I accepted as fact the news that global warming was really happening when I first heard about it. That would have been in the mid-1970’s. By 1982 I was writing to elected officials about it, alarmed by the skepticism at the very top. I could not understand, nor do I now, what scientists would have to gain by falsely alerting us to the fact that we were killing our planet. Why would someone, let alone thousands of someone’s, waste their time on a bankrupt theory? When had that ever been the custom of the American scientific community? The political community? Yes, of course. Thereby – of course – hangs this particular tale. No one wanted to be the bearer of bad tidings, particularly after Jimmy Carter’s foray into boldly going where no public servant had gone before. The verdict had, after all, been unanimous: shoot the messenger.
So, here we are, more than three decades later, conducting an end-of-the-world experiment. We could call it How much can we get away with? We appear to labor under the misapprehension that recycling pop bottles and drinking organic milk will suffice. We appear to believe that we have decades in which to address the problem, so little has been done. We wait, in vain, for our government to assume a leadership role in addressing the problem. We are fat, happy, lazy and dumb, and we love it. Just don’t let the party end.
Think about the creatures with whom we share the planet. The latest forecast warns us that half of all life forms will be lost in a global-warming world. Bugs and krill mostly, I suspect. Flowers and trees, too. And the largest animals: elephants, hippos, rhinos, whales. Of course, the bugs are at the bottom of the food chain, so the creatures higher-up on the chain who depend on them as food will decrease in number, and some of them will disappear. Lots of them will be birds, a very painful thought for me. There is little in this world that has given me the pleasure birds have.
It’s not that I think people should be in a state of panic. While it’s possible that we are, in fact, at the point where there is little else left to us besides panic (it’s hard to know), it would do us no good. So there is one very positive point in our favor. We’re still behaving as rationally as we ever have. Since that is, at one and the same time, the source of our problem, I conclude that we live in a paradoxical world.
Why bring all this up? Having observed, thus far, our two-steps-forward, two-steps-back approach to solving this most-important-of-all dilemmas, I think it is important to record what I pray will be our less hesitant steps in the future. The near future, it must be, or our future can only be an acutely impoverished one. Impoverished because all nations will have lost land area due to rising seas, resulting in the need for human beings to live in closer proximity with one another. Impoverished in the sense that we will have lost family and friends to the diseases let loose upon the world as a result of this increased proximity, as well as by increasing temperatures. Impoverished by the loss of so many creatures with whom we share our world. Impoverished in the sense that our hearts and minds will have been so bombarded with the endless need to face catastrophe, we will be numb with grief for a very long time. Impoverished more than anything else by the belief that the earth, far from being the mother of us all, is the enemy of us all. Today we are only detached from Her, ignorant of Her and Her ways. One day we may well lash out at Her, wanting to believe that She is responsible for all the hurt, all the pain. Should that day actually arrive, it will mark the turning point, the end of denial, the beginning of a New Way Forward. What a terrible price to pay, especially for something we once knew, but forgot along the way.
It is January 2, 2009. I didn’t see anything having to do with the environment or global warming in the paper today. Israel and the Palestinians are making war again, so that dominates the news. In order to give a sense of historical context, I will mention that California recently passed a law addressing environmental issues on many fronts. It was considered very important and trendsetting. Arnold Schwarzenegger has turned into an environmental leader in the U.S., esp. since California is still considered something of a bellwether state. His position as governor of California (not to mention his celebrity/notoriety as a former movie actor) makes what he does the stuff of headlines.
Liberals the world over, meantime, are celebrating the ascendancy of Barack Obama to the White House in less than three weeks. He has promised to promote the development and use of alternative fuels and fuel-efficient cars. The poor man is saddled with so many serious problems, it is hard to know how he can possibly address them all. A certain amount of triage will be inevitable, given the financial condition of our country. However, considering the absolute lack of leadership shown in the climate change arena thus far, just initiating a well-informed discussion on the subject would be a big step in the right direction.
January 3, 2009. Nothing in the paper, though CNN has been running a series called Planet in Peril for awhile now. Other environmental stories appear roughly once a week on their website. I’ve always been amazed that The Weather Channel has so little to say on the subject. They could have, and should have, played a leading role in educating the public. A couple of weekly shows now speak to the problem, but everyone is still pussyfooting. I think if Obama manages to remove the taboo and bring the matter out in the open, lots of folks out there are ready to take action.
