10 03 2013

A guest post by Derrick Jensen

Published in the March/April 2013 issue of Orion magazine

OCTOBER 2012 was the 323rd consecutive month for which the global temperature was above average. The odds of this happening randomly are literally astronomical: one in ten to the hundredth power. For comparison, there are ten to the eightieth power atoms in the known universe. So if all the atoms in the universe were white, except one was green, your odds of reaching blindly into a bag of all the atoms in the universe and picking out the green one would be greater than that of having 323 consecutive months of above-average temperatures were global warming not happening.

A sane person might think that in the face of this, and with life on earth at stake, the debate over whether global warming is happening would have ended. A sane person might think that in the face of melting glaciers and melting ice caps, we would be desperately discussing how to stop it. A sane person might think that after Hurricane Sandy ripped into New York City (the center of the universe, according to some), the denial would be over.

But this sane person would be wrong. In December of 2012, former head of the EPA and White House “Climate Czar” Carol Browner said, “A majority in our House of Representatives appears to not even think the problem is real. It’s sort of stunning to me because I’ve never seen the breadth of scientific consensus on an environmental issue like there is on this.” The next speaker at the event, a conference about the Clean Air Act, was Joe Barton, chairman emeritus of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce who currently sits on the Environment and the Economy subcommittee. As if to prove her point, he stated that atmospheric carbon can’t be dangerous because it’s “a necessity of life.” In fact, he noted, he was exhaling carbon as he spoke! Q.E.D. Besides, he said, greenhouses are good things: “There’s a reason that you build things called greenhouses, and that’s to help things grow.”

It would be easy enough to laugh at his stupidity if he weren’t in a position of power and using that position to help kill what remains of the planet. It would be easy enough to just label his denial “stunning” and move on. But his denial is part of a larger pattern, and articulating patterns is the first step toward changing them….

Reprinted with permission.  You can read the rest of this article here.

music:  Jennifer Berezan, “The Whole World Is Burning

Eliza Gilkyson w/John Doe, “Chimes of Freedom


12 05 2012

It’s a last minute invitation, but, if you haven’t heard already, Transition Nashville will be gathering tomorrow night at 6PM at the Friends’ Meeting House, 530 26th Avenue North, here in Nashville, for a vision quest.  No, that doesn’t mean we’re going to be heading up into the wilds of Beaman Park and fasting for three days.  Far from it–we’re going to start with a local food-themed potluck dinner, and then spend an hour or so discussing “what will Nashville be like in 10-15 years?”  Project organizer Susan Shann writes

Related questions might be: How have we made our city (and ourselves) more resilient, better prepared to deal with big changes and challenges, more connected socially, more sustainable? How have our lives changed? What systems (food, energy, commerce, transportation, waste and recycling, medical, goods and services, training and education, emergency response, etc.) are in place that weren’t there before, or are somehow altered and improved? What systems are gone? How do we interact with and support our neighbors? What are we doing as individuals and families, and what is our role within the community? What needed skills have we acquired? And so on…

When I first heard of this gathering, my thoughts actually went to the “bigger picture”–what might happen in the world around Nashville that could change our circumstances?  Climate change is progressing at an increasing rate, and it is only a matter of time until the world as we have always known it changes in ways that affect our lives.

Suppose, over the course of the next ten or fifteen years, a few category 5 hurricanes go ashore in the Gulf of Mexico.  Suppose this results in Houston,  New Orleans and Mobile being largely flattened and submerged.  Suppose these hurricanes take out the few bridges that carry road and rail traffic across the Mississippi in the southern U.S.  The storms have also torn up several offshore oil rigs, spilling even more oil into the Gulf, and onto its shores, than the Deepwater Horizon accident.  With all the Gulf’s major ports incapacitated, the logistics of capping these oil spills becomes infinitely more difficult. The only good news?  No “Corexit.”

