Weekly Letter to the President
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INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
March 8, 2019
Mr. President: New environmental research continues to alarm as three studies
published within the past week amply demonstrate.
Danish scientists report a significant increase in winter rain over Greenland. The
rain-induced melt refreezes forming a dark crusty layer which acts as a greater heat
absorber than white fresh snow. After decades of more frequent winter rain, the
snow-pack contains many such layers speeding up its melting under the summer sun.
Rain has also increased during the rest of the year and the average air temperature
in the last three decades is up 1.8C in summer and 3C in winter. The warm
moisture-laden winds from the south are not new but rising ocean temperatures mean
their moisture content is greater. More clouds lingering longer form a blanket over
the warm air bringing them, increasing the melt even after the rain abates.
It used to be that most of the loss of ice came in the dramatic form of large icebergs
shearing off with thunderous cracks, and floating away on the sea. But satellite
monitoring in recent years has shown that 70 percent of the loss is due to ice melt.
The 270 billion tons lost between 1992 and 2011 from Greenland's 1.7 million square
kilometers of ice has raised sea levels by 7.5 mm. The rest could raise it another 7
meters obliterating many island nations and submerging lower Manhattan and coastal
areas. The eventual consequences are indeed alarming.
Also this week the Environmental Integrity Project, assisted by Earthjustice, concluded
a study of ash pollution from coal-fired electricity generating plants across most US
states. Using industry data recently made available through news regulations, they
analyzed data from 4600 groundwater monitoring wells around the ash dumps of
approximately three-quarters of US coal-fired stations. Their findings are disquieting.
The coal ash waste ponds are poorly and cheaply designed with less than 5 percent
having waterproof liners, and most built to levels near or lower than the groundwater
tables. It is not a surprise then to find 60 percent of the plants polluting the
groundwater with dangerous levels of lithium (associated with neurological damage)
and 52 percent with unsafe levels of arsenic, which can cause cancer and impair the
brains of developing children. The worst ones have lithium at 150 to 200 times safe
levels, cobalt, molybdenum, cadmium and selenium (lethal to fish) also at similar or
The third study this week by Bangor University in Wales and Friends of the Earth has
found microplastics pollution (pieces per liter) in all the ten sites studied: from pristine
Loch Lomond (2.4) and Wordsworth's beloved Ullswater (29.5) in the Lake District to
the River Thames (84.1) and the awful River Tame (>1000) in Greater Manchester.
The scientist who coined the term "global warming" left a message for the world
before he passed away at the age of 87 last month. He was the first to predict rising
CO2 levels would be the cause at a time when many saw it as a boon to enhance
forests, crops and produce.
The message he left calls for the world's scientists to study and prepare extreme
measures because our decision-makers are not confronting the problem and within a
decade it will be too late. According to him creating a solar-shield will become vitally
necessary. The general idea is a sulfur blanket in the earth's atmosphere to stop the
sun's rays, a blanket that can be dispersed after the earth has cooled sufficiently.
How this will be done is up to scientists and engineers unless nature obliges with
another Mt. Pinatubo-like eruption.