MEDDLING IN THE AFFAIRS OF DRAGONS

9 09 2012

People are starting to notice that the weather is getting weird.  It’s drier than it’s ever been, it’s wetter than it’s ever been, it’s hotter than it’s ever been, and here and there it’s still getting colder than it’s ever been, or at least snowing, more than it ever has.  I’ll explain that in a moment.

The most ominous changes are taking place where few of us witness them–in the Arctic Ocean and the thinly inhabited, long-frozen lands surrounding it.  This year, the Arctic ice shelf has shrunk more than it ever has before, even before it reaches its maximum shrinkage point in mid-September.  The dark, open Arctic Ocean is absorbing more heat than it has in millenia, warming the Arctic still further.  Just a few years ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change thought the Arctic might be ice-free in the summer by the end of this century.  Now it’s looking more like that historic event will happen by the end of this decade.

The arctic’s warming is a strong driver for our freakier weather.  The one characteristic that unites all the different modes–rain, drought, heat, cold–is that they are moving much more slowly than we are used to seeing weather move.  Tropical Storm Beryl lingered for days over Florida.  Hurricane Isaac inched its way through Louisiana and up the Mississippi Valley. Super-hot temperatures roasted the Western and Central U.S. for weeks without relief.

The driver, or lack of one, in all these cases is the diminishing temperature difference between the Arctic and the rest of the planet.  Here’s how George Monbiot describes this new weather pattern:

The north polar jet stream is an air current several hundred kilometres wide, travelling eastwards around the hemisphere. It functions as a barrier, separating the cold, wet weather to the north from the warmer, drier weather to the south. Many of the variations in our weather are caused by great travelling meanders – or Rossby waves – in the jet stream.

Arctic heating,… both slows the Rossby waves and makes them steeper and wider. Instead of moving on rapidly, the weather gets stuck. Regions to the south of the stalled meander wait for weeks or months for rain; regions to the north (or underneath it) wait for weeks or months for a break from the rain. Instead of a benign succession of sunshine and showers, we get droughts or floods. During the winter a slow, steep meander can connect us directly to the polar weather, dragging severe ice and snow far to the south of its usual range. This mechanism goes a long way towards explaining the shift to sustained – and therefore extreme – weather patterns around the northern hemisphere.

And how are our governments and the businesses that drive them responding to this alarm bell?  They are treating the retreat of the ice as if it were the opening of a treasure trove, and rushing in after the quantities of fish and fossil fuels that now lie exposed for exploitation.  Their only concern seems to be how many fish they can catch before oil spills decimate the piscene population.  They seem heedless of, the possibility of waking the fire-breathing dragon who guards this hoard.

For not all the fossil fuels coming to the surface in the Arctic are under human control. as Albert Bates reports.   As the North Polar region of our planet warms and melts, enormous quantities of methane are starting to seep to the surface, and the amount of methane entering the atmosphere is, apparently, snowballing, so to speak.  A decade ago, the typical methane seep was perhaps a few meters across; now areas as big as a kilometer in diameter are commonplace, both on land and at sea.  The average methane level of the Arctic atmosphere is the highest it has been in 400,000 years.  Four hundred thousand years ago is about when humans first started making our own fires.  This is not exactly a digression–we may be about to ignite much, much bigger fires. Read the rest of this entry »

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ODDS AND ENDS AT THE END OF AN ODD WINTER

11 03 2012

I had intended to spend some time this month talking about the unreliability of touch-screen voting machines and other perils of the voting process, which seems like an especially relevant topic now that the Green Party has a ballot line in Tennessee, but the herb issue just would not shut up, and I don’t have time left in the radio show to give elections their proper due.  Anyway, I had finished reading a report on the poor dependability of the computerized, touch-screen voting machines our state depends on, when my friend Bernie Ellis sent me a link to his Martin Luther King Day speech on that subject, which he expanded  into the many nefarious methods that Republicans are using to cut down on the ability of people who are likely to vote for Democrats to register and vote at all.  Bernie lead me to a report from the NAACP on that subject which is pretty hot, but I haven’t finished reading it yet.  So next month, the plan is to integrate those, plus explain why the Greens should be concerned about the Repubs ripping off the Dems, if it really is just two competing crime families, as we so often say.  (Short answer:  an injury to one is an injury to all, and we’re all in this together.  If the Dems were siphoning off Republican votes, we’d raise hell, too, but given the abuser-enabler nature of the relationship between Repubs and Dems, that’s unlikely to happen outside of, maybe, Chicago.)  Anyway, that’s for next month–unless, of course, something more exciting and currently unexpected bumps it.  The future is wide open.  You just never know what will happen next.

