Friday, July 23, 2010

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

A blogger called cfk does a Bookflurries: Bookchat thread over at Kos on Wednesdays. Part of the thread is discussing authors with names starting with a particular letter or letters. This past Wednesday it was R, and in suggesting a few authors that hadn't been included yet, I was reminded of poet Theodore Roethke. I wondered if anyone read him anymore. It turns out that cfk lives near where Roethke did, and took the above photo of his house.

Roethke was a 20th century American poet who died in 1963, though his last book was published in 1964. I recall sitting in my college library freshman year, reading some of the poems from that book in a poetry magazine. A couple of them impressed me, and one in particular grabbed me and moved me. Even if my poetry profs would scoff at it as sentimental.

And the first line of "Wish for a Young Wife" embarrassed me because it's so obviously sexual, and I was so very young and callow. But the rest of the poem spoke to me, mirrored my own feelings, and reading it again (its rhythms still alive in my memory), it still does. So here it is, and I dedicate it to all the loves of my life, including those lovely young women--known and unknown-- of college days, and a little beyond...


My lizard, my lively writher,
May your limbs never wither,
May the eyes in your face
Survive the green ice
Of envy's mean gaze;
May you live out your life
Without hate, without grief,
And your hair ever blaze,
In the sun, in the sun,
When I am undone,
When I am no one.
---Theodore Roethke

The Week That Wasn't

This [Thursday] hasn't been a good day for me, which is why I'm blogging instead of doing something useful, but it's nothing to the week that the Obama administration had. First there's the picture above that you probably haven't seen before--it's the signing of the historic Wall Street and financial reform legislation it took all year to achieve. And then shortly afterwards, the finally final passage of unemployment insurance extension. But who noticed? Amidst an otherwise bad week of attention-getting trivia culminating in the extraordinary Shirley Sherrod saga, about which I'll have more to say later. But the obvious distortions by the Rabid Right got saved by panic at the NAACP and in the Obama administration. Nobody came out of this looking good, except Shirley Sherrod and Rachel Maddow, who--agree or disagree--assembles coherent, well-sourced arguments every evening, as she has done brilliantly on this topic several times.

The week ends badly as well with the Senate Dem leadership announcing that climate legislation won't be introduced before August recess because it won't pass, and a more limited energy bill will be offered. Though the White House reluctantly agreed and held out some waning hope that the fight will continue, President Obama is taking a lot of fire from climate crisis environmentalists, like Joe Romm at Climate Progress. While I am disappointed in how things worked out, and do feel that climate is the most important issue for the future, some of this is just as hysterical as the Sherrod thing started out to be. (Fortunately, as I am not tuned into the noise around the clock, I missed most of it.) But there are some good comments in the overwrought Romm post, including one from Bill McKibben.

The other night we watched Michael Moore's Capitalism, A Love Story on DVD and that gave a different texture to the week's noise. For one thing, it prompts a somewhat different perspective on this "angry voter" thing--that anger in the sense of what the plutocracy has done to people is completely justified, if currently displaced onto the wrong targets. Another thought is that there is such insistent noise on politics as opposed to policy because political spending is the last rich source of revenue for the media. It's in their interests to keep attention focused on who's up, who's down, the endless campaign and gossip about political figures, as opposed to substantive matters.

But that DVD--and especially Moore's interview with writer Chris Hedges that is included as a Special Feature--provides the perspective that makes the announcement about the climate bill just a predictable little current in the vast and ever-faster motion towards self-destruction that recent decades have become.

Yeah, and I don't expect today to be any better.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Applicable to a Different Tea Party

“As most perceptive readers will agree, the distinctive characteristic of the human world is its insanity.”

Alberto Manguel
A Reader on Reading (more on this book here...)

Consequences: China

China is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly hugely mind-bogglingly big it is. Not to mention chock full of people. Many many people in incomprehensible number. The world's largest economy, the world's largest polluter, it just became the world's top energy consumer, surpassing the U.S. Despite its reported plan to consider spending a hugely vast amount of money on clean energy, China's contribution to heat-trapping gases building up in the atmosphere and causing global heating will continue to grow.

But also as a consequence of its size and density--and particularly its geography--China may experience some brutal consequences from forced climate change above and beyond what other countries may suffer in common. Which has huge, vast implications not only for the billions of people there, but for the U.S. and its national security--even if dumbbell CA Senate candidate Carly Fiorina can't see it.

One reason can be found in a precisely written piece by Orville Schell in the New York Review of Books (May 27, 2010.) The reason is in the title: "The Message from the Glaciers." The result of shrinking glaciers, particularly in the Himalayas, is likely to curtail water flow in major rivers and cause all kinds of havoc in much of Asia, including China and India.

