Posts Tagged ‘climate change politics’

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert. Henry Holt and Co. New York, NY. 2014. 319 pp.

Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction has received glowing reviews since its release in February.

Her writing, is lucid, inviting, eclectic, engaging and in some instances downright, if only vicariously, exhausting for us armchair travelers as we tag along with her as she treks around the globe, hunting for examples of the story of mass extinctions. Generally biological time on earth has been divided into five great extinctions. The rise of homo sapiens, and our impact on the rest of the world is considered by Kolbert (and most field biologists) to have set the sixth great extinction in motion.

Sixth-extinction-nonfiction-book-kobertKolbert makes an amazing number of stunning and mind-bogglingly depressing observations. Reviewers have marveled at her “objectivity” in presenting facts like this: “Today, amphibians enjoy the dubious distinction of being the world’s most endangered class of animals; it’s been calculated that the group’s extinction rate could be as much as forty-five thousand times higher than the background rate.” For facts as nightmarish as hers, a “hair on fire” approach would certainly not be out of order. Still, I can imagine two reasons for it: One is to let the facts speak for themselves, which to people like me, they do, elegantly and inarguably. The other, and probably equally potent, is that expressing any kind of emotion would give the idiot deniers of human-caused mass extinctions (much less climate change) the lead to dismiss out-of-hand as mere hysterical overreaction what is the frightening reality of what they are being presented with.

The one literary trick she uses I wish she would tone down is a New Yorker trademark in science writing, the interjection of information on personality and physical descriptions of the scientists which are generally novel but unenlightening. For example, one of people she interviews has differently colored eyes. I may be easily distracted, but I retained that factoid rather than the scientific discoveries those eyes had made.

Still this is a timely and important book whose major takeaway is precisely this:

“To argue that the current extinction event could be averted if people just cared more and were willing to make more sacrifices is not wrong, exactly; still, it misses the point. It doesn’t much matter whether people care or don’t care. What matters is that people change the world.”

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Yesterday was the first day of autumn. Our Alberta family members reported beautiful yellow trees in their park. Thursday’s harvest moon was spectacular in Northern California according to our nature-loving middle child. Our youngest said it was raining in Berkeley, a typical fall day there. Just like here.

Two falls ago we were in New England where the leaves were in full display. Yellows, oranges, reds. A magnificent canvas painted across the Berkshire hills.

Watercolor Autumn © SR Euston

Watercolor Autumn
© SR Euston

But all is not well in leaf land. According to a 23-year study of the Harvard, MA Forest, fall colors now arrive three to five days later, correlating with the 2° Fahrenheit rise in average Northeast temperatures.

So what? The leaves will just start changing later. Except…leaves also change color based on day length. It’s the combination of shortening days and turning colder nights that alert the trees they need to begin preparing for the long winter ahead by ceasing to create sugars with the green chlorophyll in their leaves. As the green fades, the underlying yellow pigment begins to show through. Ultimately the leaves dry and fall.

Not so with the red pigment, anthocyanin, which is actually produced as a result of cool nights and sunny days. As those conditions change, the most noticeably affected may be the glorious bright red sugar maple. Not only may they no longer be in suitable habitat as the climate changes, they’ll like produce fewer of their signature red autumn leaves.

Not only is this a heartbreaking loss for those who relish a red sugar-maple-colored fall, it’s not great economic news for the leaf-peeping tourist trade in a swath across the Midwest to the Northeast and south to the Piedmont, an estimated $25 billion per year economic engine.

Guess climate alteration isn’t just for polar bears and ice caps anymore. Seen any good leave change recently? Seems we’ll need to grab the chance while we still can.

Autumn Leaves © SR Euston

Autumn Leaves
© SR Euston

For more info see: http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors/will-global-climate-change-affect-fall-colors

and: http://des.nh.gov/organization/commissioner/pip/factsheets/ard/documents/ard-25.pdf

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Powell Science Pie Chart courtesy of desmogblog 11/15/12

Powell Science Pie Chart
courtesy of desmogblog 11/15/12

Want to know more? Check out: http://www.desmogblog.com/2012/11/15/why-climate-deniers-have-no-credibility-science-one-pie-chart

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This has been a heady week for climate activists.