Speaking of wide open, a big patch of the Arctic Ocean that usually freezes during the winter, and which, a decade or so ago, just stayed frozen–didn’t freeze this winter.  Evaporation from this patch of open water created never-before-seen weather patterns that pushed Siberian air masses, far more loaded with moisture than usual, down over Europe, resulting in one of the coldest, snowiest winters recorded there since the “Little Ice Age” that resulted when large parts of North and South America reforested themselves after the humans who had cleared them died from diseases transmitted by the earliest Europeans to make contact with the native people of this hemisphere.  That was then, but this is now.  In a wintertime echo of the torrential rains that have scoured Pakistan, Columbia, Thailand, parts of the U.S.,  and other locations too numerous to mention, a single storm in central Europe dumped six feet of snow on the ground in just four days.  One begins to get an understanding of what happens when the Earth enters a glacial age, even as the planet inexorably grows warmer.

Meanwhile, even though 2011-12 has been one of the mildest winters in U.S. history, climate denialism by those who are making money from the causes of climate change continues unabated. For just one example, Senator Jim Inhofe, who has long denounced global warming as a hoax, has received someplace between eight hundred thousand and 1.35 million dollars from oil, gas, and other energy industry companies.   Somehow, people continue to take him seriously, and the phrase “political prostitute” is not commonly associated with his name.

Numerous other “big lies” are being forced down the throat of the American public, which is more or less bound and gagged by the corporatocracy, but, due to the effect of the Stockholm Syndrome, enough people still love the rough treatment we are receiving to keep it coming.

There’s the big lie that the Keystone XL pipeline will provide lots of jobs and keep America afloat in gasoline, when the real reason Canada’s oil diggers/carbon releasers/environmental destroyers want to pipe their poison to Houston is so they can put in tankers and send it to the Chinese, who are rapidly approaching the point at which they will be able to outbid the U.S. for petroleum products–but hey, Bill McKibben is not lying when he says that Keystone XL would be “game over” for preventing catastrophic climate change.

There’s the big lie that fracking for natural gas is going to provide us with at least a century of low-carbon fuel.  Fracking for natural gas is looking more and more like a bubble that’s going to pop any year now.  There’s not nearly as much recoverable natural gas as initially promised, it does result in major carbon emissions, it permanently pollutes the water table often enough that it should be called into question, it turns the countryside into an industrial zone,  proven reserves are more like eleven years worth than a hundred, and, hey–what are we going to do when the gas runs out? President Obama proudly proclaiming that natural gas will provide “600,000 jobs” is a campaign lie, er, promise, and his support of fracking is as much a crime against humanity as his sabotage of the Copenhagen climate talks or targeted assassinations.  The truth is, fracking for natural gas is not a solution to our energy overdraw. Reducing our usage is the only possible path forward.

The truth is that reviving the U.S. auto industry was the moral equivalent of giving a junkie another fix.  The private automobile is, like everything else Obama has lent his charisma to, part of the problem and not part of the solution.  Detroit’s underused industrial capacity could have ben retooled to create mass transit and intercity rail service–but then again, automobile culture has decentralized America to the point where few people are actually in a position to make use of mass transit even if it existed, and the continuing economic collapse of our country means that fewer and fewer of us will have a reason, or the financial means, to travel across town, let alone across the country.

I don’t want to close this show on quite that sour note–so let me conclude with this:  we still have the option to get with our friends and neighbors and start building relationships that will enable us to share skills and resources as things spiral down into post-empire America.  It’s never too late for that.

music:  Eliza Gilkyson, “The Great Correction

down on the corner of ruin and grace
I’m growin weary of the human race
hold my lamp up in everyone’s face
lookin for an honest man
everyone tied to the turnin wheel
everyone hidin from the things they feel
well the truth’s so hard it just don’t seem real
the shadow across this land
people round here don’t know what it means
to suffer at the hands of our american dreams
they turn their backs on the grisly scenes
traced to the privileged sons
they got their god they got their guns
got their armies and the chosen ones
but we’ll all be burnin in the same big sun
when the great correction comes
down through the ages lovers of the mystery
been sayin people let your love light shine
poets and sages all throughout history
say the light burns brightest in the darkest times
it’s the bitter end we’ve come down to
the eye of the needle that we gotta get through
but the end could be the start of something new
when the great correction comes
down through the ages….
down to the wire runnin out of time
still got hope in this heart of mine
but the future waits on the horizon line
for our daughters and our sons
I don’t know where this train’s bound
whole lotta people tryin to turn it around
gonna shout til the walls come tumblin down
and the great correction comes
don’t let me down
when the great correction comes

