14 September 2014

The Saddest of Déjà Vus, All Over Again

Remember Libya? Yeah, it wasn't that long ago. But the war drums didn't stop beating in the Middle East.

And now the American president, Barack Obama, has unleashed the dogs of war -- on Syria

I am feeling so, so sad for Syria and its people. It's Iraq and Libya all over again (and reminding me of a song lyric: "Thank you for our freedom, could you leave now please?") 

But I'm also feeling outraged that Obama would so blatantly and unabashedly announce this new "war" a week before the huge climate change events in New York City. It's like a giant Eff U to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who called the September 23 Climate Summit, and anyone else who gives a damn about the climate crisis.

Obama never had any intention of doing anything about climate change. He was always a coal man, allowed to become president by his Big Money backers. 

So true to form, after stalling for a couple of years (during which some of us naively thought he was showing restraint for the right reasons), he picks now to announce a new war. 

If there was a shred of respect left in me for this man, it has shrivelled up in my province's drought and blown across the dried up agricultural lands of Syria.

07 September 2014

"Yesterday I Couldn't Say 'Scientific Illiterate' ... Today I Are One"

My father, born in the 1920s, was raised in a desperately poor family and had to drop out of school in grade 8 to take a $7 per week job. A few years later, he moved up to sales and started making a better living. He used to recount the day that a few other salesmen confronted him in a diner. "Jack," they said, "if you're going to make it in the world of sales, you need to shine your shoes and start talking better."

From then on, he shined his shoes regularly and (before I was born) read a dictionary every day to improve his vocabulary. He read newspapers and watched and listened to the news. He was well read and quite smart -- if a little too opinionated (now you know where I get it from).

So perhaps it's understandable that my dad wasn't a big fan of school. Sure, we had to do our homework and graduate from high school, but beyond that, he didn't hold the education system in high regard. He was a "self-made man." 

"Yesterday I couldn't spell teechur and today I are one," he used to tease. So you can imagine the ribbing that began when I actually became a teacher. It ended, however, when I spoke up and challenged him (at his favourite pub, in front of all his drinking buddies, after he'd started pontificating about how overpaid and underworked teachers are) to spend two weeks in my class with me -- and still believe that I wasn't earning my salary. He never took me up on that challenge, but he sure shut up about it, at least when I was around.

But I'm at the point now where I'm starting to feel furious at the (North American) education system. I cannot believe the scientific illiterates we're turning out ... the graduates who can't think logically, or critically, or even creatively. It's like they can't think at all. And then there are the bullies (probably sociopaths by now) who make it all the way through school still not able to find it in their hearts to think about others in the world. (And the apathetics ... let's not even go there.)

Yes, I'm talking about climate change deniers -- again. Apparently they haven't gone away. Or read up. Or crawled back into their heartless holes. Why aren't they embarrassed? (I guess they don't know what they don't know -- and don't care.) How can they be so illogical? (I suppose the social media echo chamber makes it more than possible to believe unreasoned, unjustifiable, groundless, unfounded, incorrect, erroneous, invalid, spurious, faulty, flawed, fallacious and unscientific drivel because it's repeated over and over again.)

Where is their shame? How can they close their eyes and their hearts to all the people around the world who are already being impacted by climate crises? (Maybe we threw the baby out with the bath water when we turned away from religion. Or maybe it's the fault of Faux TV-style media outlets, which have been tasked with creating a whole populace that doesn't give a flying leap about others.)

In the interests of taking back scientific literacy, truth and compassion, here are some of the latest egregious examples of the BS flying around the internet ether.

Randall S poses: "What is Carbon? Black soot? It's carbon dioxide, a colourless, odourless gas necessary for life on earth and beneficial to plants at levels 4X current levels. In fact, you could say we are in the midst of a global atmospheric CARBON DIOXIDE DEFICIT." (Sure, Randall, we're pumping out 90 million tons of CO2 every day, but we're in a carbon dioxide deficit. That makes a lot of sense. And yes, black soot is carbon, too, and happens to be the second worst cause of global warming.)

