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Posts Tagged ‘Copenhagen Climate Meeting’

Actions in the House of Representatives, driven by an unfathomable desire to deny climate change and the overwhelming scientific evidence of its danger to the Republic, raise a profound, fundamental and scary question: Can a sovereign government, in full light of overwhelming scientific consensus, disregard an existential threat to the nation’s health, safety and welfare, its defense, its domestic tranquility, its posterity, possibly even to its continued existence, and still maintain its fundamental legitimacy?

Lest this seem an extreme question, consider a hypothetical case that I would argue is, in principle, roughly analogous to the situation we face with advancing climate chaos.

The U.S. government has solid knowledge, backed by experts, of an advancing foreign invasion on the west coast. But the government is in paralysis. False information about the threat is washing over the media. Even those most alert to the threat are in ineffectual retreat, compromising and weak.

Intelligence says the attack is coming, though the timing is not precisely clear. In fact, the intelligence community confirms that enemy forces have already taken a few islands west of Los Angeles, and more islands will surely follow. The public is bombarded by spurious propaganda, and is less and less sure what to believe. The Congress, reeling under the influence of an anti-scientific, anti-government ideology, eliminates all funding for military intelligence gathering. Then another island falls, closer than ever. Unbelievably, the House of Representatives suspends even analysis of the invasion’s threats. In fact, all evidence to the contrary, it denies the existential threat facing the nation. 

Unprepared and overwhelmed when the invasion spreads, the populous—that portion in a shape to think about it—wonders where their life, liberty and pursuit of happiness went, where their security, health, safety and welfare are hiding, and posterity—who now bears the brunt of the dark years ahead— wonders what happened to all those dreams.  

The Constitution itself, holy grail of those who deny climate change, proclaims the role and burden of sovereign governance:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

© SR Euston

A government that provides neither basic long-term security to its citizens, nor effective action that is known to substantially reduce unprecedented future disasters, is hardly a government that is promoting the general welfare or providing domestic tranquility or securing the blessings of liberty for our posterity. It is a government that is treading very recklessly on the firm ground of sovereign trust, on the underpinnings of communal protections established in ancient common law. It is a government that faces the judgment of posterity, but that may be too late to matter. What does matter, existentially, is the blowback to the earth and its peoples from this political abdication of trust.    Stanley Euston

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Last night we had a big storm here in Albuquerque.

December Morning—Sandias ©SR Euston

Our first winter storm watch led to a downpour, thunder and lightning, peak wind gusts of 59 mph, a power outage, and this morning a snow frosted landscape. In places roads are black ice; some locations got a foot of snow.

This is not that amazing. It is, after all, December.

But a few afternoons ago I was reading James Hansen’s new book, Storms of My Grandchildren. In the final chapter, also titled Storms etc, Hansen outlines the next obvious climate disruptions we’ll begin to see even more frequently if we continue to ignore global climate change. First up, worse storms with greater frequency in odder locations at weirder times of year. Hummm….

Now I know enough to know that anecdotal events (like last night’s lightning and thunder, odd though it seemed) don’t make convincing evidence of climate change. But I do know that virtually all atmospheric scientists (save those few who won’t believe it until their beach houses are submerged) agree that global warming is a fact. Today the New York Times reported (above the e-fold NYT Dec. 8, 2009 online edition) that the World Meteorological  Association released its analysis stating that “a sustained global warming trend shows no signs of ending….Michel Jarraud, the secretary general of the international weather agency, speaking at a news conference at the climate talks in Copenhagen said…there was no evidence that the various independent estimates showing a warming world were in doubt.”

So, here we all are in Copenhagen. Summit organizers warn this is the last chance. Scientists warn this is the last chance. Island nations warn this is the last chance. Will we honestly, courageously, humbly, FINALLY step up to the plate and take the  leadership role we imperially claim as our own when we want to invade somebody?

Oh how I wish I were optimistic. Still, I remain hopeful.

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Spruce Tree House - Mesa Verde NP

Spruce Tree House - Mesa Verde NP

Last week we visited Mesa Verde in Southwestern Colorado. The homeplace to thousands of Ancestral Puebloans for 600 years, the mesatop stone cities and cliff palaces carved into canyon cliff walls were abandoned over the course of the final quarter of the 13th century.

Why did they leave? A question with too many answers—extended drought, crop failure, soil depletion, using up all the available firewood, over-hunting. And yet, because there is no one left to ask, the question will never be definitively resolved.

October 15 was Blog Action Day 2009, devoted to global climate change. Thirty one thousand bloggers responded, in 177 countries, reaching an estimated 18 million readers. It’s been called one of the largest social change events ever held on the web. I’m proud to say Home on the Range was one of those blogs. (See our October 15th post.)