–copyright eliza gilksyon





“TRANSITION NASHVILLE”–ORGANIZING FROM THE GROUND UP

11 12 2010

 

As Margaret Mead famously said,

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

The potluck didn’t happen due to the weather…a bit ironic to have a “transition” potluck cancelled because of extreme weather, eh?

This coming Monday, December 13, there will be a gathering of thoughtful, committed citizens, and you, dear reader, are invited.  The event will be a potluck dinner, so bring a dish or drink that is, or could be, grown or raised here in middle Tennessee.  Please note:  while I am a vegetarian, this is not necessarily a “vegetarian” event.  Cheese, eggs, turkey, beef, venison–if it’s your thing and it’s at least theoretically local, bring it.  Sorry, no pineapples, avocados, or tuna casseroles!  Catfish?  Of course!  Me, I’m bringing a bean dish.  I’ve seen truckloads of Tennessee-grown beans, and I ain’t just talking soy.

The dinner will take place from 6:30 pm until 9:00 pm at West Nashville United Methodist Church (4710 Charlotte Avenue), at the corner of 48th Avenue North and Charlotte Avenue.  Parking is across the street in front of Richland Library. Enter the Fellowship Hall next to McDonalds.  (McDonald’s! Oh, the irony!)

For more details, check out Transition Nashville’s meetup.com site, or the Cumberland-Green River Bioregional Council’s meetup.com site.

Nashville is a big city, and I think that ultimately it will take a great many neighborhood transition councils to really change the way we do things around here, but I’m not gonna hold my breath waiting for a mass movement.  I’m just gonna do my best to get something started, and trust that we will inspire people who are more talented at community organizing and politicking than I am–and, believe me, that’s not a high bar to set–to take this idea and run with it.

As far as I can tell, one of my gifts, such as it is, seems to be an ability to grasp and communicate the big picture–so what follows is the big picture, past and future, of the transition movement.  To the extent that I can translate that into specific examples, I’ll give you those as well.

It was twenty years ago today, you could say, that Tennessee’s two prize Alberts, Bates and Gore, first struck up the band on the subject of human-caused climate change and imminent resource depletion. Bates’ book, Climate in Crisis, published in 1990 with a forward by Gore, attracted notice mostly in the counterculture, although Gore did give a copy of it to every member of Congress.  (It would be interesting to know how many actually read it!)  Gore’s book, Earth in the Balance, which came out a couple of years later, became the first book by a US Senator since John Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage to make the New York York Times Bestseller list.

Unfortunately, Gore’s early effort, like his follow-up, An Inconvenient Truth, failed to inspire a working majority of either the politicians or the people of America to get up and dance to his tune. The reasons for that are legion, but the bottom line is this: due to our collective failure to sufficiently change our ways, we are beginning to feel the effects of climate change, not to mention resource depletion, AKA “Peak Oil,”and for the rest of our lives, we will have to deal with an increasingly erratic but overall warmer climate, while at the same time  the financial and material options available to us to cope with this change will  narrow and diminish. Climate scientists have published reams of statistics and “big picture” predictions. What I am going to explore here is what that may mean for our daily lives.

Let’s start in the garden. It’s a good place to start, because we’re probably all going to be spending a lot more time there in the future.  Our winters are overall going to be milder, but with the ice off the Arctic Ocean, there will be an increased possibility of heavy snow and extreme cold waves. At first glance, it may seem counterintuitive that a warmer Arctic will make our winters colder, but here’s the reason:  open water evaporates more readily than ice, and so, if the Arctic Ocean isn’t frozen, it will generate stronger storms that will push further south and east.  We’re seeing that now in the cold weather that is striking here, as well as northern Europe.  Last summer, we were all hot and dry.  Russia’s wheat crop burned in the fields, remember?  First time ever.