There is also the matter of international treaties, all manner of which have been treated by Bush with scornful contempt. Global problems must be addressed globally; in this context, treaties take on enormous significance. This business of pointing fingers and accusing others of foot-dragging is a non-starter, utterly lacking in courage and determination. While other countries the world over have looked to us for leadership, we have whined, we have postponed, we have deflected. It is now time to set the example. We have always claimed we stood for what is best in humankind and for humankind. There is no time to waste. Mandating the use of compact fluorescent bulbs by the year 2014 is good. Attempts to unravel species protection – by the EPA, no less! – aren’t just not good, they are worse than bad. Knowingly doing what is wrong is diabolical.
January 4, 2009. An article about meteors causing climate change caught my eye this morning, but I didn’t read it. Didn’t sound like it added much to the conversation. Then there was a story on CNN about a school called the “Green School,” in Bali of all places. A couple with the last name of Hardy has decided to begin a Waldorf-style school that will teach children about what harms, and what helps, the environment. Children from 17 different nations are attending the school. Imagine attending school in paradise!
Teaching our children hope for the future isn’t all that matters, but it matters a great deal. I say that because I remember picking up my son Dan after high school one day about eight years ago. He matter-of-factly told me that there was no hope for the future, that too many things were going wrong, and one of them – a pandemic, nuclear war, lack of food as a result of the inability to grow it, methane released by melting permafrost, lack of potable water – would do us in. Or all of them combined. Fifteen-year-olds without hope is NOT the answer, and I did all I could to reassure him. I certainly didn’t tell him everything would be fine, but I did tell him that the human species would survive, albeit in a greatly changed world.
January 5, 2009. It’s sad when someone like Lou Dobbs, who commands a national audience, chooses to voice skepticism with regard to global warming. He spoke about it on his program tonight, saying that those who believe that global warming is a real phenomenon are “impassioned” and are inclined to ignore the facts. A politically conservative individual who spoke during the report preceding his comments said that all sides were selective with regard to the facts. Why would the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, consisting of member scientists from all over the world, encourage immediate action regarding climate change if they didn’t think – not BELIEVE, think – it were necessary? The IPCC issued a very detailed report last year, supported by its 2200 members, advocating urgent action. Why is this not enough?
On the drive home from work I heard part of an interview about the only wildlife reserve created by our current President. It’s a marine park that lies on the outer boundaries of Hawaii. Since the oceans are badly in need of protecting, I hope the creation of this park will further that agenda; however, because the park and its management are located far from diligent oversight, only time will tell whether it is being cared for in compliance with the applicable environmental laws. Still, I would think this is a positive development.
January 7, 2009. There’s very little being said about the environment right now, even less than usual. Between the Israeli/Palestinian matter and the upcoming Inauguration of Barack Obama, everything else is being overshadowed. One bit of really excellent news is that Steven Chu will be heading the EPA. He is a Nobel prize-winning scientist who is a firm advocate of mitigating action being taken in order to reduce the likelihood of catastrophic climate change. I hope he is up to the task of yelling the loudest when other Cabinet secretaries are clamoring for money; in these days of financial meltdown, that’s what it will take to remind Obama to fund his $150 billion plan to greatly increase the fuel efficiency of American cars and to develop alternative energy sources.
January 9, 2009. Actually, the weather is very much in the news these days. The northern United States and Europe are both enduring an extremely cold winter, with temperatures below zero. At the same time, there’s been major flooding in Washington State. Extreme weather has occurred in various places over the last few months. Lots of wind-related events, with at least one very significant tornado outbreak. Yesterday there were 100 mph winds in Colorado! The Santa Ana’s are just starting to kick up in southern California.
T. Boone Pickens was on CNBC tonight, touting his natural gas and wind power solution to high energy prices. I signed up to receive emails about the plan. I’m sure his politics and mine don’t coincide – he’s looking for an economic fix, not an environmental one – but in this case I think both roads may lead to the same destination. How funny that he likes to market his program using the phrase “the central United States could be the Saudi Arabia of wind.” That appeared in Mother Earth News 10 years ago!! How long will it actually be before we make wide use of this form of power? One thing I’ve heard is that this particular form of energy doesn’t transport well over distances, though I don’t understand why that would be true.
