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Posts Tagged ‘Climate Change’

In the Empire of Ice: Encounters in a Changing Landscape by Gretel Ehrlich. National Geographic. Washington, DC. 2010. 319 pp.

6200574In the Empire of Ice distills Gretel Ehrlich’s experiences accumulated through multiple extended stays with the native cultures which circle the Arctic—from Siberia, through Alaska and Canada to Greenland. It presents an eloquent scientific and oh-so-human personal lament to an almost mystically alluring landscape and its adapted human culture, both of which are quickly being destroyed by global warming.

Here, living in sub-zero weather, small groups of indigenous people are still trying to follow their ancestral way: a traditional subsistence path which relies on marine mammals to supply everything from coats and house walls to vitamins and minerals generally derived from plant sources they don’t have. As marine mammals—narwhals and walrus as well as seals—migrate through the Arctic waters, natives from Siberia to Greenland traditionally use the frozen seas as their highways.

But the sea ice and the glaciers behind it are melting at increasingly alarming speeds. The Arctic provides a particularly heartbreaking example of the earth’s natural heating and cooling system gone awry, heat absorbing dark open water replacing reflective ice and snow surface. As the ice rapidly melts, traditionally nomadic hunters are forced to take more and more risks at the ice’s edge. Often they miss the migrations entirely and are reduced to participating in our place-settled, money-based economy to obtain necessary food and other staples. Now in some places dog sleds are being replaced by snowmobiles, breaking ancient bonds among humans and animals. It’s truly horrifying to read accounts of what these self-reliant, interrelated communitarian groups, (the type those few voices calling for sustainabie interconnected living yearn for) are losing, subsistence replaced by dependence as their traditional ways are literally melting away. While not minimizing the hardships, Ehrlich and her Inuit friends are obviously devoted to their old ways.

It is yet another clarion call to wake up to the truth of global warming. Will we hear This One and finally answer with bold action? I’m not optimistic but as Wendell Berry insists: “Hope is an obligation.”

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At the end of this official Thanksgiving season, we, here in the US, have (supposedly) spent time and love feeding family and friends and counting our blessings.

And yet even at the Thanksgiving feast, if you have, as I have, received email table talk “talking points” about politics, climate, health care, it’s obvious our national discontent, our inability to get along, and our collective fears about what the future may bring says we’re fully expecting an uncle Dragon  to join us at the table, pulling up a figurative chair right next to hope and change, dousing all our bountiful food and best intentions with flame throwing jibes and disagreements.

In that light, I was so glad to come across this website, launched at the beginning of this decade and focused on climate change from a global young peoples’ POV.

c4c-logo

Since they are the ones we’re sticking our inaction with, this is the perfect time to be gratefully reminded that the next generation does understand and still hopes. I am inspired by these films and by all that action4climate is doing.

Please take a look at a short award winner, The Violin Player:

http://ecowatch.com/2014/11/20/violin-player-climate-change/?utm_source=EcoWatch+List&utm_campaign=cb3b587d70-Top_News_11_30_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_49c7d43dc9-cb3b587d70-85923545

Here’s more about connect4climate.

http://www.connect4climate.org/competition/action4climate

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Design by Ellie Akira Ohiso

Design by Ellie Akira Ohiso

Please Join Us Sunday,  
September 21, 2014
Noon
Meeting at Battlerock!

 

In Port Orford, come early with supplies to make a sign! If you’re not here, check out http://peoplesclimate.org/organizing/ for locations around the world.

If we can do it here at the farthest west incorporated townsite in the lower 48…you can do it where you are too!

Courtesy James Jean

Courtesy James Jean

For more info see:
http://billmoyers.com/2014/09/15/why-we-march/

http://peoplesclimate.org/oregon/why-we-march/

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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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Parc national Wood Buffalo

Wood Buffalo Park
Photo Courtesy of Parc National

In the Northeast corner of Alberta, in the great circumpolar boreal forest of muskeg, lakes, spruce and willow, sprawls Wood Buffalo National Park, 17,300 square miles of it, five Yellowstones in area, the 13th largest protected area on earth, a World Heritage Site.

The Park is the breeding ground of the last several hundred whooping cranes, home to the largest remaining free roaming herds of the threatened Wood Bison (a sub-species, larger than the plains bison), and caribou, moose, brown bear, wolf, lynx, beaver—all the boreal animals. The park includes the immense, ecologically rich inland delta of the  Athabascan and Peace Rivers.

Wood Buffalo Park Lake

Wood Buffalo Park Lake
Photo courtesy of Parc National

Wood Buffalo is the call of the wild country. Here is the deep silence, the wide sky, the northern lights, the fiery, silvery night sky. Around nighttime campfires—maybe the call of an owl, the howl of a wolf, the haunting loon laugher, then all’s quiet. Starlight shines. Sleep comes easily.

