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Posts Tagged ‘climate’

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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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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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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Entering off Interstate 10 last April, we took a brief byway tour of Joshua Tree National Park in hopes of seeing desert wildflowers. About 12 miles down a standard desert side road— narrow, winding and in some places almost washed-away—we got to Cottonwood Spring and its campground. Along the way and at the campground we saw wildflowers in abundance.

While not the sensational banks of color that California poppies or lupine present on grassy hillsides, desert wildflowers can be quite spectacular against the dun background of dirt, sand and rock. In the desert washes and canyon hillsides, flower colors from white to yellow to pink to red to blue stand out like banners announcing the arrival of spring. This year at the Park, the Joshua Trees themselves were especially prolific. Unlike most years when only a small percentage bloom, virtually all the trees were covered with blossoms in mid-April.

Joshua Tree Blooms

Joshua Tree Blooms

Scientists have a variety of theories as to the why—some think it’s because of “just right” weather conditions, others that it signals a desperate sign of drought and climate change. And the headlines bear these theories out. “Prolific Joshua Tree Bloom Could Signal Warming Climate” (KPBS, April 17, 2013) to  “Blooming Joshua Trees Wow Watchers, Surprise Scientists” (the California Report, April 19, 2013).

From the Huffington Post:

“Something mysterious is happening in the Mojave Desert’s Joshua Tree National Park. The reason may be grim but the effect is beautiful.

“It’s more than interesting, it’s probably unprecedented in anybody’s recent memory anyway,” Cameron Barrows, a research ecologist at the University of California, Riverside, told ABC…He’s talking about blooms on the Joshua trees that are larger than locals say they’ve ever seen.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/12/joshua-trees-bloom-video_n_3070822.html)

The theory is that with the past two years of significant drought (in the Mojave annual average rainfall ranges from two to five inches, with last year posting only 0.7 inches) Joshua Trees have gone into survival mode, prolifically producing seeds to insure long-term survival.

Will it work? Or will the icon of the Mojave disappear? With reports of little to no reproduction in the last 30 years for some areas in its range it’s hard to be optimistic.

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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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Wow…some politicians are actually uttering these words: Climate Change is Real!

Here’s New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in his last minute endorsement of President’s Obama’s re-election after Hurricane Sandy laid NYC low (quoting from the New York Times 11/1/12):

Lower Manhattan 10/29/12 photo courtesy of Damon Dahlen, AOL

“Our climate is changing…And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it may be — given the devastation it is wreaking — should be enough to compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.”

On November 8, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said after the November 6th election extended the Democratic majority in the Senate: “Climate change is an extremely important issue for me and I hope we can address it reasonably. It’s something, as we’ve seen with these storms that are overwhelming our country and the world, we need to do something about it.”

Even President Obama made a passing reference to it in his re-election acceptance speech on the night of November 6th: “We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”

I imagine a lot of people who know climate change is happening in real time are thinking they’ll believe that Washington will manage to do anything about it when they see it. For sure one of them, Bill McKibben, isn’t waiting.

Do The Math logo courtesy of 350.org

Climate activist and author, McKibben was arguably the first voice in the wilderness speaking about climate change in terms folks could understand in his groundbreaking book, The End of Nature, published in 1996. With several more books, multiple speaking tours, direct actions, and teaching he’s continued to lead, calling for action on global warming. In 2008, he and others founded 350.org, an international effort to bring climate change front and center on the world political stage through citizen action. His most recent push—a 20 city nationwide biodiesel-fueled bus tour called “Do The Math” (math.350.org/)—started November 7th to a sold-out crowd in Seattle. Described as “TED-talk meets concert tour” there are two goals: to get universities and churches to divest portfolio investments in petroleum companies (following the lead of the South Africa divestments used in the 1980s as an anti-apartheid tool); and to re-ignite grassroots activism for the next stage of the climate battle.

Do the Math—Seattle courtesy of 350.org

Two universities have already pledged to divest. And one attendee at last night’s Los Angeles event told me she’s ready to get arrested if that’s what it takes.

Sounds like McKibben’s message just may be working.

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With a depth of nearly 2,000 feet Crater Lake in the Oregon Cascades is one of the deepest lakes in the world. In terms of average depth, it is fourth.  After a earth rumbling explosion and then collapse of 12,000 foot Mt. Mazama some 7,000 years ago, the lake filled with prodigious snow melt. It is now in a state of hydrologic balance.

Crater is also one of the most pristine of lakes, with remarkable clarity. Established in 1902 as one of the earliest national parks, it’s pretty much pollution free. And thankfully  the Park Service intends to keep it that way.

A lot of natural wonders are called jewels of this or that. But Crater Lake is surely the jewel of jewels. Like an opal, the color of its waters migrate as the sun and atmosphere change, all set in a deep facet of whitish volcanic cliffs streaked with black igneous rock, some rising over 2,000 feet above the lake surface. Sun rise, high noon, late in the day, clouds or clear skies, the colors are what? Sky blue azure, deepest cerulean blue, palest magenta, dark agate, silver in rippling and glinting reflections, even a bland gray under high clouds, red and gold at sunrise and sunset, mild rose to purple blue as evening falls across a mysterious void 6,000 feet above the world.

Crater Lake presents exhilarating mountain beauty at its most intense. Millions of photos have been taken over many years, years of depression and prosperity, war and peace, hope and fear, and the lake has survived intact. The record below spans some seventy-five years and three generations, from film to digital photography. Hopefully little will change in the next  seventy-five. But Crater Lake, because of its purity and uniqueness, is a frightfully good place to watch the growing impacts of climate change.

Whitebark Pine, the picturesque icon of the higher altitudes of Crater Lake National Park, is being decimated. A major factor is the mountain pine beetle, which proliferates as winter low temperatures rise and which, over time, can kill a tree. The Whitebark Pine is a “foundational species”, on which many other species, plant and animal, depend. Together with an onslaught of white pine blister rust, Whitebark Pine is on the way to extinction. Tiny carbon atoms may be the destruction of Crater Lake’s ecosystem, and thereby the lake itself as we know it.  And in truth, we all know where those atoms come from.

SRE

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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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