There was a spill of coal ash into a river in Tennessee last week. The ash is a by-product of power generation at a coal burning power plant, owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Besides being terribly hurtful to the local environment, the ash contains arsenic and mercury in quantities that exceed EPA standards. Might be a godsend; with all the talk about “clean coal technology,” we’d better learn all we can about handling it safely – both before incineration and after.
January 11, 2009. Here’s what the paper has to say today about coal ash: story headline – Toxic coal ash piling up in ponds: EPA has left states to make own rules Washington – “Millions of tons of toxic coal ash is piling up in power plant ponds in 32 states, a situation the government has long recognized as a risk to human health and the environment but has done nothing about.” Let’s take that a few words at a time.
“Millions of tons.” How many millions? Well, it further states the government has “long recognized” the problem, and we already know that this country has relied on coal as a power source for a very long time. It must take a fairly long while to accumulate millions of tons of ash – after all, ash doesn’t weigh all that much, does it? In all likelihood, no one knows exactly how many millions. We probably stopped measuring years ago.
So how do we go about understanding the true meaning of “millions of tons?” One way would be to break the number down into smaller units. How much, then, is one million tons? Easy; multiply 2,000 pounds, or one ton, times 1,000,000. The answer is 2 billion pounds. Now picture something that weighs a pound, say, a block of cheese. Now picture 100 blocks of cheese – enough to fill two grocery bags at 50 lbs. each, considerably more than a person would normally put in a grocery bag. Then again, we’re not shopping! Now two thousand blocks of cheese (otherwise known as a ton of cheese). That’s forty grocery bags. A million blocks (that’s one million pounds) would use up 20,000 grocery bags. At this point I already have no idea what that looks like, so I guess we now need to picture a football stadium, with a bag of cheese occupying each of 20,000 seats. To get to 2 billion, we need to multiply the 20,000 by 100 thousand. Hmmm – I’m still no closer to comprehending this number, other than what I knew all along about it: it’s an abnormally large number, especially when you’re talking about pounds.
Here’s something else to wonder about: where are these “ponds?” Are they always close by the power plant? And why does the ash accumulate in ponds, anyway? Why not simply pile it up? That’s not too hard to figure out, once you begin thinking about it. Ash is light and fine. A certain amount of it would be bound to blow away. That, of course, would create air pollution. The number of people affected by this pollution would probably be quite high, and at some distance from the power plant. Add that air pollution to the air pollution that comes out of the plant’s chimneys and you not only have an air pollution problem, you’ve got a visibility problem, too.
Then there’s that word “toxic.” It’s a word that means poisonous. So this pollution, which we’ve said is laced with arsenic and mercury, is a very real threat to human health.
It appears that the coal ash can’t simply be piled up. If you dug a dry hole to put it in, a certain amount would still blow away, unless you capped the hole. If the contents of the hole got wet, the hole would sink as air pockets were removed. The possibility of poisons leaching from the hole once they were wet would have to be dealt with. The hole would require an impervious lining. Regulations would have to be put in place, and the regulations would have to be obeyed.
We’re back to one of our initial questions: why does the ash accumulate in ponds? Certainly the problem of blowing ash is addressed with this solution. The ash has become heavy and wet. Presumably these ponds are man-made. Can we assume they are therefore lined with an impervious substance? Can we further assume they are never over-filled? That question we know the answer to: no. The pond in Tennessee was over-full; that’s why it spilled into a river. A rainstorm caused the contents of the pond to break a dam. Were there no rules in place governing the degree to which the pond can be filled, thereby allowing for unforeseen circumstances, like a storm? Or were the rules ignored?
Now we know that Tennessee is not alone in addressing this problem. There are – apparently – 32 Tennessee’s! Tennessee’s coal plants are managed by the TVA, the Tennessee Valley Authority, an organization which dates back to the Great Depression. My suspicion is that it’s safe to assume they know more than most about managing coal ash. Yet they refused, in 2006, to switch to a dry disposal method, saying it was too expensive. Sen. Barbara Boxer pointed out in Congressional hearings about the spill that ameliorating the consequences of the spill will cost far more than switching to dry disposal would have.
