Friday, May 23, 2014

The Everyday Climate Crisis

I was listening to the SF Giants baseball game with the Colorado Rockies being played near Denver on Thursday.  After a damp third inning the play-by-play turned to describing bright lightning and loud thunder, the tarps being nailed down, and then hail in the outfield like snow. The day before it had piled up three inches deep in some parts of Denver. There was a nearly 90 minute delay, a couple of more innings, another half hour delay before the game was called.

There seem to be more games cancelled by weather this season.  The Pirates saw two in a row in New York, as I recall.  That's one little indication (yet one that sports fans will notice) of what I predicted would happen someday soon: weather-related stories, especially violent and disastrous events, would become frequent in the daily news, along with news of other climate crisis effects, like food prices and illneses.  That someday appears to be now.

In just the past month or so, there were the tornadoes that spun across a wide and long swath of states for several days.  There were the California wild fires.  Then the floods and some 2000 landslides in Bosnia and Serbia, (a house in Serbia in photo above) killing 40 and creating damage "as least as bad" as that left by the 1990s war there, while also exposing land mines from that war.

  Now there are huge wildfires in Arizona, possible tornado damage in Albany NY, severe thunderstorms in Washington DC (and a storm of criticism for the National Weather Service's failure to predict them) and severe storms predicted Friday for New Mexico.

Will such daily evidence change the minds of those who persistently deny the reality of the climate crisis, even when they become an even higher proportion of news stories?  Probably not. The issue is now part of the cultural politics that is becoming absolute, and people may accept whatever "information" supports the view of the culture that they belong to and that embraces them. When your world is defined by Fox, and three-quarters of their climate stories are deceptive, you're safe at home. As climate crisis effects become more obvious and awful, fear may even increase the strength of the denial.

 So what can be done?  Maybe it's time to just stop listening to deniers and count them as a lost cause.  They are noisy--very actively so on the Internet.   There is big fossil fuel money behind them, and one of the two political parties is entirely captive to this money and these deniers.  Right now, no matter how crazy they get (and in some ways, the crazier the better) the structure of American politics and government makes it very likely that they will have some political power.

Still, their noise is much greater than their numbers, and even progressive sites distort their numbers by featuring every outrageous thing they say.

They aren't the majority.  And as Kim Stanley Robinson pointed out here in Arcata, all we need is 51%, and at most 60 votes in the U.S. Senate, to get to work.  It's time to concentrate not on the loud and the lost, but on those who vacillate (they don't want to think about it, they sort of believe but look for any excuse not to, they just want to think about and vote on other things) and those who know in general terms what the climate crisis is and what it might mean.  And especially to motivate those who are already concerned.

I've always wondered about that expression "preaching to the congregation."  Who else does a preacher preach to but the folks who show up?  They preach to the congregation, to the choir, in order to inform them, steel their resolve, motivate them to act, and guide their actions.  

So Naomi Klein can explain to us some reasons why we have trouble accepting the reality of the climate crisis, and exhort us: "And just as we have changed before, we can change again."  Rebecca Solnit can demonstrate the violence that climate crisis is already causing, and the political forces that suppress this knowledge, and what citizens can do about it.

Others bypass the arguments over climate change itself and go directly to such problems as the economics of dealing with it.  While some say there is not enough information generated on the costs of dealing with the effects (such as these fires, storms and droughts), others say the expense of addressing the causes is not ruinous, as the critics say, and the economics actually come out on the plus side. The International Energy Agency "concludes that the switch to low-carbon technologies such as solar power—together with anticipated improvements in efficiency—will bring huge savings from reduced fossil-fuel consumption. As a result, the world actually comes out slightly ahead: the costs of switching will be paid for in fuel savings between now and 2050."   

Another strategy that is in fact widely embraced is to simply work on the problems and ignore the deniers. How to change those minds is a less pressing challenge," write the editors of Bloomberg View, "than how to slow down climate change."  On the federal level, there's relative consensus among non-deniers around some proposals (the carbon tax) and healthy debate on others.  President Obama seems set to act--as soon as early June--to regulate coal fired plants, which may well have a decisive effect in slowing down climate change.

