Thursday, February 11, 2010

Messages of the Snow

Beauty and majesty, the harmony and humanity of shelter and warmth in the cold, as well as inconveniencing a badly organized civilization, the snow has many messages. But for some of the wrong ones, see post below.

The Bare Minimum

There are aspects of the Climate Crisis that are intellectually, emotionally and psychologically challenging. But even to get to the more complex aspects just of the facts of what's happening requires understanding and accepting apparent divergences or even apparent paradoxes that aren't all that new.

But in the public discourse, we're failing even at that.

At the moment--which in some ways is the worst possible time--Climate Crisis skepticism appears to be growing, based on two bits of demagoguery that seems to be accepted at face value. The first has to do with errors in some data and conclusions by climate scientists, and several purloined emails among climate scientists that suggest attempts to push a conclusion.

It's not an unprecedented trick to use one error or deception to call into question unrelated data and an overall conclusion that these errors or deceptions don't really affect. But in this case, we seem all too ready to fall for it.
One of many articles about this--this one in the New York Times-- say basically what all the sane ones do: while they do their "on the one hand this and on the other hand that" reporting of the charges and counter charges, they conclude that, regarding the 2007 UN report quantifying the reality and danger of the Climate Crisis, "The general consensus among mainstream scientists is that the errors are in any case minor and do not undermine the report’s conclusions."

The more recent and in some ways more depressing assertion is that the big snows in the Eastern U.S. prove that Earth is not warming, and the Climate Crisis is phony. Again, the Times states what has been repeated over and over again before: particular weather events aren't evidence for or against climate change, except that "Most climate scientists respond that the ferocious storms are consistent with forecasts that a heating planet will produce more frequent and more intense weather events." In fact, the most authoritative federal report on climate last year predicted more frequent and larger snowstorms in the northeastern U.S.

It's the kind of paradox that's funny in an uncomfortable way, but to take it as serious evidence that the planet isn't heating, is just willful ignorance. It doesn't require a major step in thinking. Not compared to the steps involving lag times, feedback loops, tipping points, etc. We don't have to understand the intricacies of ocean temperatures and air currents that result in more snow in one spot when the Earth gets hotter. We just have to understand that it happens, and that it isn't nonsense.

There is even a possibility--still a live one--that greenhouse gas heating will cause a climate jolt--called rapid climate change--that could shift ocean currents to bring a sudden Ice Age to parts of the globe. This more robust paradox was not thought too complicated for moviegoers to understand, as it was the premise of so far the only Climate Crisis disaster film, The Day After Tomorrow.

If people can't think their way through these bare minimum steps, we're going to end up destroying the planet we know and that some of us love. But it's probably not so much a problem in understanding as in acceptance. We're still stuck in the first stage of grief for our dying world: denial.

And by concentrating on this fluff, we're ignoring several realities, one of which is also staring us in the face: we're apparently not prepared to cope with these kinds of crises. The snow has paralyzed the East, Native Americans are freezing in the West, homes are being swept away by mudslides in southern CA, and then there's Haiti, where torrential rains are coming, on top of the struggle to cope with the earthquakes' effects. All this is apart from the largely unreported consequences on peoples' lives as well as the landscape, all over the world, due directly to global heating.

And speaking of Climate Crisis fictions, in the first volume of Kim Stanley Robinson's trilogy on the subject, the U.S. government begins to take the Climate Crisis very seriously after Washington is flooded. So it is a tragedy of the absurd that the actual flooding of Washington comes in the form of snow, and we're not smart enough to see the connection, or sane enough to admit it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"Dear friends, the swarthy earth shoulders into the stars here.
The slopes are possessed of many trees.
The gracious sun visits daily the open parks,
and a chaperone mountain serves all the canyon west.
Deer timid through shadows. Birds fly across from cliffs.
Mostly silence rises and moves up the slopes
past enchanted white spikes of yucca.
This is the land we are exiled to from a world fighting.
We look at each other and sing all the songs we have heard."
William Stafford


I still scan Daily Kos, though it seems to have become a kind of political social networking site, and the Kos Borg seem way younger and not often that interesting, when they aren't maddening. But there's usually something that catches my eye, and the place in general does redeem itself every once in awhile.

Like this week, when it seems to be the most prominent place on the web that is consistently following the hardships on Native American reservations, especially in South Dakota, where the very bad winter has hit very hard. With the single-disaster media attention split between Haiti and Snowmageddon in the eastern U.S., nobody is noticing the emergency needs of people within our borders who are living close to the edge anyway.

But at Kos, there's been a recommended diary every day, with lots of information on how individuals can help. The latest one has a little more--in fact, it's less about the poorest and now coldest places in the country--in South Dakota--than one of the wealthiest, in northern Virginia.

Yet this diary weaves a story with multiple connections. It tells us just enough about a few people to imagine them beyond what their job descriptions or ethnicity would suggest. And there's kindness, a sense of rightness and justice, even a kind of heroism, along with unexpected connections.

This story resonates with me for another reason. When things get tough--as they do in temporary emergencies like these snowstorms, or the mudslides in southern CA or the hard cold in the Dakotas, or earthquakes wherever they happen--and as they will in the coming Long Emergency of the near future, brought on by the Climate Cataclysm--these are the kind of connections we will all depend on.

We will depend on kindness, compassion, empathy. On cooperation and spontaneous organization--I've heard more than one story about neighbors getting together to dig themselves out of the snow.

We will depend on making alliances with former strangers. We will depend on people who know how to do things and have the tools to do them, and who see the need for their service and respond. On being willing to use our skills and strengths to help those who need them. And we will depend on the fuel of gratitude.

The people in this story not only made a connection, they discovered an existing one. Six degrees of separation will come in handy, too, once we discover what it means when we need a service, or need to provide one.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Beyond the Radar

Some of the news comes in under the radar, and some of it is just apparently beyond it.

Washington is choked with snow, so if anyone noticed, it was apt to be rueful, but the Obama administration put another piece in place for the future. They announced Monday the creation of a new federal agency focused on gathering, studying and communicating information on climate.

Portions of the Weather Service that have been studying climate, as well as offices from some other NOAA agencies, will be transferred to the new NOAA Climate Service.

The new agency will initially be led by Thomas Karl, director of the current National Climatic Data Center. The Climate Service will be headquartered in Washington and will have six regional directors across the country.

Lubchenco [Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] also announced a new NOAA climate portal on the Internet to collect a vast array of climatic data from NOAA and other sources. It will be "one-stop shopping into a world of climate information," she said.

This is the latest of relatively quiet recent steps to focus federal science on the largest problem for the future. Another was the subtle re-purposing of NASA, which will be doing more to study Earth and its systems from space.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Who Dat!

Congratulations to the New Orleans Saints for the team's first Super Bowl victory ever, and to the courageous city of New Orleans. It was a great game, the Who rocked at halftime, the commercials were appalling. (More, eventually at American Dash.)


The view from space of yesterday's epic snowstorm in the eastern U.S.