Here in Tennessee, we are on the boundary between the “polar continental” climate region, where weather is driven by  that Arctic pattern I was just talking about,  and the Gulf region, where the weather is sub-tropical, generated by evaporation from the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, Pacific,and the South Atlantic Oceans.  As the planet heats up, they, too, are evaporating more, and all the water that goes up, comes down, in the form of tropical storms and hurricanes. Being on this boundary makes our weather in Tennessee especially difficult to predict, according to a NOAA meteorologist I once met.

This much is for certain: we can expect our summers to be hotter, with more erratic rainfall, and our winters, too, will be milder, but with more erratic cold snaps, like the one we’re currently riding out.  Hotter summers may shut down some traditional summer garden crops like tomatoes and peppers, which won’t set fruit if it’s too hot. We may find ourselves planting these as spring and fall crops. More tropical species like okra, black eyed peas, and sweet potatoes should continue to thrive. Did you know that sweet potato leaves can be cooked and eaten?  Overall warmer winters will make it easier to keep cool weather crops like spinach, kale, collards, and the many delicious types of oriental greens through the winter, especially with the aid of simple cold frames and hoop houses.

Our fruit tree menu may have to change somewhat. We are already near the southern boundary for successful apple growing, but pears, especially the oriental types, should continue to do well in Tennessee. Peaches, which bloom early, are likely to be even more chancy as our later winter/early spring weather becomes more erratic. Late freezes could be a problem for all perennial fruit crops. On the plus side, rabbiteye blueberries, which are native to north Florida, should continue to thrive, and if winter temperatures start to consistently stay above the 10 degree Fahrenheit mark, we will be able to add local  figs, oriental persimmons, jujubes, and pomegranates to our diet.  Yum!

More erratic weather patterns will not just be a hardship for local gardeners, however. As we saw in Russia and Pakistan last summer, entire countries may see their agriculture burned out or washed away. Here in America, we have not yet begun to feel the strain of food shortage, but I think that home gardeners would be wise to expand their production from “just” vegetables to staple crops—lots of winter squash, white and sweet potatoes, beans, and even grains. Field corn is fairly easy to grow, harvest, and grind. Diversifying your gardening efforts is probably the best way to insure that, whatever the weather, your garden will provide you with something to eat.

OK, that’s kind of “the good news.”  Let’s factor in a couple of other likelihoods:  a much-diminished economy, and increasing scarcity of oil-related products, which includes everything from gasoline to electronic devices to plastics and pharmaceuticals.

Our economy in this country is largely funded by money we borrow from China and the oil Sheikdoms of the Middle East.  They loan us money so we can keep buying oil and manufactured goods from them, but they are growing increasingly uncomfortable with this arrangement, and we may wake up one morning to find they have decided to quit financing the American way of life and world domination.  As I commented last month, even mainstream, middle-of-the road politicians like our Governor, Phil Bredesen, recognize this, although Bredesen and his interviewer didn’t explore its full significance.  Here’s my short take on it:

It all revolves around one simple statistic. We Americans, about 5% of the world’s population, consume about 25% of the world’s resources. That’s five times our fair share, and we are buying it on credit.  When we can no longer get that credit, the result will be an “adjustment”–a more equitable distribution of resources.  To be blunt,we will probably be (barely!) able to afford only our 5% fair share of the world’s resources.That’s an 80% reduction in the average American standard of living. If those to whom we owe money push hard to collect on our debts to them and take possession of chunks of our infrastructure, real estate, and remaining resources in lieu of cash payment, we will have even less.  For the wealthy few, it will not be so onerous, but for most of us it will be pretty severe, albeit hard to imagine from this side of the “adjustment.”

“The American Way of Life” will be over.  It has been sacrosanct, declared non-negotiable by every President since Ronald Reagan booted Jimmy Carter out for the cardinal sin of proposing to negotiate it.  (“The moral equivalent of war,” as Mr. Carter said.)  Oops….We have all but lost the war to maintain American hegemony.  It’s too late for negotiation, and it turns out the only alternative is unconditional surrender.

“Welcome to the third world, America!”

Ah, hubris…..must be time for a music break.

music:  Steve Earle, “Ashes to Ashes”

Okay, enough with the current situation already.  Looking in my crystal ball, what kind of future do I see?

I see that we are going to have to learn to get along better with each other, because we are likely to be living in larger groups and tighter quarters.  With less income and higher costs to heat and light houses, people will increasingly move in with friends and family because their only other option is homelessness. As Robert Frost wrote,

Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.”

