Tweet The Heat


Twitter - the missing link between citizen science and climate research.
Image credit:IGOR Cesar Daeuble

What do you get when you mix a global environmental non-profit, volunteers going on 19 climate change research projects around the world , a scientist on one of them studying permafrost that’s becoming oxymoronic, a renewable energy company, a local environmental non-profit that greens urban, underserved neighborhoods, a steel drum band, and Twitter (www.twitter.com/tweettheheat )?

Here at Earthwatch, we’re not exactly sure, yet.

But we’ll know by August 13, when our annual Beat the Heat Climate Change Campaign kicks off at Boston’s Museum of Science.(If you’re in the area, a legal beer drinker, and have lots of friends who are, get your tickets online by August 7 and you might win a private tasting tour for up to 80 people at Boston’s esteemed Harpoon Brewery. Who says there can’t be beer in the battle against climate change?)

You may remember that last year I got put in a skirt and stood in a washtub in uncomfortable proximity to my boss and another colleague, all for the cause. This year, I’ll be keeping my pants on, but we’re still trying new things by launching a Twitter follower challenge to support the campaign.

(I’m also told that our CEO wants to set up a kiddie pool full of ice and get committed climate change warriors to donate to see who can stand in it the longest. This being August, in Boston, I’ll go first.)

If we can reach just 350 followers (why does that number sound so familiar to you?) on www.twitter.com/tweettheheat by August 13, First Wind-a wind-power company based in Newton, MA-will make a donation to support Earthwatch’s climate change research worldwide and to support a community-planting effort organized by Roxbury, MA-based EarthWorks Projects, Inc. (No connection to Earthwatch save the similar name).

Then, if we meet the challenge, Beat the Heat Climate Change Campaign volunteers from both the Earthwatch and First Wind communities will work together with EarthWorks and their neighborhood partners this fall on a tree planting, community garden, or other greening project in the Boston area.

(As you may know, Boston is in the midst of an ambitious campaign to increase its forest canopy cover-and thus help fight climate change, improve air and water quality, boost biodiversity, and enhance neighborhoods-from 29% to 35% by 2030. Efforts are being focused on the city’s poorest, least-green neighborhoods.)

If all of this-a fundraising party, a Twitter challenge, a three-way partnership between two non-profits and a green company, a tree planting, 19 different research expeditions, beer, steel drums, me risking frostbite a year after risking gender confusion-sounds like we’re throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks in our climate change efforts, that’s because we are.

We’ve got to. There’s no time left to dither over the perfect strategy, and too much work to be done, with too many people-especially new people-to be engaged in the struggle in basically any way possible.

Dr. Peter Kershaw, the Earthwatch scientist who will be the featured guest at this year’s Beat the Heat event, tells us that the variety of studies he’s been leading with the help of Earthwatch volunteers who journey to the Churchill Northern Studies Center in Manitoba, Canada, or to a second site in the Mackenzie Mountains, provide troubling signs of the rapidly changing climate (pdf file). The depth of permafrost thaw at a Goose Flats study site in the Mackenzie Mountains has doubled, and the site is about to become permafrost-free. Tree ring studies in the Hudson Lowlands near Churchill confirm growth rates and origin dates linked to warming events. Also in Churchill, higher amounts of accumulating snow atop permafrost in summer means that the permafrost retains more the heat of the warmer months, leading to more of it melting, which in turn makes it easier for more snow to accumulate. Accumulate, melt, and repeat. If climate models are right, the first two steps will happen in greater and greater quantities.

And so it goes until the perma ain’t. When you factor in the theory that as permafrost melts it releases vast amounts of stored CO2 and methane which, as greenhouse gases, could in turn accelerate global warming trends and lead to more melting permafrost and more released gases, ad globus nauseum, you’ve got two very frightening feedback loops potentially in play.

Unless we do something-anyway we can-seeing how long you can stand in a pool of icy water isn’t going to be much of a party trick anymore. It’ll be the daily grind for lots of people.

So, yeah, bring on the climate change cocktail parties (this one’s carbon-neutral for the third year running, by the way, outside with no AC, and near public-transit), the silly photo-ops, the brewery tour contests, and the Tweets-in addition to all the hard work being done by scientists and volunteers in communities worldwide. The more the merrier.

Follow Beat the Heat today at www.twitter.com/tweettheheat , spread the word, and thanks. I hope you can make the climate change party, wherever you are. I’ll be the guy in the ice, checking Twitter.

By: George Grattan

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