Do the Math New York City
photo courtesy of 350.org

Bill McKibben’s “Do the Math” tour entered its second week. He and other featured speakers headed down the East Coast, playing to sell-out crowds in Portland ME, Boston and New York City. math.350.org/

And over at Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project, a 24 hour long live stream video blitz called “The Dirty Weather Report” highlighted climate issues around the world from food security to health. You can watch the videos at climaterealityproject.org/ You can also take this:

The Pledge:“I pledge my name in support of a better tomorrow, one fueled by clean energy. I demand action from the world’s leaders to work toward developing clean energy solutions. I pledge to demand action from our leaders. And I pledge to share this global promise. By uniting our voices, we have the power to change the world.“

On this week’s political front, well, not so heady. While it’s true a New York Times reporter at President Obama’s press conference did ask about climate change directly (a first in ages!) the answer was less than ringing (my personal summing up: Oh yeah, that. Standard talk about future generations etc….then punchline—jobs first, climate, maybe way later.) You can judge for yourself here: thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/11/14/1191841/obama-talks-climate-change-during-his-first-post-election-press-conference/

And his press secretary piled on saying in so many words, no carbon tax. Ever. Great. (getenergysmartnow.com/2012/11/16/on-climate-issues-mr-president-begin-the-education-process-with-your-senior-staff/)

I have always had a problem with the linguistic gymnastics implicit in the standard “I believe in climate change” which sounds more like Santa Claus than science. So I was pleased to read this posted today, Tuning Up the President’s Message on Climate Change by Arno Harris (theenergycollective.com/node/144821). There’s a lot of food for thought there but this really caught my eye:

“Regarding President Obama’s statement: ‘I am a firm believer that climate change is real’ – This sentence commits two classic communications errors that play right into the hands of climate deniers. First, the sentence establishes the idea that belief in climate change is a personal choice. Second, making the assertion that climate change is “real” suggests that the opposite is also a possibility. Think about it. Would you assert your belief that gravity is real? Of course not.”

Harris concludes, “88% of registered voters support government action on global warming even [if’] it had a negative impact on our economy.” (emphasis mine.)

I hope our politicians will remember that and have the will to act on it. I’m not optimistic; but I remain ever hopeful.

Gathering Hope Tree © SR Euston

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Smoke Plume from the Sisters Fire
Photo Courtesy of Tracy Keebler

Last week we were at Crater Lake National Park. The sky was hazy from a fire burning near Sisters, OR about 75 miles north.

Currently there are close to 60 wildfires burning in the West, from South Dakota to the Pacific.      http://fires.globalincidentmap.com/home.php

This is one of the worst wildfire seasons on record. No surprise to those climatologists who’ve been pointing out that global climate change would translate into a hotter, drier American West. A 2004 Forest Service study predicted up to a fivefold increase in burned areas by the end of the century.

Fire seasons extend over two months more than in the past and individual fires are hotter, last longer and cover bigger areas. Between 1960 and 1990, average annual acreage burned was about 2.9 million acres. Between 2000 and 2009 the average rose to 6.9 million. For more grim stats see: www.americanprogress.org/issues/green/news/2012/07/09/11889/western-wildfires-getting-worse-in-a-warming-world/.

While too many of our so-called leaders continue to doubt climate change we here in the West are already seeing its effects up close and personal. So too this year the heartland’s farmers. What will it take to get somebody’s attention? A wildfire on the Mall in DC?

Smokey the Bear Wishes Somebody Was Listening

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This letter was written in response to Eco-Justice Notes: Wacky Weather and Climate (www.eco-justice.org/E-120413.asp) received April 13, 2012 via email:

June 2011 North Dakota Flood Bismark Tribune/Tom Stromme

You cite comments by one scientist based on non-peer reviewed research. Dr. Hoerling is a meteorologist, a field that has been notorious in denying human induced climate change. Also note: in other research, he concedes that the drought being experienced in the Mediterranean area is in fact due substantially to climate change. 

Please read the on-line article in 7 Sept. 2011 Nature “Climate and Weather: Extreme Measures.” www.nature.com/news/2011/110907/full/477148a.html  As you know, Nature is the world’s most respected science publication. The article reports that a network of scientists is now saying “it’s time to look seriously at the connection between CC and extreme events”, and are proposing a research agenda. (This was also reported in the NYT). 

 Of course one or two or several weather events can’t be ascribed to climate change. But when extreme after extreme piles up over a decade or more, it takes a climate contrarian to rule out human induced climate change, as Horeling comes close to doing.

And please, at least indicate that these extremes are in general agreement with models of climate change. That what we are seeing is a taste of the CC future. 

The problem with all of this is that by the time research zeros in on the cause/effect relationship, it will be too late. 

Thanks, I hate to be so critical  —  Stan Euston, Port Orford OR

We received this Eco-Justice Note the same day as one from 350.org calling attention to a short video www.climatedots.org/thingshappen/. It’s a powerful statement and a clarion call to participate in May 5th’s 350.org Day of Action “Connect the Dots” (www.climatedots.org), linking catastrophic weather events and global climate change. Public actions are taking place around the globe. Check out the website for an event near you.

And BTW the Eco-Justice Note did end by urging readers to participate in this May 5th event. Just wish it had wholeheartedly agreed that the dots really should be connected.

