Climate changes are getting serious…

Posted February 10th, 2012 in Blog, Featured 2 Comments »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Weekend reflection from Margaret Swedish:

I understand that scientific study seems to make little dent in the global warming/climate change denial syndrome, and so one wonders what it matters to cite the disturbing facts. I assume those of you reading this actually think science has something to tell us, is not mere opinion, or simply about researchers trying to get funding so they can pad their incomes and program budgets, as they are so often accused of doing by the ‘denialists’ (I know, it’s not a word, so I just made it one).

Polls show that, when facts are put up against defining world views that shape people’s meaning frameworks and identity, world views trump science most of the time. There is a reason why Copernicus and Galileo were persecuted, why Darwin continues to be chastised and dismissed for his observations and discoveries, as have climate scientists in recent years. Then, too, a lot is at stake. Defining world views also have their support in power structures built upon them. Consider the Roman Catholic Bishops’ assault on the Obama administration over the contraception business. Whatever they say, this is not really about religious freedom, it’s about a world view they are desperately trying to hold in place even as the modern world erodes it; it relates to how they view sexuality and women, and how these views form part of the foundation of male hierarchical power.

The science behind global warming and its impacts on climate patterns and the make-up of the earth’s atmosphere conflicts with world views built on the production of fossil fuel energy to feed the engine of a global economy churning out goods made from the earth’s ‘resources.’ For some, this is a matter of philosophical or religious belief in the supremacy of the human over nature, those resources put here for our use to magnify that superiority, whether by way of evolution (with humans at the top of the purpose and meaning of evolution) or by way of a Creator who gave them to us for our benefit, to dominate and subdue, tame, beat into submission for the advancement of human civilization.

That this path may be leading us to disaster is not enough to challenge that world view. Our superiority will overcome all obstacles. You know, don’t worry, we’ll figure it out because we are so smart.

The other day, NASA released news about ice loss and sea level rise gleaned from data from the GRACE satellite (NASA/German Aerospace Center Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment ):

Using satellite measurements from the NASA/German Aerospace Center Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), the researchers measured ice loss in all of Earth’s land ice between 2003 and 2010, with particular emphasis on glaciers and ice caps outside of Greenland and Antarctica.

The total global ice mass lost from Greenland, Antarctica and Earth’s glaciers and ice caps during the study period was about 4.3 trillion tons (1,000 cubic miles), adding about 0.5 inches (12 millimeters) to global sea level. That’s enough ice to cover the United States 1.5 feet (0.5 meters) deep.

“Earth is losing a huge amount of ice to the ocean annually, and these new results will help us answer important questions in terms of both sea rise and how the planet’s cold regions are responding to global change,” said University of Colorado Boulder physics professor John Wahr, who helped lead the study.

It won’t matter. The fossil-fuel-industry-funded politicians will continue to block meaningful action on cutting greenhouse gas emissions; oil, gas, and coal companies will keep drilling, blasting mountains and strip-mining, building pipelines, and contaminating waterways all across the country.

Because by our consumption of goods, especially of technology, we keep on showing them that we want them to do it. Even those of us who believe in science are facing huge internal psychological blocks about how much of our lives are supported by this belief in human supremacy and the subservience of nature to our needs and desires (most of those ‘needs’ not actually being ‘needs’).

Which is why I guess I have come to believe that the course we are on will need to play itself out. Other societies around the world are beginning to ‘get’ this and trying to create policies to slow down the drivers of climate change. Even China is doing more than we are, though the pace of industrial pollution is increasing faster than these efforts. But in the US, Obama and Republicans, along with governors of both parties in fossil-fuel-rich states, are arguing not about how to slow global warming and move towards a more sustainable future, they are arguing only about how aggressively to get the stuff out of the ground. I know many think the retreat on the Keystone Pipeline is a victory, but it is not. The intention is to build the pipeline – with a different route and a few more tweaks to environmental regulations. Stay tuned on this one.

Obama wants to frack like crazy and is opening more of the Arctic to drilling. The Republicans want drilling all over Alaska and off-shore. The point is, our politicians are not prepared to stop the industrial engine by stanching the flow of energy into it – and we aren’t either

So sea levels are going to rise, and we will see more extreme weather (our creepily warm nearly snowless winter in Wisconsin is being matched by extreme cold, snow and ice in places like Rome and Venice, in Europe where fears of a shutting down of the Gulf stream that moderates their weather has become disturbingly real). Migrating species are really struggling and forests are showing signs of severe distress. Our oceans are acidifying and becoming saturated with CO2 such that they will no longer serve as carbon sinks. Brazil is easing Amazon forest protections to allow more development and some reports indicate that this vital carbon sink is now beginning to put more CO2 into the atmosphere than it is absorbing. A second devastating drought within five years is hastening the potential for a worst-case scenario.

Hot days coming in the southeast - US Global Change Research Program

So as we go into the weekend, what I want to say is this: pretending that all this is not happening will not keep it from happening. And if we can’t impact the industrial monster right now, we have to figure out how we’re going to live through this, what kind of communities we need to create (not by writing about them in books or creating inspirational websites, but by actually creating them), what kinds of resilience needs to be built into them so that they can withstand the shocks to come, and how to create the narratives of meaning that will instill in them things like joy, beauty, and hope, even as life becomes increasingly difficult.

This is part of a crucial challenge that this and the next few generations will be facing. I do  not yet believe in the human extinction scenario. I believe that humans will have to figure out to live through this, learning to adapt to a climate that we will experience as hostile, though for the earth it will be simply a matter of how it creates a new balance out of these changes. I would like to think that most humans would like to be part of that story. I would like to help create the kinds of resilient communities in which the children in my life might flourish biologically and spiritually. There are other scenarios not as pretty (think Syria in terms of how some power structures respond to severe challenges, or even Wisconsin politics, its guns and drinking culture, and the racism that has once again reared its ugly head).

How we walk through this is up to this generation, because we have to begin to show it is possible before all the collapses begin. One way to keep the fear from taking over is to show that other paths exist.

A hundred years from now, human civilization won’t look like it does right now. What do we want it to look like?

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2 Responses

  1. Dave Gardner

    So true, Margaret, so true. Climate stability is sacrificed on the altar of economic growth. We need to find a way to give politicians permission to embrace economic stability and health rather than promise economic growth. I honestly believe President Obama is acting against his ecological conscience in order to keep his job. He may or may not understand that economic growth is no longer an option; his political survival, unfortunately, requires him to at least give lip service to it.

    Dave Gardner
    Director of the documentary,
    GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth

  2. Margaret

    Dave, I agree with you about Obama to a point. I think he would take stronger action on emissions if he could. On the other hand, Geithner still sits in Treasury because Obama pleaded with him to stay. And his foreign policy is quite belligerent. I sense so many tortured contradictions. I do know that we would have a vigorous renewable energy program if he could get Congress to cooperate; on the other hand, he’s a big booster of corn ethanol and plug-in hybrids, both of which are troublesome, to say the least.

    All politicians must chant the mantra of growth. That’s one reason there is so little real space between the two parties.

    So perhaps Obama is a perfect example of why it is so hard to move forward to the post-carbon era. Caught right in the tension of those contradictions.

    Margaret