Paul c-o's shares a quote from "Geologist Leighton Steward": "There is not a single professor of chemistry that I have come across that can give one single example of carbon dioxide being a pollutant." (Oh, I'm sure geologist Steward hangs out with all sorts of chemistry professors. And oh, let's just check out Steward's credentials, shall we? He's the spokesman for the denial front group Plants Need CO2 (as though those concerned about climate change ever said that plants don't need CO2), and is affiliated with oil and gas companies (he's a retired energy industry executive and is still sitting on fossil fuel energy boards). But I'm sure that hasn't coloured his understanding of global warming at all.) 

(BTW, the definition of pollution is: "the presence in or introduction into the environment of a substance or thing that has harmful or poisonous effects." When too much CO2 is introduced into the atmosphere or the oceans, harmful effects arise. Ergo, we have turned CO2 into a pollutant.)

bluecougareyes is feeling all smart with his contribution to the discussion (and look, so nicely laid out): 

"Warming and cooling come and go over 100's of Millions of year.


Earth’s temperature is always changing.


CO2 levels will change with or without human contributions.


There is no one “right” temperature.


(I should have guessed that scientific illiterates might be historically illiterate, as well. Are you listening up, teachers? The reason we have over 7 billion human beings on this planet is that the stable climate -- the "one 'right' temperature" -- of the last 10,000 years or so allowed agriculture to proliferate. We've become a species dependent on agriculture and agriculture depends on a stable climate ... something we've said goodbye to. Hello, heat waves, droughts and floods. Hello, crop failures, higher food prices, conflicts and revolts, and famines.)

I could go on and on (but it's a beautiful day here). Practically everywhere one goes on the internet, the comments sections are filled with diatribes and misfacts and downright made-up stuff from scientifically illiterate armchair pundits. I'm starting to think that it's not the doom and gloom of our climate reality that's getting me down these days (there's actually some good news on that front), but the free-for-all democratization* of commentary, even for those who don't know what the hell they're talking about. Forgive them, Climate, for they know not what they don't know.

Teachers, any chance we could teach some climate science and thinking skills in school this year?

p.s. If you'd like to hear about the science of climate change from actual climate scientists, have a look at 97 Hours of Consensus.

* Democratization of the Comments section just when the United States has been officially designated an oligarchy. Kind of ironic, eh? But that's for another post.

31 August 2014

Climate Highs and Climate Lows Leading Up to UN Climate Summit and the People's Climate March

No, I'm not talking about the temperature today. The climate highs and lows I'm talking about are all the things people are doing or not doing (or not doing right) for the huge climate convergence coming up in New York City in three, count 'em, three weeks. That's three as in 3, as in one less than 4, as in only one more than 2. As in, before we know it. As in, holy sh!t!

You see, this mobilization can't be just about numbers of marchers at the People's Climate March. It can't be just about calling for urgent action. Time is so short (methane hydrate plumes, anyone?), it has GOT to be about very specifically demanding the very specific urgent actions that we urgently need!

So with that urgency as our backdrop this week, let's have a look at what's been happening.


People are writing -- or finding -- anthems for the climate change movement. A friend of ours is working on one:
Climate safety is a human right
We're not going to get it
Without a fight
We need to unite
Take action - right now
Here's how ....

That's a good thing. On the other hand, Avaaz, with its self-confessed gazillions of members, just sent round a message asking people to sign a petition that's, well, wrong (see if you can spot the wrong bit):

Right, the "2 degrees" bit is wrong. Two degrees is not "the safe level," it's global suicide. For years, the nations most vulnerable to climate chaos have been asking for a global temperature increase limit of no more than 1.5ºC -- some even 1ºC (recognizing what's already happening at +0.8ºC). 

Here's the problem with 2ºC. Because most of us haven't grasped that (due to the ocean heat lag doubling whatever temperature increase we end up with) 2ºC is the eventual result of only 1ºC of warming. So if we "aim" for 2ºC, we'll end up with 4ºC (which is certainly unsurvivable, given that all crops in all regions will go into decline at or before 1.5ºC of warming). Remember, this isn't temperature increase as in "tonight's low will be 70ºF and the high tomorrow will be 78ºF" -- this is temperature increase as in "98.6ºF is healthy, but you are pretty much dead at 106.6ºF."

