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Return to Seward

How we will solve global warming

Shawn Dilles, left, and Bruce Molnia, right. (Photo: Author)

This post continues (and ends) the Glaciers of Kenai Fjords expedition, gathering photographic evidence of global warming in Alaska with researchers Bruce Molnia, Shawn Dilles, and Kim Angeli on board the Endeavour.


In the morning, the weather forecast hadn’t changed. I described to our guests what tomorrow’s conditions were going to be like, and we agreed to head back today, rather than go further west to Nuka Island, where we had only four photo locations left to find. Kim counted up our work and told us we had taken photos from 75 locations. We were away at 0635.

The run back to Seward was, mostly, a rewind: out to McCarty, through McArthur, around the north end of Granite Island (there was an intrepid fishing charter there in the lee, with ten men holding poles, lining the rails), then off on another bearing around the outside of Matushka Island. This wasn’t the most direct route, but I was tacking, like a sailboat, to keep the swells in the 90-degree arc-of-comfort off our bow, to avoid putting down the paravanes. Bruce and Shawn were with me in the pilothouse.

“Okay, science guys,” I asked, “how do we solve global warming?”

“Entrepreneurs,” Shawn said. “I’m not kidding. We need to create an environment where entrepreneurs can get us out of this. The government can’t fix global warming. The best government can do is incentivize or disincentivize entrepreneurs from delivering solutions.”

“Can entrepreneurs act quickly enough?” I asked.

“Predictions are hard, especially about the future,” Shawn said. “But it's mind-blowing how fast technology changes. Look at LED lightbulbs. We probably replaced 20 or 30 billion lightbulbs in the last 10 years, and nobody noticed. And now we produce 30 percent less coal – evil coal – than 10 years ago. That’s mind-blowing, that rate of change. If you can ditch 30% of coal use in ten years that’s pretty good. And we did. And nobody noticed.

“Is that having enough of an impact?” I asked.

“No,” Bruce said.

“Yeah, no,” Shawn said, “But it shows what can be done.”

“The US is not the coal issue,” Bruce said. “China is still building coal-fired power plants. And I’ve been told it’s one to two per week, every week. We may cut back by 70% by 2050, but they will have increased by 100%, which is five times more than what we’re doing.”

“But their solar capacity exceeds ours by a long shot, too,” Shawn said.

“Right, but we’re not aggressively doing solar or wind or any other renewable,” Bruce said.

“This is where predictions get hard,” Shawn said, “because I think the rate of change is going to greatly accelerate. Predicting the rates of change from renewables is more calculus than arithmetic. I’m hopeful, given the fact that younger people take climate change for granted, and the fact that we’re going to have to rebuild and restructure our electric grid anyway to accommodate electric vehicles, that it is going to come amazingly fast, like LED lightbulbs.”

“So,” he said, “the solution is to stop putting carbon dioxide and methane up there and nature will take care of the rest over time. Maybe 100 years. Some people think the ocean is going to absorb it – more than the forests. Phytoplankton.”

“Yeah,” Bruce said, “maybe in 100 years, after we can go to net zero emissions. The third generation from now will be less polluted.”

From Matsuhka Island it was a fairly straight shot north up Resurrection Bay and into Seward harbor at the head of it. Altogether, a nine-hour run, and not too bad. That night, the weather got worse, as forecast, but we were comfortable at the dock.

Bruce, Shawn, and Kim left the next morning. The day after, Patsy, Chris, and I took the Endeavour down Resurrection Bay, on our way to Prince William Sound to pick up a team of paleontologists. We slowed at Thumb Cove – I had the old photos from Kim’s binder and wanted to get the shots – but it was still too cloud-covered for decent photos.

On that same day, August 13, 2021, I would find out later, NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, announced that the global temperature in July was hotter than every one of the previous 1,700 months – since 1880, when they began keeping records.

— William Urschel


Webinar: Warm Ice. This is a video of Dr. Molnia's presentation on glaciers, his rephotgraphy technique, and the Alaska Endeavour expedition in particular. Length 55:36.

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