That brings us to the part about government doing nothing about the super-abundance of coal ash in retention ponds. Sen. Boxer is saying that government tried to do something about it and was refused. How many other times has this happened? Under the direction of Spencer Johnson, probably a lot. He has created a reputation for himself of being pro-business, laissez-faire environment. Perhaps the EPA was refused prior to the Bush administration. No matter when it happened, the EPA didn’t put enough muscle behind the request (or order, or directive, or whatever it was). Regulatory bodies of all kinds must have the will and the authority to regulate. When either of those is lacking, human perversity will rear its ugly head. And has.
January 13, 2009. In glancing at The Ecologist on line, I took note of some of the best news this planet has had in quite some time: economic growth has come to a skidding halt. We’re burning less gas because there are fewer products to deliver, we’re using fewer resources of all kinds because manufacturing is currently moribund, and we’re using less electricity because companies are putting in less overtime. Fewer people are traveling, no matter what the means of transport. Fewer people are eating out, thereby wasting less food. According to a report on NPR, some people are even going to the extreme of getting their finances in order, consequently buying less – and feeling good about it! Positively un-American!! Has the appalling too-muchness of it all finally hit home?
Renegade economists have been attempting to make the point for quite some time now that infinite growth is an oxymoron. Nothing can continue to grow forever. Not human population, not ever-increasing consumption of finite natural resources, not the numbers of products made from the finite resources. Not even our precious standard of living. It goes against nature and logic. Yes, human beings are larger now than at any time in our past. Does that mean that one day we’ll all be 10 feet tall and weigh 300 lbs.? No.
Ever hear about the point of diminishing returns? Returns on the investments of today are mostly incremental. Those that are not are made up; thus, the present-day economic turmoil. Yes, we wanted the dot-com economy to last forever. Curious, though – it grew to that point of diminishing returns, then it grew to the outer limits of made-up returns, and then it imploded. People want to keep re-living that time so badly, they’re willing to hand over their life savings to a shark like Bernie Madoff. He told them what they wanted to hear.
We must be very careful these days of people telling us what we want to hear. Those who claim global warming isn’t happening is one such group of people. People blessed with the prescience to know better will need to be fearless, going forward. For our own sakes and for our children’s sakes. We will have to learn the difference between lying and truth-telling. We will have to learn to speak truth to power. We will have to learn grit and determination. And we will have to learn to never, never, never give up.
January 16, 2009. I’m looking once again to The Ecologist for inspiration, since the American press is blissfully unaware. To be fair, I wonder if global warming issues have become the stuff of front pages anywhere in the world? And the paucity of television shows!! Not even the Weather Channel, here in the States, has been a leader in increasing awareness, something for which they should be severely castigated. Yes, they finally, within the last couple of years, have initiated specific programming regarding the matter, but it is NEVER referred to during weather reports! While they certainly don’t know exactly how global warming is affecting the weather on a day-to-day basis, they should constantly be pointing out that the rise in “extreme weather” is due to the global warming phenomenon. Based on what I have seen, they consistently fail to do this.
The subject that caught my interest in the latest issue of E. was the spread of disease in a globally-warmed world. How vividly I recall my shock, when we moved to Texas decades ago, at how sickly children were there, in comparison with Chicago. The kids next door were ALWAYS sick!! The warm temperatures not only didn’t kill off germs, they encouraged their growth. Then add to that the increased proximity of human beings because of escalating population growth, and you were talking about a lot of sick people a lot of the time.
This ought to sound like a harbinger of disaster, because that’s what it is.
How is it that, thus far, the few recent pandemics we’ve seen have been in the sultry climates of southeast Asia, where people live at density levels unimagined in this part of the world? People will shake their heads and say: but it will never be like that here (whether here is Spokane or Denver or Rochester). They would be correct, speaking in a near-term context. However, folks living in the northern hemisphere need only be reminded that the North Pole has melted to shake them from their complacency. The once unthinkable has already happened. The logical question becomes: what’s next?