So Avaaz has done the world a(nother) disservice by reinforcing the idea that +2ºC is safe. (Indeed, the conspiracy theorist in me figures it's just more proof that Avaaz is indeed part of the nonprofit industrial complex that supports the corporate agenda whenever that support is called upon.)


From above: "... by rapidly shifting our societies and economies to be powered by 100% clean energy." I don't like Avaaz's wording there (do I smell a shill for "clean coal"?), but this is, properly defined, the goal we all need to be aiming for. Zero-carbon, clean, perpetual energy by 2050. Due to the length of time that 20-40% of our emitted carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere radiating heat (up to a thousand years!), we've got to achieve zero carbon emissions by mid-century or sooner in order to stabilize and drop the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere. The Burning Age is over ... we have to start picturing a world of no fuels (no biofuels, no biomass burning; burning = carbon emissions).


Remember I mentioned plumes of methane up top? The discovery / witnessing of these plumes in the Arctic and along the Atlantic Coast of North America should be striking sheer terror into the hearts of every thinking adult human being on the planet. These plumes are evidence that the seabed's normally frozen methane hydrate deposits are destabilizing. In other words, they're thawing, for heaven's sake! This is the methane timebomb we've been warning about for the last several years. We are freaking well running out of time.


Speaking of bombs .... 

I keep running across research and lay articles in which scientists "conclude," not that we'd better get our butts in gear to safeguard the future, but that more monitoring is necessary. From an article entitled Vast Methane Plumes Spotted Bubbling Up from the Arctic Ocean Floor:
"Does this mean that the disaster scenario is now developing? Unfortunately, at the moment, that's an unknown. The SWERUS-C3 team will be continuing to monitor the location as long as the weather holds out for their expedition. However, as the Stockholm University press release stated: "These early glimpses of what may be in store for a warming Arctic Ocean could help scientists project the future releases of the strong greenhouse gas methane from the Arctic Ocean."
What is it with scientists and other researchers constantly and continually just calling for "more research" and more understanding? Why can't we just understand the research results we have now and get concerned enough to demand some urgent action from our governments?


Well, I started with a climate high, and I'd like to end with a high. But I'm drawing a blank. We're meeting some wonderful new climate change activists, but for every new one, two or three climate "cynics" pop up. If you've got any good climate change news to share, please let me know.

24 August 2014

Have We Waited Too Long? Is It Too Late?

Was it just last week that I suggested we could "make it" if we took the bold step of throwing our military resources (funds and (hu)manpower) at the climate change emergency? After yesterday, I'm starting to feel a panic.

You see, yesterday was the day of the Fall Fair in my little community. It's the biggest event of the year. I love convening the Young People's Agriculture section (we had to create a new category this year for the four giant pumpkins that kids entered into the Any Other Variety division against garlic and canteloupe). People see other community members they haven't seen all year. It's a happy time. For most.

One woman was sent off to the hospital by ambulance, likely for dehydration. I felt strange all day, hot and lightheaded -- but the high was only 22ºC or so. Then a local farmer bent my ear for a while, telling me of biosecurity issues on our island (a fungus being carelessly spread from farm to farm) and being "scared shitless" of what's on the way -- or here already. "We're in a little bubble here," he said. "We have no idea what's coming." 

As someone who understands the climate change emergency and sees what's happening around the world, I was nevertheless shocked to hear it come from someone else, especially someone local. (We really do live in a blessed little bubble here.)

So imagine my angst when I came home to an impassioned email from a friend who recently moved to a farm a couple of hours away. She wrote that she's afraid to sell or share any of her produce or farm products this year. That's because there are practically no insects or animals anywhere on her property -- not even a worm in her compost -- and she's fearing the worst. (Fukushima fallout? The worst of climate change?)

There's someone up her way, a biologist and diver, who just spent 9 days surveying 200 kilometres of coastline and in that time saw only one live seagull, one crow, no insects, minimal showings of only 4 other species, and no trace of anything else.