Forest of the Future?

Forest of the Future?

Also on October 15, the Wall Street Journal—let me repeat that, the Wall Street Journal—ran an article on page A-30 lamenting the tree die-off currently being observed in the Rocky Mountain west. Not only are the aspens dying, following on the heels of a massive piñon die-off when, in 2002 and 2003, 40 to 80%  died, the lodge pole pines and the white fir are now following suit. If the current plague continues, foresters think that, in the end, there will be no mature lodge pole pines, currently five million acres of them, left in Colorado. None. Zero. Nada.

Researchers credit the piñon disaster to the combination of two factors, prolonged drought coupled with higher than normal temperatures.  Thus weakened, trees were easy prey for bark beetles.This manifestation of climate change is certainly one of the reasons being posited for the aspen and lodge pole die-off as well. (See www.uagrad.org/Alumnus/gw/pine.html for full article.)

On Thursday October 22, 18 scientific organizations wrote Congress reiterating the consensus in the scientific community that global warming is happening. Now. Also on Thursday the federal government released a report stating that global climate change is the reason for the heating of the Arctic.

On Friday, October 23, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press released a new poll showing that 57% of Americans “believe” the climate is warming. That’s down 20 points from three years ago.

Saturday, October 24, we participated in two 350.org Day of Climate Action events. Around the world, in over 5200 events in 181 countries,  people did everything from roller-skating to pumpkin arranging (that was in Taos), all around the 350 theme. What’s 350? It’s the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in parts per million (ppm) which leading scientists say is the safe upper limit for our atmosphere. Unfortunately, we are currently nearing 400 ppm. As www.350.org says: “We need to scramble back as quickly as we can to safety.”

How can people from Fiji to Finland, from India to Iceland, from Afghanistan to Argentina, from China to Chad, get it? And we, the leader of the world (and BTW historically the world’s major source of CO2) can’t? Or won’t? The demand from nations around the world, as well as from the United Nations, is simply this: the world must immediately move to reduce carbon dioxide.

There is no more time to waste paying attention to a certain segment of the American public who are uninformed or misinformed or ideologically driven. What difference does it make if  they “believe” in anthropogenic global warming? It’s happening, whether they believe it or not.

So, will the United States surprise the world at Copenhagen this December and unfold daring and bold plans for a new international climate change treaty? I am reminded of a quote attributed to Robert Kennedy, rephrased from the philosopher Hillel: “If not us who, if not now, when?”

The Mesa Verdans didn’t have the science. What’s our excuse?

We can hope and pray. And continue to agitate.

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SkeletonThis commentary is part of Blog Action Day 2009. For more information please visit www.blogactionday.org

Thousands of top scientists from around the world have warned us. They have been out front, these researchers, these value neutral scientists. Any sane person can read about the dire scenarios of climate change. Maybe one half of all species will go extinct. The western United States is not immune. Forests are dying, fires are burning, water is drying.

Even more saddening for our species, millions of people—especially poor people—will suffer, even die, as a direct result of heat and drought and floods and diseases. This suffering will compound itself, as global political instability spreads in a nightmare scenario that so darkly clouds the human prospect.

My conclusion is that in one big area of the brain we are not sane at all. No, I’m not talking of hopeless nonentities like those senators who claim climate change is one big conspiracy. I’m talking of supposedly reasonable folks like you and me, of reasonable, liberal politicians who cannot vote for even a modest climate bill like the one passed by the House. I’m talking of an enlightened administration who cannot act with urgency to bring a sweeping plan to the Copenhagen world climate summit this December. I’m talking about villainous but smart industries who take out full page ads to fight even tiny actions on climate change.

A sane human and certainly a dumb animal can sense danger. After all, that’s how we have evolved. We are told that the human sense of forward planning was one mental capability that allowed survival in pretty dangerous environments. And we are told that human socialization abilities, our sometimes death resulting sacrifices for the good of the group or clan, further advanced our survival and the development of our large brains, our ability to reason and to plan. After all this evolutionary struggle preparing our species for survival, can we be so dumb as to let a runaway climate catastrophe ruin the very environment we have prospered in over 100,000 years, to let human activity literally bring down whole elements of the life-world?

In a very literal sense, let’s hope sanity will return, even in this late phase of planetary crisis. Let’s hope that we finally listen to the better angels of our evolutionary inheritance.

So far the news is bad, and the day is very late. A kind of civilizational insanity, a denial that things are really headed for a future of potentially nightmare proportions has embedded itself our country’s and other country’s mentality.

And we talk about Homeland Security.

Stanley Euston


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