Thursday, April 18, 2019

Native American Wisdom: Polar Bears and Bowhead whales

published Pacifica Tribune April 17, 2019
 What's Natural column

Inuit Superior Calculations of Wildlife 

Native American Wisdom and Kappiananngittuq: Part 1
In 2010 Nunavut’s Minister of Environment Daniel Shewchuk wrote, “Inuit hunters have a close relationship with the land and wildlife. They have observed that the overall population of polar bears in Nunavut is not declining as some suggest, but rather is thriving. No known environmental or other factors are currently posing a significant or immediate threat to polar bears overall. Furthermore, Inuit knowledge and science corroborate that the species can and will adapt to changing and severe climatic conditions, as it has done for centuries.”

The Inuit truly practice the concept of “it takes a village”. Hunters sit down in kappiananngittuq and respectfully share their observations of wildlife and their movements. Kappiananngittuq is the Inuit word for a “safe place to discuss”. Based on community discussions, Inuit have steadfastly claimed it is “The Time of the Most Polar Bears”. Overhunting has been one of the world’s greatest threats to wildlife. And the growing number of polar bears is testimony to wise hunting regulations now honored by the Inuit.

In contrast, based on questionable computer models, some western scientists have argued two-thirds of all polar bears will be extinct by the year 2030. Climate scientists like Gavin Schmidt sitting in his New York office, suggested the Inuit are in total denial. Sadly, in climate politics there is no kappiananngittuq where people safely discuss divergent knowledge. If you dare disagree with models of gloom and doom, you are attacked as an ignorant denier.

Fat Polar Bear

In part 2, I will present abundant scientific evidence supporting Inuit claims that it is the “time of the most polar bears”. But first I present an example of the Inuit’s amazing ability to correctly diagnose changes in Arctic wildlife populations. Kappiananngittuq discussions consistently resulted in accurate conclusions, far superior to western science.

Due to overharvesting during the early 20th century, Bowhead whales were undeniably on the brink of extinction. In response, commercial hunting of Bowheads along the Canadian Arctic was wisely banned in 1951. Inuit subsistence hunting continued until 1979 but was later prohibited. After extensive debate, a limited licensed subsistence hunt was eventually renewed in Nunavut in 1996.
When the Inuit first petitioned to hunt the Bowhead in the 1980s, scientists argued the Bowhead population had not yet recovered to the sustainable numbers needed to safely permit subsistence hunting. The Inuit insisted scientists grossly underrepresented the whale’s abundance due to faulty surveys. It is not exactly clear how the Inuit counted, but by compiling their community’s observations, they concluded there were three times more Bowhead than scientific models suggested.

Many non-Inuit were suspicious, insinuating Inuit estimates were a self-serving calculation driven by their desire to hunt more whales. Off-hand comments portrayed Inuit estimates as mere hunches lacking written documentation and verifiable observations. Inuit science was not considered on par with hi-tech calculations.

But scientific surveys frequently suffer from a wide range of biases and inaccuracies. Models are often just the best guesses of a small group of scientists that get translated into numbers and equations. The data that feed their models are often limited by scant observations.

In the 1970s, during the Bowhead’s spring migration, scientists perched on hilltops, or pressure ridges in the ice. They counted whales as they migrated north through the open-water “leads” along the north coast of Alaska. They erroneously assumed that when the winds changed and ice temporarily closed those leads, whales stopped migrating. Only after the winds again shifted and the leads reopened, did scientists continue their count. Based on such survey assumptions, scientists modeled that only 2000-3000 Bowhead whales existed. And such small numbers meant the whales were still endangered.

In contrast Inuit hunters had always ventured much further out on the ice. Based on experience, they argued that when open-water leads closed, the whale migration still continued. The swirling pack ice always generated chaotic but sufficient springtime cracks and leads, providing whales enough opportunities to breathe. Bowheads also break relatively thin ice to make their own breathing holes. Whales were never restricted to large open-water leads along the coast. Thus, Inuit hunters argued the scientists had been blind to the majority of migrating whales. To their credit, western scientists re-designed their surveys to address the Inuit’s criticisms. The Inuit were proven correct, and amazingly had correctly calculated that Bowhead populations were 3 times higher than scientists had estimated. I suggest we all could benefit by debating kappiananngittuq style.

Bowhead Whale creating breathing hole

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Victory for Intellectual Freedom

A Victory for Intellectual Freedom!

Dr. Peter Ridd who studies the effects of sediments in the Great Barrier Reef was fired for challenging University reports asserting the Great Barrier Reef was dying. To silence his skepticism the university fired him claiming he violated the code of collegiality. Alarmists around the internet supported the university's attempt to silence a skeptic. 

