In some places, the world really is coming to an end

Posted April 26th, 2011 in Blog, Featured 3 Comments »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

Right? I mean, Missouri, Arkansas, western Texas – it really is the end for some folks, homes, whole communities, burned, torn apart by tornadoes, flooded out by rain totals of 15 inches or more over 4 days and more to come. In inundated and damaged areas of Missouri, more severe storms, some with tornado potential, are in store for today. Levees have been breached in some areas and quick evacuations and water rescues are underway. And forecasters’ predictions for today and through the rest of the week use the word, ‘dire.’

Texas Widlfires April 15 - NASA Earth Observatory

Dallas and eastern TX will get some much-needed rain, though downpours may not be welcome, but most of the state remains in drought and large parts of it in severe or extreme drought. Wildfires continue to burn – more than 1.5 million acres as of now.

What in the world is going on?

April has been a stunningly violent month weatherwise, and we still have a few days to go. Check out this Weather Channel page and ponder the map from just 2 days of these outbreaks, April 4-5. And this: 5400 severe weather reports in a month that averages 3300 nationwide.  Incredible!

Now consider that May is actually the most active month for tornadoes in this country.

In Texas, where drought has deepened in recent years, at least one climatologist is not afraid to say that climate change is a contributing factor in the fires.

And the floods and tornadoes? Here’s reference to a study conducted by NASA a few years ago predicting exactly what is now occurring: Global Warming Will Bring Violent Storms (see more on NASA’s climate research here).

Can we talk again about the moral and ethical issues involved in climate change denial, in the intentional efforts by Exxon Mobil, the Exxon-funded Heartland Institute, or certain Republican members of Congress (e.g. Sen. James Inhofe),  various Fox News pundits, and other corporate backed groups (Koch Industries is another of these backers) to obfuscate the science and try to convince you that climate is not changing because of industrialization and the burning of fossil fuels?

We have always insisted that no single weather event can be directly attributed to climate change; it’s the patterns over time that matter. It is also how accurately computer models predict the future – like the NASA study cited above.

Source: US Global Change Research Program

What worries me as much as how quickly weather patterns are changing and how unprepared we are for the changes is that we are not yet done warming the atmosphere with our greenhouse gas emissions. They will rise exponentially over the rest of this century no matter what we do now – not an excuse for inaction, just the opposite. Because another century will follow this one and there are folks being born now who would like to have children and grandchildren with prospects for a decent future.

This week’s Earthweek: A Diary of the Planet contained a little snippet about two ’eminent’ scientists, Royal Astronomers Martin Rees and John Brown, who believe human prospects beyond this century are pretty grim.

Beyond the tangible threat of a terrorist nuclear attack on a major city, the eminent astrophysicist points to climate change and overpopulation as the world’s leading manmade perils.

You know, this is the stuff that can get a person pretty depressed trying to walk through one’s day. I am not a believer in the human extinction story, at least not so soon. I insist that we will not get off that easy, that we will have to live through these hard times, and that how hard they get is still up to us. But we will have to become very skilled at adaptation, and far more willing than we are now to accept changes in the entire mode of human living on this planet from that in which we exist right now.

Finally, if climate change and overpopulation are our leading ‘manmade’ [sic] perils, when was the last time you heard policy-makers, economists, teachers, religious leaders saying anything meaningful about these things, or leading us in a conversation about what to do and how to proceed?  Many good statements – and I am getting so tired of good statements and petitions and sign-on letters and all – but little meaningful action at the scale necessary.

Ecological hope? We don’t have to wait for leadership ‘from above’ to take action. Around the world small communities are beginning to reinvent the meaning of the human project, of our role within the living communities of this planet, to advance the great leap in consciousness that has come with our return to the Earth and our place within it. We have to put our hope there – I don’t know where else to put it. We have to plant seeds deep into the Earth of our cultures, our broken messed up societies, our woefully lacking religious and educational institutions, our dreadful media, and nurture these seeds carefully, lovingly and with great dedication. It won’t make for an easy future, but it can make for a future from which goodness and ecological wholeness just might emerge.