Tar Sands Map

Tar Sands Map

Only a few miles south of Wood Buffalo begins a realm of utter contrast. This is the domain of the Athabascan Oil Sands, aka Tar Sands Central, one of the great developing industrial regions of Canada, in total about the size of Florida. The Oil Sands Developer Group assures us that the maximum surface area of oil sands mining will obliterate an area equal to only one ninth the area of Wood Buffalo National Park. That equals a mere 900 square miles.

From the air, the gouges on the land suggest a devastated battlefield. The earth’s skin has been violated, beyond repair.  Industry and the Province of Alberta promise ecological restoration of the used up landscape. The very iidea is preposterous. It is difficult enough to restore a few acres of coastal wetland, much less thousands of acres of virgin forest, lake and muskeg in the far north.

And the great Athabascan River drainage and delta is threatened, no matter the assurances of industry and the province.

Importantly, Canada’s First Nations, most obviously impacted by all this industrialization, are alert and organized to publicize these dangers. (see www.raventrust.com).P1010811

Tar sands mining is energy intensive. From tar to oil, from oil to pipeline, from pipeline to refinery—tar sands oil is extravagant in its bequeathing of carbon dioxide. The immense tar sands reserves, if mined, processed and used, will effectively spell the end of the fragile hope of averting the worst of climate change impacts over the next 50 years.

In this sense, the ecological damage of mining pales in significance to its impact on global warming.

Protests against the pipeline have crystalized into history’s largest, best coordinated,  most crucial and broadly based environmental campaign ever, led largely by new groups like www.350.org.  64433_610876308940769_581445259_n

As fate would have it, the key to full exploitation of the tar sands depends on its transportation via pipeline to refineries and ports on the Gulf Coast. The last step, approval for trans-border pipeline construction, is in the hands of President Obama. He is the decider, as a former president might say. The buck stops at his doorstep, as another president once said.

This single act of approving or disapproving this pipeline is arguably the most historically significant decision Obama will face in his eight year presidency.

Denying the pipeline will immediately call into question the economic viability of full scale tar sands exploitation. The worldwide grassroots  movement toward sustainable energy will gain a new foothold.(Cheap oil is not consistent with green energy!)  A presidential decision to deny the pipeline—despite immense pressure from Canada, industry and the Republican Party might—will show the U.S. at last to be a full partner in international efforts to avert climate disaster.

The administration’s record—the “all of the above” energy policy, the approval of drilling on public lands and waters, the letdown at Copenhagen—is not encouraging.

Yet…we can hope.   SRE

Tar Sands Development

Tar Sands Development

PS   Read Naomi Klein’s eye opening story on systems analysis, climate change and  chances for averting catastrophic  ecological and economic  “melt-down”.   http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/10/29-4

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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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Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver. Harper Collins. New York. 2012. 436 pgs.

13438524Barbara Kingsolver’s latest novel Flight Behavior is set in Feathertown, Tennessee, a fictitious rural outpost in the Appalachian Mountains. Its central characters are Dellarobia, a high school drop out and her lummox of a husband Cub, their two children, precocious five-year-old Preston and two-year-old Cordelia, Cub’s controlling parents Bear and Hester, Dellarobia’s smart aleck friend Dovey, and Ovid Byron an entomologist and professor from New Mexico.

Oh and butterflies: millions and millions of monarch butterflies who, it appears, have lost their way and are now slogging through a drenching Southern winter clinging together in giant bundles in the forest above the family’s farm. As Byron—a monarch specialist who finds out about this unprecedented aggregation from a newspaper clipping—studies their strange behavior (the butterflies are, in fact thousands of miles from their normal wintering ground in Michoacan, Mexico), dispirited Dellarobia, the discoverer of the butterflies and now minor celebrity, works on how to rewrite her life. Other characters include a snippy CNN reporter, 350.org field representatives, graduate students and a group of English activist knitters.

Flight Behavior is a well crafted novel of literary weight (although there are a few too many similes for my taste). There are spot-on swipes at upper middle class LL Bean-clad “ecowarriors” which contrast realistically with a pretty gritty examination of living poor—including a finely nuanced explanation of why fundamentalism offers such a potent anecdote.

But the most important message of Flight Behavior, and it comes through loud and clear, is that the culprit disrupting the butterfly’s life support systems as well as the weirding weather Feathertown’s experiencing, is global climate change.

I know I should like, no love, this book. Any and every time an author makes climate change the center of the conversation with passion and grave sadness I know I should rejoice.

But somehow, in this case, it just doesn’t work. Nature or environment as a character in novels, sure. The novel as a right vehicle for informing readers about climate change? Not so much.

(AE note: I know I have stepped out of geographical bounds to review this book but, for me, climate change brings it back Home on the Range.)

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