However the judge ruled the University had acted unlawfully stating, "Incredibly, the University has not understood the whole concept of intellectual freedom. In the search for truth, it is an unfortunate consequence that some people may feel denigrated, offended, hurt or upset. It may not always be possible to act collegiately when diametrically opposed views clash in the search for truth." (p. 71)

The entire ruling can be read here:

The list of rulings start on  p. 74

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Little Ice Age - Back to the Future

published in the Pacifica Tribune's biweekly column What’s Natural?

April 3, 2019

Little Ice Age glaciers threaten villages and farms

The Little Ice Age - Back to the Future 

Extreme scientists and politicians warn we will suffer catastrophic climate change if the earth’s average temperature rises 2.7°F above the Little Ice Age average. They claim we are in a climate crisis because average temperature has already warmed by 1.5°F since 1850 AD. Guided by climate fear, politicians fund whacky engineering schemes to shade the earth with mirrors or aerosols to lower temperatures. But the cooler Little Ice Age endured a much more disastrous climate.

The Little Ice Age coincides with the pre-industrial period. The Little Ice Age spanned a period from 1300 AD to 1850 AD, but the exact timing varies. It was a time of great droughts, retreating tree lines, and agricultural failures leading to massive global famines and rampant epidemics. Meanwhile advancing glaciers demolished European villages and farms and extensive sea ice blocked harbors and prevented trade. 

Dr. Michael Mann who preaches dire predictions wrought by global warming described the Little Ice Age as a period of widespread “famine, disease, and increased child mortality in Europe during the 17th–19th century, probably related, at least in part, to colder temperatures and altered weather conditions.” In contrast to current models suggesting global warming will cause wild weather swings,Mann concluded “the Little Ice Age may have been more significant in terms of increased variability of the climate”.  Indeed, historical documents from the Little Ice Age describe wild climate swings with extremely cold winters followed by very warm summers, and cold wet years followed by cold dry years.

A series of Little Ice Age droughts lasting several decades devastated Asia between the mid 1300s and 1400s. Resulting famines caused significant societal upheaval within India, China, Sri Lanka, and Cambodia. Bad weather resulted in the Great Famine of 1315-1317 which decimated Europe causing extreme levels of crime, disease, mass death, cannibalism and infanticide.The North American tree-ring data reveal megadroughts lasting several decades during the cool 1500s. The Victorian Great Drought from 1876 to 1878 brought great suffering across much of the tropics with India devastated the most. More than 30 million people are thought to have died at this time from famine worldwide. 

The Little Ice Age droughts and famines forced great societal upheaval, and the resulting climate change refugees were forced to seek better lands. But those movements also spread horrendous epidemics. Wild climate swings brought cold and dry weather to central Asia.  That forced the Mongols to search for better grazing. As they invaded new territories they spread the Bubonic plague which had devastated parts of Asia earlier. In the 1300s the Mongols passed the plague to Italian merchant ships who then brought it to Europe where it quickly killed one third of Europe’s population. European explorers looking for new trade routes brought smallpox to the Americas, causing small native tribes to go extinct and decimating 25% to 50% of larger tribes. Introduced diseases rapidly reduced Mexico’s population from 30 million to 3 million.

By the 1700s a new killer began to dominate – accidental hypothermia. When indoor temperatures fall below 48°F for prolonged periods, the human body struggles to keep warm, setting off a series of reactions that causes stress and can result in heart attacks. As recently as the 1960s in Great Britain, 20,000 elderly and malnourished people who lacked central heating died from accidental hypothermia. As people with poor heating faced bouts of extreme cold in the 1700s, accidental hypothermia was rampant. 

What caused the tragic climate changes of the Little Ice Age? Some scientists suggest lower solar output associated with periods of fewer sunspots. Increasing solar output then reversed the cooling and warmed the 20thcentury world.  As solar output is now falling to the lows of the Little Ice Age, a natural experiment is now in progress testing that solar theory. However other scientists suggest it was rising COthat delivered the world from the Little Ice Age. 

Increasing COalso has a beneficial fertilization effect that is greening the earth. The 20th century warming, whether natural or driven by rising COconcentrations, has lengthened the growing season. Famines are being eliminated. Tree-lines stopped retreating and trees are now reclaiming territory lost over the past 500 years. So why is it that now we face a climate crisis?

At the end of the 1300’s Great Famine and the Bubonic Plague epidemic, the earth sustained 350 million people. With today’s advances in technology and milder growing conditions, record high crop yields are now feeding a human population that has ballooned to over 7.6 billion.

So, the notion that cooler times represent the “good old days” and we are now in a warmer climate crisis seems truly absurd. 

Jim Steele is retired director of the Sierra Nevada Field Campus, SFSU