We will have to re-learn co-operation, and not just to grow our gardens and feed our faces.  We will need to co-operate to create or obtain the goods we need for our every-day lives, because we won’t be able to buy Chinese goods from big-box stores any more.  We will need to co-operate to educate our children and each other–because a whole lot of us are going to have to learn a broad spectrum of new/old skills, the house-holding and homesteading skills we lost when our cultural norm became going out and working for money and buying things instead of staying home and making do.  And we will need to co-operate to take care of the ill and elderly, because hospitals  and “assisted living,” along with most other medical care, will be out of reach of all but the very wealthy.

The good news is, more of us will be born at home, and more of us will die at home, and more of us will attain the maturity that comes from familiarity with birth and death.  The bad news is, more of us will die earlier, from conditions that, currently, are rarely fatal.

We’re not going to have–and indeed, are already in the process of losing–universal access to private cars and the fuel, whether gasoline or electricity, to run them.  Cities and states will increasingly lose the ability to maintain public transportation, highways, sewers, water and gas lines, and police forces.   Warm weather and drought may curtail power plant operations–both nuclear and conventional electric generating stations require plenty of cool water to operate, and if they can’t get it,  your electric stove, your air conditioner, your lights, and your computer will become increasingly unreliable. My lights, computer, and electric stove and water heater won’t work either.  This troubles my sleep.

As I write these words, our government is watering down the value of our currency.  They call it “quantitative easing.”  This is just one of the things that is alienating the countries we borrow money from. If the U.S.’s credit rating and currency value drop much further, other countries will be able to outbid us for oil.   If our economy loses access to the level of oil we are dependent on, America will come undone so fast it will take your breath away.   Walking and bicycling will be increasingly important modes of transportation, but, to paraphrase Gary Snyder,  the most appropriate thing for most of us will be staying home as much as possible, making do with what’s at hand and enjoying the company of our house-mates and neighbors.

Have some more blueberries!

Boy, that neighbor kid sure can play the guitar!  He’s right proud of that guitar of his–weeded the woodworker’s garden all summer to pay it off.

First step in staying warm next winter–sharpen up the ax and the crosscut saw.

I’m gonna take this bundle of rags to the paper maker.  Sure am glad we’ve got a neighborhood mule to tote ’em for us.

Internet? Telephones?  The U.S. mail?  I remember when we used to  have those!  Man, we was living high on the hog in those days!

A pound of sugar?  Wow, how’d you come up with that?

I hope I haven’t scared you half to death with this little rant, but it should be nothing new to my regular listeners and readers.  “Transition” people are, understandably, a bit skittish about disclosing what it is we are transitioning into.  It was Chellis Glendinning who wrote about needing a twelve-step program to break peoples’ addiction to consumer culture.  One of the basic maxims of the twelve-step approach is “one day at a time,” and in this essay I have perhaps violated that precept.

Some may question what this kind of “doomerism”  has to do with politics in general or the Green Party in specific.  Here’s my response:

The Republicans and Democrats are completely unwilling to face these issues.  Somebody’s got to point out that not just the Emperor, but the Empire, has no clothes, and that dirty but necessary job has fallen by default to the Green Party.  Although we are still pretty much locked out of national or even state politics, we are slowly increasing our influence at the local level, which is where a great deal of what actually needs to happen to facilitate transition gets decided.

But you don’t have to sign up for the Green Party to join the Transition movement, which, among other things, involves a transition out of politics as we have always known it–along with the rest of the familiar, if deeply alienated, reality that we have become, however comfortably or uncomfortably, accustomed to.

One day at a time.  Today, all you “thoughtful, committed citizens” who can make it are invited to a potluck dinner.  That potluck dinner is Monday, December 13, at West Nashville United Methodist Church (4710 Charlotte Avenue), at the corner of 48th Avenue North and Charlotte Avenue.  Parking is across the street in front of Richland Library. Enter the Fellowship Hall next to McDonalds.   (Mc Donald’s–remember them?  They used to be everywhere.)

For more details, check out Transition Nashville’s meetup.com site, or the Cumberland-Green River Bioregional Council’s meetup.com site.