Given that we have done virtually nothing in order to slow, let alone reverse, global warming, continued warming is what’s next. Many notice that daytime temperatures are as likely to go down as they are to have increased. Well, it’s rotten, but it’s the truth: it’s nighttime temperatures that are causing the headaches! Oh yes, we’re seeing years in succession where the average temperature has increased significantly. We are, however, hardly ever informed that nighttime temperatures are the primary culprit. Begin to watch the forecast with a critical eye where nocturnal temperatures are concerned. It will not take long for you to notice how much warmer they are now than they used to be.
As for the spread of disease, it is likeliest to occur in warmer climates. Germs like warm weather. They thrive in it. Think malaria. Think dengue. Think cholera. Thus far, these diseases have not made a major comeback in the northern hemisphere because of modern treatments for them. I say “comeback” because I know malaria was once a problem in the American south. I suspect the others may have been, as well.
So, we reason: if there are treatments, let people in the southern hemisphere be treated. In some parts of the world, that has happened. We do not hear of epidemics occurring in South America, nor do we hear about them in Australia. That is wonderful news.
Where we hear about them originating and spreading is in southeast Asia and Africa. Specifically in hot, wet places where people are packed together. Since densely-populated places are, by definition, cities, there are hospitals close by. In much of southeast Asia, a medical support network is in place, though not necessarily with adequate medicines or delivery systems. Our ability to help is not badly hampered anywhere except Myanmar. Incredibly, pandemics such as bird flu have proved containable. That, however, is because birds, sick and healthy, have been slaughtered en masse! Pray G-d it will never come to that during a human epidemic.
Africa is a different story, largely because of the location of disease outbreaks. These locations, unhappily, coincide much of the time with the locations of political unrest. In some cases, “political unrest” would be far too euphemistic a term to describe the situation. Outright warfare, with all that term suggests, would be far more accurate. So it can be much harder for people to obtain medical treatment. It can be much harder for others to deliver help.
So a cooler climate and a stable political situation are two of the vital components of a healthy society. In a world where many of us are suffering at the same time, i.e., a globally-warmed world, it will be the tendency of governments of relatively well-off countries to take care of their own citizens first. This will be largely contingent upon the degree to which warmer temperatures are causing problems in these countries. The poor, as usual, will probably have to fend for themselves. If this has been difficult in the past, it may well become nearly impossible in a globally-warmed world.
January 18, 2009. A couple of items, criminally short, have appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer recently. One, buried on page 5 or 6, tells us that the ten hottest years so far recorded have all happened since 1997. Fairly straightforward, not much to debate. The other, which I read today, referred to an incident in India in which a herd of 1,500 malnourished elephants rampaged through a village, killing – miraculously – only one family. They were looking for food. Food has become scarce because the human population is encroaching on land which had previously supported animal populations only. This, of course, has become an increasing problem in countries like India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and others where land is at a premium. There is very little arable, i.e., suitable for farming, land to begin with in such places. That fact, combined with the burgeoning populations living in them, increase the human demand for more land. Land which, as it turns out, has been home mainly to animals. In the current situation, the largest land animal on earth. Elephants require lots of food. Lots of humans require lots of food. Sustainable methods for growing nourishing
plants for both populations haven’t been developed yet.
Let’s back up a moment and pay a little bit more attention to that very important matter of burgeoning human population. Actually, in the aforementioned countries, the burgeoning part took place some time ago; by that I mean, those nations long ago reached the point at which the arable land available became insufficient for their population. That tipping point came and went very fast. Well-intentioned attempts in India on the part of both foreign governments and home rule have been directed at slowing the rate of human population growth. The problem is that the numbers of people were already so large that by the time anyone realized the numbers were cause for alarm, it was already too late. The passage of only a couple of generations beyond that tipping point, generations during which a very strict one or two children per couple rule needed to have been observed, was enough to produce unsustainable numbers of human beings. There were and are cultural, religious, sociological, and political causes for an unwillingness to act in as draconian a way as needed. This, coupled with the fact that an inhumane belief system like untouchability still holds sway, condemns India to a future of more rampaging elephants. One day, just as suddenly, the elephants will be gone.
Sustainability is the other critical concept here.