My husband I have been noticing the scarcity of seagulls (we never appreciate what we've got till it's gone) for quite a while, at least several years before Fukushima. We used to see huge flocks of them around here. His elderly mother in England, during her last years, lamented the loss of birds and their birdsong (Silent Spring, anyone?). Peter often decries (and cries about) the lack of butterflies these days. His childhood was filled with butterflies. 

One of the most invisible and most insidious effects of a more variable and unpredictable climate is that predator / prey relationships are being thrown into chaos. If a prey insect hatches early because the sesasons have shifted but the predator bird hasn't returned from its migration, that's a problem. If a predator shows up early, but the prey is late, that's a problem. 

It's a North American (and perhaps EuroAmerican) habit to think in only black and white terms, forgetting the greys and all the other colours of the rainbow. What I'm getting at is that there's probably no one origin of this situation. It's probably not just habitat destruction. Not just Fukushima radiation. Not just climate change. Not just karma. But because we don't think in systems, we want one enemy, one reason, one proven cause. 

And while waiting for that one enemy, reason or cause (that we can what? shake our fist at? throw military might at?), it seems they've all been ganging up on us. I'm not going to say it's too late, but holy shit, we'd better wake up and get our act together! 

My friend wrote that if there's hope, we need to be determined and heroic. "Can we take [this biologist's] lead and do our own research? Official sources are letting us down. Understand this onslaught is sudden and inevitably headed [our way]. How quickly? What are people seeing this season that was not noticeable last? How quickly can we think, work and cooperate?"

Even U.S. President Obama weighed in recently, at the University of California Irvine commencement on 14 June 2014:
So the question is not whether we need to act. The overwhelming judgment of science, accumulated and measured and reviewed over decades, has put that question to rest. The question is whether we have the will to act before it's too late. For if we fail to protect the world we leave not just to my children, but to your children and your children’s children, we will fail one of our primary reasons for being on this world in the first place. And that is to leave the world a little bit better for the next generation.
Someone on FB said this morning, "It needs courage to face the mess we are in. The fight has only just started and will be painful. But optimism is a moral duty, without which the fight cannot be won." Courage and compassion, folks. Courage and compassion. Leave the dishes and the TV shows and video games. Let's get to work!

(Thanks to Mike at Tau Zero for the photo of the very pissed off seagull.)

17 August 2014

So, Do We Really Have Time to Avert Climate Catastrophe? Yes, If We Deploy the Military

Anyone who understands the climate change emergency deeply knows that our Climate EMERGENCY Countdown is a desperate, last-ditch effort to ensure that world leaders at the Climate Summit this September in New York City get us on a path that at least gives us a hope in hell of a future.

Someone responded to the Countdown on FB by saying "This is a realistic plan, but it is also too slow. 2ºC is already locked in at present CO2, methane and NO2 levels. We need to slash the defense budget and use it to convert everything to renewable energy ASAP." 

Yup, all true. But if we start our decline in carbon emissions by next year, then we'll already be on a different trajectory -- one that gives us that hope in hell. And next year is as close to now as we're going to get. (Though the financial crash in 2008-2009 showed us how quickly greenhouse gas emissions can be turned around.)

Several years ago, we and Anthony Marr were talking about a Global Green Fund -- paid for by a 10% donation from each country's military. That would have got the ball rolling, but it didn't happen. (Indeed, ha ha ha ha ha. What were we smokin'?)

Doesn't mean it wasn't a good idea, or that my FB friend's friend's idea isn't a good one. Imagine a world where the soldiers are all busy, not fighting each other (and invisible enemies), but retrofitting whole cities and countries and kickstarting the solar age. Imagine armies of people taking constructive rather than destructive action. (Imagine the increase in military self-esteem!)

So, do we have time? Yes, just. But first, to ensure our success, we have some important things we need to do ... fast. And since we all know who can mobilize fast, let's ask the calvary and the National Guard and the King's Army and the FBI and the CIA and maybe the Mafia and street gangs, too, to lend us a hand. After all, they're all human beings with beloved children in their lives. Why wouldn't they want to help?