and I’ve always loved stories about exploring, it’s not surprising that I developed an interest in the vast explorations during the heyday of the Vikings. Their explorations covered an area including North America, Greenland, Europe, the Mediterranean and Russia. And they or their direct descendants not only settled many of these areas, but they also help set up major trading economies and helped establish stable governments, particularly in Russia, Iceland, and Sicily. And today Viking descendants are helping us in other ways.

The time I spent in Antarctica aboard the Glacier significantly increased my interest in polar regions, which led to my reading more about important Norwegian explorers like Nansen and Amundsen. The direct and indirect influence Norwegians have had on both the Arctic and the Antarctic is quite impressive.

I’ve always liked tomatoes, but modern day tomatoes don’t taste as good as the kinds I had more than sixty years ago when I was a little kid in Minnesota. It turns out that those good tasting tomatoes were less uniform, uglier and harder to transport. Round red tomatoes were not only easier to ship, but they also were more aesthetically pleasing and sold better. It wasn’t long before that was the only kind of tomato readily available. More recently, heirloom tomatoes are making a comeback, thanks to those who saved the seeds of the older varieties.

So what is it that links tomatoes, Vikings and polar regions? The connection has to do with plant seeds in general and all those plants that are dying out because of global warming, natural disasters, depleted soils, agribusiness practices, etc. It turns out there is a Global Seed Vault housed in a large tunnel and bunker in Svalbard, Norway— an island archipelago in the Arctic Ocean. The seed bank there opened in 2008 and now stores seeds from close to 900,000 plant varieties. The state-of-the-art facility collecting the seeds is funded by the Government of Norway and is the result of a partnership between Norway, the Nordic Genetic Research Center and the Global Crop Diversity Trust.

We need to do all we can to preserve and maintain the planets dwindling biodiversity. Hats off to the government of Norway and their partners.