January 24, 2009 – However, before I write about that, it is time to take note of an extremely interesting phenomenon that has just begun taking place. Barack Obama was inaugurated on January 20. In a matter of a day or two, the spigot has been turned on, and the media are now awash in articles about the environment and climate change! Were they really such cowards that they were afraid of running the stories while Bush was in office? Did his henchpersons truly keep such a tight grip on the flow of information that even a whiff of credibility accorded to global warming would not go unpunished? Since Tuesday, a story with the title of “Scientists agree: global warming is happening” has appeared on CNN’s website!! Oh, what an Orwellian web was woven. May Obama enjoy nothing but success in his endeavors on behalf of this country, and the world.
On that positive note, let’s take a look at the concept of sustainability. That which is sustained continues in its current form, either under its own power, or with outside help. The example of modern agriculture will help tell this story.
At the end of World War II, the country’s economy was running at full throttle. With a new-found confidence born of victory on the battlefield AND in the laboratory, Americans view of science and its impact on their lives took a turn for the mainstream. Americans were very open to the idea that science was going to improve their lives. This optimistic attitude was best expressed in an advertisement that has since come to epitomize the early, post-war era: “Better living through chemistry.” From that time forward, life would be lived on an upward trajectory.
In keeping with these grandiose visions of the future, Americans went on a bit of a joy ride. Consumerism was the new order of the day. GI’s were getting college degree’s, the result of which was bigger middle class incomes than ever before. One of the things families began to spend their money on was food – meat, especially. Eating red meat several times a week became the sine qua non of a man who could care for his family. The beef industry took off.
Since Americans were eating American beef, it had to be the world’s best beef. Corn-fed beef. Since Americans were traveling more, and discovering new delicacies like Florida oranges, they wanted those on their tables, too. Growing enough corn and oranges to feed this hungrier, taller middle class provided a challenge for American scientists. American farmers needed to be able to grow more food, in order to meet the exploding demand.
The obvious answer? New fertilizers. With new, more potent fertilizers, it didn’t matter if the soil were played out; just use more fertilizer! With the advent of high-fructose corn syrup, farmers couldn’t grow enough corn. Then Earl Butz, Richard Nixon’s Secretary of Agriculture, told American farmers to plant “from fence row to fence row.” Age-old ideas (age-old because they’d been proven effective over the centuries) about allowing fields to lie fallow occasionally went the way of the dinosaur. Rotation of crops went the same way, with endless fields devoted to the growing of just one crop: corn.
Of course, bugs that loved to chomp on corn swooped down in numbers best described by the word “plague,” convinced they’d discovered the mother-lode. Which was fine, as far as the chemical companies were concerned. They’d just have to invent new, more lethal pesticides. They did, and the problem disappeared, along with many kinds of beneficial insects that weren’t chomping on the corn. They just happened to be in the way at the time.
So American farmers, cajoled by the chemical companies and their own government, were ignoring the basic rules of farming, in order to feed beef-loving, sweet-tooth pampering Americans, who by now were not only getting taller. They were getting fatter, which meant that they were ignoring some basic rules, too. Rules like “If you eat too much, you’ll get fat.” Rules like “You can’t have everything you want.” Welcome to the all-American, belt-busting “We’re massively in denial” party. Who’s going to blink and tell the truth first?
The truth? Well, ok, so we’re not just harvesting food anymore, we’re mining the soil. It’s fertility was used up long ago, so we keep replacing it with more and more chemical fertilizer. The super-abundance of nitrogen contained therein gets washed into the waterways and out to sea, producing “dead zones.” Sophisticated irrigation systems, while providing much-needed moisture during dry years, leaves an accumulating salt residue behind. This will eventually make the soil unfit for farming. The heavy machinery used to plow the soil loosens it enough that heavy rain washes more and more of it into nearby rivers: bye-bye topsoil, the most fertile top six inches. Paradoxically, being subjected to repeated passages of heavy farming machinery compacts the soil, compressing oxygen from between loosened clods of earth, without which beneficial microorganisms cannot live. The litany of good intentions gone astray is long and greatly at odds with the concept of sustainability. A sustainable agricultural system would be able to perpetuate itself. Things intended to improve the system actually would, without requiring endless additional remedies to improve the improvements!