If you can’t make our potluck, maybe you can get together with your friends and neighbors and start your own ball rolling.  That would be great.  It’s gonna take a lot of balls to pull off a smooth transition.  (Ladies, please don’t let my little joke put you off!)  There’s a lot of insight, skill, and vision in this city, and sharing them only increases their power.  It’s been twenty years since Al and Albert first raised a warning..  It’s time to let it grow.

music: The Beatles, “Sgt.Pepper>A Little Help From My Friends”





THE CHICKENS COME HOME TO ROOST

13 06 2010

The Gulf Coast oil blowout is a tragedy of epic proportions.  Greed, ignorance, and foolish pride all came together, mounted on the backs of BP executives, government officials, and all us just plain folks who are socked in to our various petroleum habits, and now the ugly reality of our oil addiction is smeared across the clean white beaches,fertile green marshes, and shining blue sea of our country’s southern coast, like AIDS-related boils on the face of a once-attractive junkie.  It’s sad.  It’s sickening.  It is a horribly cruel fate for billions of innocent birds, fish, mammals and plants.  “Tarred and feathered” has a whole new, even uglier, meaning.  It is a wretched legacy for future generations, trampling on the rights of the unborn of all species.

But it is also only fair, and about time we Americans had our noses rubbed in the kind of devastation we have long been willing to visit on other, mostly dark-skinned people so that we can keep mainlining our petroleum fix.  The chickens have come home to roost.

The native people of northern Canada, the Amazon, and Nigeria know exactly what I am talking about.  In all of these areas, the multinational oil companies have squatted on pristine land and taken a massive, oil-soaked dump, fouling ecosystems integral to the way of life of tribes who have been living in harmony with nature far longer than the brief trajectory of our petroleum-fired, so-called “civilization.”

In northern Canada, BP and many other oil companies are busily strip mining 54,000 square miles of “tar sand,” permanently polluting three or four gallons of water for every gallon of oil produced.  It will take decades or possibly centuries for the slow-growing sub-Arctic forest to re-establish itself on the old strip mine sites (if it does so at all), leaving gaping holes in one of the planet’s major carbon sinks at a time when we need to sequester all the carbon we can stash.  And speaking of carbon,  the process of destroying the forest,  then heating the oil sands to separate out the oil,  releases  massive amounts of carbon dioxide….well, gosh, if there’s global warming, those boreal forests will grow back faster, won’t they?

Yes, the future is a very serious concern for tar sand oil extraction.  The water that is used in the process, polluted with solvent  chemicals and heavy metals, becomes toxic waste and is then “stored” in “settling ponds“–where it takes centuries to settle.  Even now, with all our technical capabilities, seepage from these ponds is fouling the Athabaska River, the region’s main source of water.   So far, the area directly polluted by this oil extraction effort is somewhat smaller than the Gulf blowout, which has closed 64,000 square miles of the Gulf to fishing due to likely contamination.    But we have no assurance that our technical civilization will maintain itself long enough to guard these poisonous ponds, which are highly attractive to migrating birds,  until they are thoroughly neutralized. Toxins like mercury and benzene are already seeping into the water table and spreading down the Athabaska and will in the long run poison vast tracts of the Canadian Arctic as they work their way into the MacKenzie River and, ultimately, the Arctic Ocean.  Since the ponds are not actually in the ground but above ground, surrounded by man-made dikes, a breach is almost inevitable.  That’s one hundred and eighty-seven billion gallons of toxic sludge hanging over our heads, four thousand seven hundred times more poisonous goo than has vomited out of the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico so far.

Sure, polluted water is not as horrific a problem as raw crude oil or nuclear waste, but we are still placing a poisonous burden on generations yet unborn so we can live in comfort and have amenities that will be unavailable to them, because we snorted up all the resources and left them a mess that they will likely lack the technology to clean up.

OK, let’s leave the deadly ponds of northern Alberta and travel to a warmer clime–the western Amazon basin, “the lungs of the planet,” one of the last places on earth where the ecosystem has not been completely perverted by our extractive civilization.

Hey, we’re working on it.  Everybody knows about the speed with which Brazilians are raping the eastern, northern, and central Amazon, but less attention has been paid to the far western end, which was long protected by the steep slopes and inhospitable climate of the Andes Mountains.  But there’s oil there, so the junkies are after it.

Peru’s government initially offered 70% of its Amazon territory to oil and gas companies, without consulting the people who live there.  This provoked a massive protest, and Peru’s Congress repealed many of President Alan Garcia’s expropriations, which included areas already promised as wildlife and tribal reserves, but the pressure continues.  Like junkies, like zombies intent on eating the living, oil addicts are nothing but an appetite on legs, with a brain dedicated to finding ways to satisfy that appetite–which, in a cruel but righteous cosmic joke, can never be satisfied.