India is also really really big. (This is going to be a theme here, so adjust your thought processes.) It is also teeming with people, with a rapidly expanding economy and consequent growth in energy use--and demand for resources. Also (lest we forget ) like China it has nuclear weapons.

Melting glaciers in the polar regions may get the most media attention, but the nearly 50,000 glaciers in the Himalayas, writes Schell, feed Asia's ten major rivers and contribute hugely to water supplies as well as seasonally based agriculture. While an error in estimating the melt in the last IPCC report got a lot of attention, the fact that this melting is occurring rapidly--partly because these higher elevations are heating up faster and hotter--is conveniently ignored.

One consequence: "As Zheng Guoguang, head of the China Meteorological Bureau, recently put it, “If the warming continues, millions of people in western China will face floods in the short term and drought in the long run.”"

As if the heating as a general consequence of fossil fuel-induced global heating wasn't enough, the very melting of the glaciers accelerates the process. Buried beneath top layers of snow and ice is the black carbon that accumulated underneath, as a result of fossil fuel burning (especially coal, the primary fuel in China .) That it is black negates the reflective ability of the white glaciers and leads to more melting. That it is carbon means that more global heating-causing gases are released into the atmosphere:

On the accumulation zone of one glacier in the Qilian Mountains in western China, Hansen and Yao found that “fresh snow melted within two days, exposing dirtier underlying snow with black carbon concentration seven times greater than the fresh snow.” They concluded that the soot burden, which had markedly increased since 1990, had now become “sufficient to affect the surface reflectivity of the glaciers,” by increasing their “effectiveness in absorbing sunlight.” With their natural reflective and self-protective ability, or “albedo,” impaired by soot, and with temperatures continuing to rise, scientists like Hansen and Yao now fear that “most glaciers, worldwide, will be lost this century, with severe consequences for fresh water supplies.”

And below all that is the permafrost, which releases even more of these gases when it melts:
But the most profound global impact of this thawing, which has already begun, will be the enormous amounts of methane gas—roughly twenty times more potent in heat-trapping capacity than CO2—that will be released by the decomposition of once-frozen carbon rich organic matter in the area’s soil. Indeed, continued thawing threatens to turn what has been a major carbon-sink—sequestering about 2.5 percent of the world’s soil carbon—into a huge new source of emissions."

These consequences of melting aren't unique to the Himalayas--the attention paid to the Arctic region (including Alaska and northern Canada) and the Antarctic is more than justified. And these aren't the only consequences. But they do suggest several things: How really big changes--particularly for human civilizations as well as other lifeforms--can come from what may seem like small temperature changes. How consequences on the other side of the world can affect everyone on this side (especially considering how China seems to be making nearly everything we use, and the country holds our national debt and financial future in its hands, as well as the geopolitical, military and therefore national security issues.) And how consequences "snowball" in an odd reversal of that metaphor's reference. The snowball becomes much larger simply by rolling down the mountain because of the snow and other material it can accumulate. In this case, the consequences "snowball" as glaciers melt.

Schell doesn't discuss appropriate actions since they are by now obvious. He notes that the temperature rise expected by mid-century (more than 2C) is more than enough to continue and accelerate glacier melting which is already affecting, for example, 95% of the glaciers in Tibet. So consequences are coming, and should be prepared for. But he also notes that unless heat-trapping gases emissions aren't severely cut, the rise could more than double, with faster and worse consequences.

But he does end his article with the conundrum--or by now familiar lament-- of why urgent action isn't being taken in view of these well-known realities. His final statement: "And many more studies should be undertaken to scientifically clarify all these links. But there is already enough information for the world to know that we confront a very dangerous prospect, with no adequate effort underway to find the missing link between the knowledge we already have and action".

It is the question of why this emergency is not being appropriately confronted which I, in my unbelievably small way, hope to address hereabouts in future posts. Please stay tuned.

Monday, July 19, 2010

This is Me Blogging

A trenchant piece at Wired on why Americans are slow to accept green technology. I don't buy all of it, but almost.

Some of the best analysis of climate crisis denying comes from a conservative writing in a conservative newspaper. Leading in this Climate Progress thread to some interesting discussion in the comments.

I'm reading a novel by Alan Sillitoe, The Widower's Son, and just read this sentence: "The mixture of purpose and bewilderment on Bavon's exhausted face went straight to his heart."

Purpose and bewilderment. I can dig it.

R.I.P. Stephen Schneider

Stephen Schneider was the first climate scientist in my experience to sound the alarm over global heating. I interviewed him years ago. Others became more prominent from time to time, but his voice was always there. He died this morning.

Here's a tribute from Real Climate. And another with video from Climate Progress. There are additional tributes and links in the comments at Climate Progress--including to this photo, taken at Stanford in 2007. Stephen Schneider was 65.