January 25, 2009 – It will be very interesting to see what kind of difference the new availability of news about the environment makes on Americans’ attitude toward global warming. Given that up till now there has been a dirth of information, I would hope for significantly increased concern, and louder demands for ameliorative action. A recent poll apparently indicated that, given a list of twenty issues Americans might feel needed to be treated as top priorities, global warming finished last. The younger generation will be stepping forward to make themselves heard, and Obama will surely give the matter its due. Combined with more information, and the positive contribution to the economy of jobs in the alternative energy sector, I think we’re ready to turn the corner. Better late than never.
January 26, 2009 – A very important step forward has been taken today. President Obama has agreed to allow California and 15 other states to set their own mileage requirements for cars in their respective states. Since California’s deadline for achieving the new mileage standard is 2016, the standard will be reached four years earlier than is required by national law. These 16 states collectively constitute more than half the car-buying public, which I would think would be reason enough for the auto industry to apply itself in solving this long-festering public health dilemma.
Why are they so reluctant to assume a leadership role in doing what is right? I realize that planetary health may strike some as too amorphous a subject about which to care, but dirty air affects every one of us. I live near the city that has the third-dirtiest air in the United States. Brown should NOT be the color of the horizon. In Cincinnati, however, there are days when the sky above the treetops is the color of mud.
January 27, 2009 – There were terrible wind storms in Spain and Southern France over the weekend. I believe that when temperature gradients become very compressed, wind is the result, though there may be other causes of wind, as well. World Watch Institute issued papers back in the 1980’s saying that stronger, more destructive winds would be one of the results of global warming. What a shame governments did not choose to act decisively back then to mitigate the effects of our unsustainable way of life.
All of which brings up the crux of the matter: timing. It would appear that, no matter what we do at this point in time, certain aspects of climate change are unavoidable. The North Pole has already melted. Permafrost is already thawing in some places. Glaciers are also melting, with no efforts being made to capture the freshwater run-off. Experts tell us that the combined effect of Greenland
glacier melt and arctic ice melt will be greatly elevated ocean levels. That will, of course, necessitate the migration of millions of people away from the shore. Then, of course, climatologists have very recently determined that all of Antarctica is also warming, something which had previously been disputed.
How much temperature increase can be headed off, and when? Before methane is released into the air from permafrost? Before all of Bangladesh lies below the ocean? Before millions of people are forced to move inland by rising seas? Before asthma affects us all, because of the filthy air? What will it take to convince people that time is of the essence, that we live in the midst of a global emergency, that the time to act is now? The time to panic is never. The time to act is immediately. The longer we wait, the less habitable our planet becomes.
January 31, 2009 – Al Gore paid a visit to the Senate this week, with very much that message in mind. I only heard a summarizing radio story, and read about his testimony on CNN online, but it appears his emphasis was placed on a meeting occurring in Copenhagen later this year. The purpose of the meeting is to negotiate a climate treaty to replace Kyoto. John Kerry will be instrumental in helping to convince Congress that this time we must not only play a crucial role in negotiating the treaty, but sign onto it, as well. There can be no more pointing fingers, or waiting for the other guy to limit the amounts of fossil fuels he burns. As was pointed out on NPR (good old NPR – thank goodness they can be counted on!), China has already set CAFÉ rules more stringent than our own (these regulate minimum mileage standards). A number of senators were apparently surprised to learn this.
His other point was about timing; we need to act with urgency. After reading that scientists now expect the Arctic Ocean to be ice-free by 2013, there can be no doubt that push is rapidly coming to shove. Getting people to the point of readiness, where life-style change becomes a more acceptable idea, may well be easier after next week, when a big, very windy storm is expected to impact the east coast. Will Americans make the connection between global warming and excessive wind? Someone needs to be willing to teach them. The Weather Channel has, along with everyone else, suddenly found its voice on the topic of climate change. So, thank G-d, has the government. Perhaps the groundswell has only begun. A year from now, everybody may know a whole lot more than they know now. We’ll see. As I told a friend in a letter last year, Life is the best teacher. Because of global warming, Life promises to just keep getting more and more interesting.