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Posts Tagged ‘global 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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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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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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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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