Something similar happened in Ecuador, where Chevron struck a deal with the country’s neo-liberal government back in the 90’s and then took advantage of lax regulation and oversight to make a total mess.  Many rivers, water tables, and vast tracts of land were polluted by oil spills, drilling pollution, and a demand for “civilized amenities” such as alcohol, cocaine, prostitutes, and consumer goods.  This and other transgressions sparked enough outrage that the Ecuadorians voted out the plutocrats  who had been running the country for their personal benefit and installed Rafael Correa, a small-s socialist in the Hugo Chavez mode, who has thrown out Chevron, nationalized the oil infrastructure they left behind, and is working to guard the environment and make sure that whatever wealth the country has is much more equitably distributed than it traditionally has been.  Unfortunately, this does nothing to pull the fangs of the oil demon out of the Amazon, and the pollution continues.  Like, eighteen billion gallons of toxic waste loose in “the lungs of the planet,” compared to a mere thirty-eight million gallons of oil (so far) leaked into the gulf of Mexico.  Hey, some junkies sell their blood for a fix.  We’re selling our lungs.

These struggles barely penetrate America’s consciousness.  We hear of actress Q’orianka Kilcher’s arrest at the White House, protesting while Barak Obama hails Alan Garcia’s program of exploitation, red-baiting, and racism in Peru  as “an extraordinary economic success story.”  (That says more about Obama than most people want to hear.)  When activists who own stock in Chevron (so they can have access to stockholders’ meetings to protest Chevron’s policies) are denied access to the stockholders’ meeting and arrested, it briefly makes the news. Mostly, though, we Americans keep nodding on, zoned out on our petroleum buzz.  Out of sight, out of mind, y’know?

This brings us to Nigeria, which provides the US with 40% of our crude oil.  A study group that included a number of fairly conservative members–from the World Wildlife Federation to the Nigerian government–concluded that at least forty-six million gallons of oil, far more than what the Gulf blowout has leaked so far, have been spilled in the Niger delta in the last fifty years, not out at sea, but in and around villages and landscape where people are trying to live by fishing, farming, and hunting.  Imagine our deep water blowout occurring onshore.  Wouldn’t that raise an even worse fuss than what we’ve seen already?

But Nigerians are poor, dark-skinned people far away.  It is easy to ignore their complaints about Chevron’s lax environmental standards; anyway,  Chevron for its part claims that much of the leakage in Nigeria comes from sabotage and people tapping into the oil pipelines to steal oil.  I have two thoughts about that.  The first is that if the wealth generated from Nigeria’s oil were being shared more equitably, there would be a lot less robbery and resentment.  The other thought is that, just as nobody cared what the Palestinians thought about pushing them aside and relocating many of the world’s Jews to Palestine, nobody asked the Niger delta natives if they wanted to have their way of life totally disrupted by big oil, and that, in both cases, resentment is a completely understandable reaction to our high-handed treatment of indigenous people–in Palestine, Nigeria, or, gosh, the good ol’ USA.  We have oppressed and impoverished all of these people in pretty much the same way, but who cares if they live in misery, as long as we get our fix?

These examples are just the “big three” of oil-related nastiness.  I haven’t mentioned how Chevron props up the autocratic regime in Burma and looks the other way while native people are not only dispossessed to make room for oil and other infrastructure projects but enslaved to build those projects.  Chevron piously claims it “….continues to support the calls for a peaceful resolution to the issues facing Myanmar in a manner that respects human rights,” but reports from inside the country tell a different story.

Closer to home, but still far away and affecting mostly dark-skinned people and dumb animals, we have oil exploitation in Alaska, where broken pipelines have contaminated the tundra, while plans to begin deep water drilling in the Arctic Ocean are still  proceeding.  Wouldn’t an Arctic Ocean oil blowout in midwinter be fun to contain?

Meth labs are notorious for producing toxic waste, but all the meth labs in the world put together would not pollute the area we have fouled in the course of cooking up our oil fix.  It’s not a mess somewhere else any more, it’s a mess on our south coast, polluting American waters and shores and destroying American livelihoods.  Our oil-soaked chickens have come home to roost.