April 15 Kansas tornado courtesy of AP:The Hays Daily News, Steven Hausler

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It’s supposed to be cherry blossom time in our nation’s capital. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Japan’s gift to the US of 3020 cherry trees which were planted around Washington’s tidal basin. First Lady Helen Taft and Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador, planted the first two trees at a modest ceremony on March 27, 1912.

This year’s Cherry Blossom Festival is a five week extravaganza, from March 20 through April 27. There are art exhibits, sushi tastings, performances, parades. To celebrate, the US Postal Service issued these glorious commemorative stamps by artist Paul Rogers.

Cherry Blossom Stamps courtesy of the US Postal Service

But there’s a small problem. Usually the peak bloom (when 70% of blossoms are open) is in early April. But this year, it began March 20 and was over March 23. The Park Service projects the whole bloom to be over by March 26. The remaining month of the celebration will occur without the guest of honor—the cherry blossoms—which usually attract over one million visitors annually.

So what gives?

Some other March statistics: International Falls, MN whose average March high temperature is 35°, flagged in at 79° March 18. Quick math: that’s 44° above average, and an amazing 13° above the previous high for March. On March 12 Boston reached 71°, breaking a 110 year record. Flowers are blooming a month early across the Northeast and Midwest. Only we here on the Oregon Coast seem to be about average, US weather-wise.

On March 26, Scientific American posted an article titled, “Global Warming Close to Becoming Irreversible.” Scientists warn we’ve got to do something pretty big by 2020 or we’ll likely go beyond the tipping point. Melting glaciers, dying rain forests, acidified oceans. The whole nine yards. (www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=global-warming-close-to-becoming-ir). Even the New York Times (gasp!) has finally had to admit, in a March 26 article in the Science section, that people just might have something to do with it.

Meanwhile March 29 the Senate presented another side of Japanese culture, the kabuki dance, when they (surprise!) refused to stop oil subsidies to the top five big US oil companies. Nothing like good stewardship of our finances (aren’t they the ones wringing their hands about the deficit?). Much less our planetary future.

Subsidies and Senators courtesy of 350.org

You can share this image by going to: www.350.org.

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I know I’m over a month early but there are too many signs not to recognize that Spring is in the air.

Pacific Tree Frog courtesy of kjfmartin at Wikipedia Commons

The wonderful frogs we call “peepers” (they’re really Pacific Tree Frogs) have begun to hunt for mates, chirruping from the nearby wetland.

Birds have also begun their predawn serenades. The robins and redwing blackbirds are flocking.

Skunk Cabbage Bloom © SR Euston

Last year we noted spring flowers in April. This year, we’ve already seen pussywillows bursting and the first shy woodland yellow violets. Even the skunk cabbage has begun to send out sensuous buttery blooms. Quince have begun to flower.

As our local year turns its back on winter and faces towards the equinox (as does most of the US) in other parts of the world this has been a bruising season.  Europe has had record smashing cold with snow in Rome, and subzero weather in the east. Istanbul has had snow, so too, the mountains in Libya and Algeria. Japan has had blizzards.

Climate scientists aren’t surprised. For them, and most of us sentient beings, these wild gyrations only underscore the urgency of addressing global climate change now. Meanwhile politicians pass state laws requiring the teaching of denier “science” and presidential hopefuls madly scramble to put distance between themselves and climate reality. Of course the federal government, by refusing to address the issue at all, just adds to my pervading sense of frustration and gloom.

Pussywillows © SR Euston

Hal Borland, in his 1957 book Countryman: A Summary of Belief, makes this wry observation: “I used to think that strangers to the open country made so much noise because they feared the silence and the human loneliness. Now I have my doubts. I suspect that they are afraid they may meet themselves coming around the mountain or through the woods. They know how dangerous they are and how little they can be trusted, especially when they are surprised or frightened.”

Still, he reminds me, Spring is coming, and the world does go on regardless of us: “I am, by the simple fact of being alive and sentient, a part of something magnificent and vastly more enduring than the human crowd. I am a participant in Spring.”

Amen to that.

In the Wetland © SR Euston

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Gathering Hope Tree © SR Euston

It’s nearing the end of day 48 of Occupy Wall Street. Yesterday (remarkably to me) 10,000 Occupy Oaklanders managed to bring the Port of Oakland to a standstill. Although there have been clashes  and arrests there, as well as in other locales around the nation and the globe, overall this massive public demonstration has proved peaceful. It’s obvious that at its core this a nonviolent movement of passive civic resistance and, if necessary, disobedience.

At first the condescending voices of the self-appointed pundits and prophets, those “grown-up” plutocrats, tried in order to: dismiss, brush off, smirk at, marginalize, and demonize these “99%ers” as they have come to be called. (In our little town a letter writer to the local paper fell back on that old 50s’ saw—socialist/marxist/communist. Good grief.) Now the “wise men” are demanding “a plan” and, in the absence of a piece of paper (what no PowerPoint?), expect this (currently) loose cloth of fellow citizens to unravel in short order.