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3 Responses

  1. hombredelatierra

    These are early days of climate change – maybe. What we are seeing may – note conditional – be the slide over a tipping point: “kaleidoscopically shifting weather patterns” as the climate machine “shifts gears” into a new mode of functioning (think: Medieval Optimal, Little Ice Age..) At any rate, this is what a mode shift should look at its inception..

    Note also the early geopolitical impacts. Food price hikes are said by some commentators to have been a strong contributing factor to the political turnoil in the Mideast.. Food shortages due to the shift out of the Little Ice Age may have played a contributory role in the French Revolution..

    This is not just a time to despair. A system that is incorrigible is dying, leaving a gap for a new better one to be born.. It’s possible.. It’s possible..

  2. Margaret

    Hard to avoid the evidence that weather patterns are changing and that a warmer atmosphere could be feeding energy into these storms. So we begin to imagine living into this new reality – from a relatively stable period climatewise to the emergence of more volatile and violent weather patterns. How will we do and how bad will it get?

    But I agree with you that the more we feel the impacts, the more incentive to begin creating a new way of life – one packed with the sort of meaning and purpose that is the real craving of the human heart.

    I’m still rooting for us.

  3. hombredelatierra

    I’m still rooting for us too: “congenital or glandular optimist”..

    I don’t believe anyone knows how bad Climate Change can get: note how estimates of polar ice cap melting are way too conservative. 10 – 12 years ago, they said “N. pole MAY be ice free by 2100″. Now, it’s “N. pole WILL be ice free sometime between 2012 – 2020 (or some such)”. In reality, this is only to be expected given the way climate models are constructed: the fault lies not with the models, nor the modellers but with the crazy way we are pushing the climate regulation system outside of its normal operating range.

    In effect, the computer climate models (GCMs) were designed to model climate under NORMAL (unperturbed) conditions. They are now being employed outside their design criteria so OF COURSE (!!) the results are wonky. What ELSE would you expect?? (That to me is a no brainer..)

    I used the conditional tense – “may” be at a tipping point – because I believe we ain’t seen nothing yet. This is just foreplay. The shift to the Little Ice Age is an example of what a real “tip” could look like. Between the begining of the 14th cent and the begining of he 15th, population in Europe dropped by 40% according to some estimates. There was even an analog to HIV: bubonic plague. Emergent diseases appear when climate change alters host / parasite relations. Once emerged, the plague microbe exploited reduced human immune system efficiency (malnutrition), reduced public hygiene (poverty and itinerance) and increased population mobility (job seeking) to spread. And spread it did! It could kill 40% of the population of a country or region in a year or so (in small locales, the losses could be greater).

    Given the innate conservatism of computer climate model predictions, what our “tip” might look like is anyone’s guess..

    My own gut feeling – which I’ve learned to trust over the years, because it’s usually right on global trends of all sorts – is that Peak Oil is the immediate challenge: it’s already here in force! The real GW whammy, on the other hand, may still be decades off in the future.

    I can’t quantify it or logically prove that I am right but I suspect there is an unexpected “corrective” (negative feedback) relation between Peak Oil (“Energy Descent” some people call it) and GW / Climate Change. Energy Descent, by radically reducing economic activity in the 1st world, will reduce out carbon footprint drastically. Ditto for “developing” countries like China and India (though the relative per capita reduction in carbon footprint may be less than for the first world in some regions). Population reduction should follow economic decline further reducing total carbon emissions.

    Total C emissions = per capita emissions X population

    Energy descent will act to reduce BOTH factors, per capita emissions and population, giving a very stong reduction in total carbon emission. GW? Problem solved! – but at what a tragic price..

    It is for this reason that I believe the immediate goal should be to re/build local community resilience, autonomy and self-sufficiency as much as possible to cushion the economic, social and political impacts of Energy Descent as much as possible. It is now too late to “debate” with GW deniers: the Climate Change of the last 40 years of growing emissions is already “in the tubes” – the torpedo has been fired, you can’t call it back. Future emissions will be curtailed by reduced economic activity. So our immediate goal should be dealing with the economic, social and local political impacts of Energy Descent. (Besides, measures to build community resilience will also tend to reduce carbon emissions so their is no contradiction.)