The meaning of this would be obvious if we were not so oil-addled.  This does not mean that we need to make sure we are using clean needles–excuse me, that we need better safety standards and more reliable technology to get the oil we think we need.  This means that we need to kick our habit before it kills us, and admit that it was never OK for those dark-skinned people over the horizon to die for our sins.  Now the Gulf of Mexico is dying for our sins, and we had better wake up from our nod and repent–not before it’s too late, because it is already too late. The age of oil is over.

music:  Eliza Gilkyson, “The Party’s Over





UH-OH…

9 10 2008

There was a a big flurry of polar exploration this summer, because for the first time in a hundred and twenty-five thousand years, it was possible to sail all the way around the Arctic Ocean.  Shipping companies loved it, but the scientific community said it indicates that our planet’s Arctic ice cap is “entering a death spiral,” as the darker seas absorb more heat and the ice melts even faster.

This is not just bad news for polar bears and Inuit.  The warming ocean has triggered methane releases from the ocean floor.  Ships sailing north of Siberia reported methane levels one hundred times normal background, with methane bubbling up over tens of thousands of square kilometers.

What we  don’t know is whether the current methane leakage is going to remain constant or whether it’s the trickle before the dam breaks.  The methane on the ocean floor is held in place by a layer of permafrost, and scientists think the methane is currently bubbling to the surface through “small holes.”  The coming winter may refreeze the ocean floor permafrost, but even if it does, the ice in this summer’s holes will be weaker ice, just as much of the ice that reformed on the Arctic Ocean last winter after 2007’s record meltoff is weaker than the cover that it replaced, which in many cases was thousands of years old.

If the “dam breaks” we will have a massive release of methane, which is likely to raise the planet’s average temperature by ten degrees or more, well past the point where much of it will be habitable by humans or anything else too big to stay under a rock during the day.  You think the current drought and heat wave in the Sahara-Sahel-Darfur-Somalia area is bad?  You think there’s refugees and fallout and blowback?  Wait till the Himalayas melt off and Asia goes dry! You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

Meanwhile, Al Gore has called for civil disobedience to prevent new coal plants from being built, and Greenpeace protestors in England have been acquitted of all charges in closing down a coal plant in England on the grounds that

they were acting to safeguard property elsewhere around the world “in immediate need of protection” from the impacts of climate change driven in part by emissions from coal burning. (New York Times)

Meanwhile, both Obama and McCain continue to endorse the chimera called “clean coal,” conveniently ignoring a number of inconvenient truths:  number one, that there is no functional technology for purifying or sequestering coal emissions; number two, that much coal is mined by an extremely destructive process called mountaintop removal, aka strip mining, number three, that China is now importing coal from the US, and, due to our bad balance of payments and how much we owe the Chinese, we are not in a good position to say “no” to them; and, finally, that the Chinese are building coal plants at a tremendous clip, one that could offset every conservation move made in the West.

In short, it’s looking more and more like mankind is hitting an evolutionary dead end:  we are clever enough to screw things up really badly, but not wise enough to change our destructive behavior.  It may be time to find or dig a nice, deep cave and figure out how to build one of those stillsuits they had in Dune.  Spice, anyone?

music:  Eliza Gilkyson, “Unsustainable





ARCTIC ICE THINNER THAN EVER

23 03 2008

Climate change skeptics have made a lot of noise about how cold this winter was and how the Arctic Ocean is once again frozen over.  But January’s snows were followed by February thaws, and satellite data reveals how thin the Arctic icecap has become….what’s the Bush junta doing about this?  Probably cutting funds for the satellites….

A cool Arctic winter has brought sea ice back to broad expanses that melted clear during last summer’s unusual warmth. However, the amount of thick “perennial ice” has declined sharply across the Arctic, and climate experts say that global warming is the cause.





DEPT. OF UNANTICIPATED RESULTS

10 02 2008

 This links to a jaw-dropping map of current world snow cover:

Jan08 Northern Hemisphere snow cover: largest anomaly since 1966

9 02 2008 There have been a number of indications that January 2008 has been an exceptional month for winter weather in not only North America, but the entire Northern Hemisphere.

We’ve had anecdotal evidence of odd weather in the form of wire reports from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and China where record setting cold and snow has been felt with intensity not seen for 30-100 years, depending on the region.

So much for  global warming, huh?  No, not at all.  It’s hard to be sure of causes in the realm of weather, but it sure looks to me like all this precipitation is a result of so much of the Arctic Ocean having thawed over last summer.  And sure, it’s frozen back for now,but what will happen next summer?  We don’t know.  We just don’t know.  But we’re sure as hell going to find out.








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