I would suggest the opposite: that the fabric of resistance is growing stronger, the stitches knitting together closer and closer. As we watch the debacle which calls itself our Congress continue to do nothing to ease national and international economic distress, it seems logical that more, rather than fewer, Americans will demand action. We will expect a new civic engagement toward positive action.

In 1995, at the beginning of the Gingrich congressional era, Gathering Hope, summing up nearly two years of citizen dialog about the state of the nation and the power of envisioning the future, stated the following:

America is entering an extraordinary time of uncertainty and challenge. Our democratic institutions are failing in multiple ways to ensure our own security, our children’s future, and the future of the planet itself.  

Understanding the role of power is essential to understanding our current situation. Large, complex, interlocking institutions of power (including corporations, international financial systems, and government) operate within a dehumanizing value system summed up as “modern market individualism” that is inimical to economic and environmental justice. 

A just and sustainable economy in balance with earth ecosystems demands transformation of all institutions toward a responsible democracy. A reformed, legitimized government must restore trust and pursue energetically its role as protector of the commons, guarantor of justice, and trustee for the future. 

The path to a sustainable future requires a renewed citizenship of responsibility. Intense individualism must  give way to care for the commonweal, for the future. We must envision a new social compact which affirms the claims of community and posterity on all our actions.

To this might be added today:

Unless we do, the future—our children’s future—will trail into narrowing corridors of no return.  

Here are the closing words of Gathering Hope. Perhaps it will serve as one of many jumping off points for the movement to come.   Ann

This Citizens Call ends where it began, with a reaffirmation of a civic democracy in which we as citizens proclaim a rendezvous with a new destiny, that of a just and sustainable future. We further affirm our confidence in the power of citizen deliberation, in the need to question power and the necessity of searching for truth in public life. In these affirmations, we accept the challenge of a participatory citizenship that demands that the boundaries of the possible widen, so that we today can say to the future that we have done all we could do.

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In the early 1990s, with the environment in rapid decline, the idea of sustainability emerged. The term implied this question: How does society pass on to future generations a reasonably whole environment and a reasonably stable and fair economy, all within the framework of social justice?

Gathering Hope © SR Euston

In 1993, Ann and I with several others founded an organization with a presumptuous mission: to understand what it meant to be a “sustainable society”. Pretty quickly, it became apparent that sustainability meant lots of things to lots of people. Almost everyone agreed that “sustainability” or “sustainable development” was a good thing, which only reinforced the need for better understanding of this significant but amorphous idea.

Happily, The Sustainability Project (TSP) attracted the involvement of some leading lights in the nascent sustainability movement.

At the time, the high-minded idea of “civic discourse” was in the air. Talking through public decisions, listening carefully, paying attention to facts. Initiatives aimed at local sustainability were active. TSP set out to get a better handle on just what a sustainable society might look like. We applied the model of “civic discourse” as our means of engaging citizens.

The Sustainability Project received a handful of grants. We sponsored a series of two day workshops across the country, with abundant participation by grass roots activists, writers, academics, and folks from the private sector. The question posed at each workshop was both simple and profound: “What is sustainability and how do we as a society achieve it?”

A couple of years into the dialog project, we published a document summarizing the findings of these workshops, Gathering Hope. It represented a big dose of civic optimism in the  face of vast countervailing forces.

Today, sustainability is not much more than a commercial “branding” for products of dubious value. Nonetheless, society is more and more experiencing the inexorable effects of non-sustainability, the reaching of tipping points over which institutions have no control. It’s indeed frightening. The world economy and the earth’s atmosphere are in fact near such tipping points, and many are finally waking up to this fact, politicians and most economists the giant exceptions.

We are now in a time of extreme uncivil discourse. Current political talk about the future is surreal, adolescent and selfish.

This situation was dire in 1995. But the darkness of the shadow hanging over public life, the blackness of its intent, is now truly threatening the legitimacy of our political system, to say nothing about our earthly environment.

Those camping out on Wall Street are engaged in what the document Gathering Hope called “spontaneous politics”. It’s the hope that lies just beyond the fading hopes of my generation.

It will, of course, take more than spontaneous politics to move forces that have captured our political and economic systems. The next steps are critical. From protests and confronting power in the street, to dialog among ourselves, to coalescing around simple but profound demands for new kinds of political organization and power.

It’s all so profound, and yet politics and the media are making a full court press to discredit any and all who question the systems that are hurtling us all into a future without hope for most people or for a sustaining environment.

Let’s hope for the best, do our best, and keep faith in the ability of American “democracy” to redeem itself. If this be revolutionary, so be it.  Stan Euston

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