Thursday, August 18, 2016


What is reality?  For some in southern California, a monstrous fire trumps Trump.  In areas of Louisiana, the worst flooding since Katrina has resulted from rains that were off the charts--where 20 inches would constitute a 1,000 year storm, they got 30 inches.   According to the Red Cross, it is the worst natural disaster in the US since Sandy in 2012.  I doubt Hillary's emails matter there.

Weather tends to be background reality, but when it hits extremes, it moves up: it has costs and long consequences.  Sometimes it moves from background to consequential over time, as in heat waves or droughts or weeks of rain and storms: it requires different planning, affects activities and "productivity," and may move back and forth from a subliminal, mammalian threat, to a conscious danger.

It's been very hot and humid this month in the eastern U.S., in London, and elsewhere.  Now the northwest is experiencing intense heat.  Forecast for Ashland, Oregon (where the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is humming) was 106F today, 108 tomorrow.  Even the southern Oregon coast is not exempt--temps there forecast to nudge 90F.  (So far our fog is still protecting us on our far northern CA coastal strip.)

All of this is part of the predicted climate crisis pattern, only now it's not prediction anymore.  It's reality.

According to Jeff Masters at Weather Underground: Global mean temperatures in July 2016 were the warmest on record not just for July, but for any month dating to the late 1800s, according to four separate newly-released analyses.

 A state of the climate report issued by NOAA Wednesday said that July 2016 was Earth's warmest month in records dating to 1880... NOAA said that July 2016 also marked the 15th consecutive warmest month on record for the globe. That is the longest stretch of months in a row that a global temperature record has been set in their dataset."

Evaluating the whole of 2015, scientists saw the unmistakable evidence of the climate crisis rushing into the present.  CBSEarth's fever got worse last year, breaking dozens of climate records, scientists said in a massive report nicknamed the annual physical for the planet.

After detailing the research and its conclusions, the report includes the quote:"This impacts people. This is real life," said NOAA climate scientist Jessica Blunden...

There are very great differences between what the presidential candidates are poised to do about the climate crisis, and that's a critical part of the decision ahead. More on that in a later post, but for now, I want to stick with this theme of reality and how we are ignoring it so irrationally, clinging to our more familiar foci of attention.

Extreme weather can kill people and destroy homes.  The more frequent bouts of extreme heat will have longer term consequences.  And the effects of sea level rise, already displacing entire communities permanently, will continue to accelerate.

In a Washington Post piece on these matters:“You’d find no scientist would disagree with the fact that a changing climate is and will continue to put people out of their homes,” said Greg Holland, a hurricane and climate expert at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Holland said that far and away the most obvious reason for this is rising seas swallowing coastal zones, as in the case of Shishmaref. “As far as sea level rise is concerned, there’s zero doubt about it,” he said.

Though governments are taking meaningful steps to address the climate crisis, including the Obama administration in the US as well as states like California, they may not be enough.  As the Guardian reported, Leading climate scientists have warned that the Earth is perilously close to breaking through a 1.5C upper limit for global warming, only eight months after the target was set" in the Paris agreement.

Those who are facing these realities are calling for increasingly extreme measures.  Bill McKibben has a new essay in the New Republic calling for a national effort as strenuous as World War II mobilization to address the climate crisis.  (I also plan to critique this in more detail soon.)  And in an assertion I've been anticipating, a philosopher questions whether having children is morally justified, given the climate crisis future.

Why there is this disconnect between the most knowledgeable and the public discourse is a question with many possible answers. (Some form of collective, societal psychological despair or grief expressed as denial is explored in this Scientific American article, and I'm inclined to explorations in this direction.) Nor is this kind of disconnect unprecedented.  

But for the moment I only want to speculate on what the current political campaign might look like if we were really facing the climate crisis reality.

It would probably mean that at least one of the candidates was talking often and in great detail about the climate crisis as the greatest challenge facing the nation.  That candidate would describe in a series of speeches what is happening, what the causes are, what the effects are now and are likely to be, all in specific terms, and not in the unfortunate jargon that has distanced the realities of the climate crisis from the public in general.

That candidate would relate these efforts to other ecological crises that threaten to make human civilization much more difficult to support.  That candidate would show how efforts to address the climate crisis can also address other economic and social problems in beneficial ways.

That candidate would suggest, in every stump speech, what needs to be done.  The other candidate would then be forced to talk about it.  If that candidate were as sensible as most national politicians of both parties were on this subject even 15 years ago, the debate could be about the most realistic and effective ways of addressing the causes and the effects of the climate crisis.

Right now, presidential debate preparation would be focusing on climate related issues.  Members of Congress and officeholders at state and local levels would announce support for one or the other of the major candidates largely based on their climate crisis analysis and plans.  News organizations would be regularly interviewing scientists on the plausibility and efficacy of each candidate's plans. Voters would be engaged, offering opinions, demanding answers in every town hall opportunity.

All of this should have happened in prior campaigns, but certainly it's a reasonable expectation that it would be happening this year, given the realities.

But it's not.  And that's the reality.    

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