 But on both causes and effects, local, state, regional and international efforts are going on, beneficiaries perhaps of all the surface noise.  And research continues on ways to deal with the causes and effects rather than only predict the effects and prove over and over the causes.

A number of those who realize the reality of climate crisis and see it as the major human challenge of the future (and to the future) must get motivated to create a political movement.  That's the conclusion of several notable figures who started out studying or writing about the coming climate crisis, and now are also activists, such as Bill McKibben, former NASA scientist James Hansen, Mark Hertsggard and others.

Even Hillary Clinton has called for a citizens movement on this issue.  Kim Stanley Robinson says that it needs to be for the long haul and therefore self-perpetuating, led by succeeding generations of young people with the energy, talent and time to keep it going.

One movement strategy that's worked in the past is starting. Stanford University made some news when it decided to divest all coal company stock, but divestment is underway elsewhere.  It's not an exact analogy to South Africa, but divestment certainly worked there.  Some other under-the-radar political efforts are also underway, such as cowboys and Indians organizing against the Keystone pipeline.

So far a mass political movement hasn't happened, but that doesn't mean it won't happen.  In an interview, the late Jonathan Schell had some ideas for what might work but ultimately he admitted, why movements rise when they do is a mystery.  When their time comes, they just do.

Maybe that time begins this year. With an article in the new Rolling Stone, Bill McKibben is organizing a big march in New York City when the United Nations meets in September.

The challenge is daunting, and some--like MSNBC's Chris Hayes--says it is unprecedented, because of all the fossil fuel wealth that would have to be left in the ground.  He writes that such restraint has never happened.  I'm not so sure--there are still some forests left.

But nobody really knows exactly what the future holds, especially in responses to the climate crisis.  We can only form a vision of a better future, and work towards it in the present.  That's all we can do--our best in our present, for the future.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Fire, Got That, What About Ice?

It's melting.  Not exactly news, especially since last week, but the studies keep coming in.  According to NBC News:"Three years' worth of readings from the European Space Agency's CryoSat 2 satellite indicate that Antarctica's ice sheets are losing 159 billion tons of ice per year — which is twice as much as the estimates from previous altimeter surveys."  (There's more details in this BBC story, but the numbers are in metrics.)

The same story references another study, of Greenland: "A study published Sunday by Nature Geoscience reports that the canyons beneath the Greenland Ice Sheet are deeper and longer than previously thought. That suggests that there's more ice on the northern land mass available for thawing in a warming world, with the result that Greenland's future contribution to sea level rise could exceed past estimates."

Now how about ice and fire together? "New research on the effects of ice sheet melt in the Antarctic shows climate change is deforming the Earth’s crust, potentially prompting volcanic activity that could cause global sea-levels to rise much more than predicted."

That's if the volcanoes are under the ice and an eruption accelerates the melt.  There are possible sites in Alaska and Antarctica.  This story ends with the chilling news that Australian scientists who have been studying their fairly near neighbor of Antarctica may not be able to continue due to cutbacks in government funding.  Australia has yo-yoed back from being led by climate crisis believers to climate crisis deniers.

The response of the earth's crust to the redistribution of weight (as ice melts into oceans) and perhaps even to atmospheric temperature is another unknown, in this utterly interrelated planetary ecology.  But volcanoes would be one manifestation, earthquakes another.

The new Antarctic study comports with the results of studies released and referenced here in the past week or two.  The conclusion of all the studies is that while scientists cannot yet predict how fast the sea levels will rise, they're now pretty damn sure they are going to rise, certainly enough to threaten coastal cities worldwide and islands and even states (Florida) low in the water.  And maybe by a lot more, and maybe a lot faster.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Dreaming Up Daily Weekly Quote

"In the end it is a moral question whether individuals apply what they have learned or not."
C.G. Jung
photo: LA Times