Meanwhile, another big hurricane or two has gone up the Atlantic Coast.  Miami has suffered severe flooding, and its water table has been invaded by salt water.  An exodus from south Florida is under way.   The Carolina barrier islands have been swept away, so the ocean is eating into low-lying eastern North Carolina, and Norfolk, Virginia, is in the same soggy state as New Orleans.  Further north, high tide and high waves have overcome New York City’s defences and inundated many of its subway and highway tunnels, crippling the city.  Both its major airports are at waterside and near what had been sea level, but the force of the ocean has chewed at both of them and they are largely unusable.

Meanwhile, on the West Coast, a couple of big earthquakes have disabled the ports of Long Beach and Oakland, and sent Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant spiraling out of control, polluting the Central Valley of California, which has been the country’s fruit and vegetable garden for decade–but the switch from snow to rain on the Sierras has already cut deeply into agricultural water supplies, and nuclear pollution is merely the final straw.

The drought in the Southwestern US has continued and intensified, to the point that Phoenix, Tucson, and Las Vegas have nearly run out of water, prompting a wave of emigration.  In the central part of the country, the drought belt that stretches from Texas north into the Dakotas has dried them up still further, and with it our country’s ability to produce enough grain to export or even maintain our heavily meat-based diet.

We could allow for the possibility that the New Madrid Fault will give another big heave, nearly levelling Memphis and St. Louis, rupturing pipelines and bringing down all the Mississippi bridges in the midpart of the river’s course, thus effectively cutting the country nearly in half.   Here in Nashville, the damage was relatively minor–but it did include collapse of several major highway overpasses in various parts of town, making those roads fairly useless.  It took state and local government quite a while to clear away the rubble, and, so far, money to rebuild the roads, despite promises, does not seem to be on its way.

The net result of so many port closures has been that the stream of imported oil into the US has nearly dried up.  This complicates both the recovery effort and all attempts at business as usual.  The Federal government still makes noise, but it took a long time to clear those rubble piles.  It doesn’t matter, in a way, except for the inconvenient dry moat that used to be I-440– because most of us aren’t driving much, and the intercity truck transport that has been the lifeblood of our consumer economy no longer has goods to haul or fuel to burn.  This will still be the case even if New Madrid stays quiet.

I’m running out of time, and will have to only mention that China is drying out, crippling its industry and agriculture, as well as American consumer society, and in the Arctic, mass quantities of methane are bubbling out of the tundra and the Arctic Ocean.  Summers are hot, the air conditioning mostly doesn’t work ’cause the electricity is mostly off, and siestas are back in style. That’s what I see happening in ten or fifteen years.   Are we ready yet?

So, come hook up with Transition Nashville tomorrow night, or the Green Party of Tennessee next Saturday–together, we can make–and carry out– a plan.

Music:  Jane Siberry, “Grace


6 01 2006

As I said, scientists studying the glaciation of the Himalayan Mountain chain think it quite possible that permanent snow cover on the Himalayas will be a thing of the past in just another thirty years, if things continue at their current rate—and the thing about climate change seems to be that it is not continuing at its current rate, it’s speeding up. Studies of air bubbles trapped in 650,000 year old Antarctic ice reveal that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now is higher than it’s been in that entire timespan, and scientists think that the only reason temperatures aren’t already higher than they’ve been in 650,000 years is because this rise has happened so fast that the climate hasn’t had time to catch up yet. “Climate and carbon dioxide are like two people who are handcuffed together,” one scientist explained. “Where one goes, the other has to follow.”

This is not good news for the billions of Indians, Chinese, and other southeast Asians who depend on the glacier-fed rivers of southeast Asia for water. Many of these people live near the ocean, and it will be even worse for them, because the Himalayan glacial complex is the third largest ice mass on the planet (behind Greenland and Antarctica) and when it melts the oceans will rise a foot and a half or so, making life more difficult for shore-dwellers from Bangladesh to New Jersey. You don’t often think of it, but the topography and population distribution in New Jersey make it almost as vulnerable a storm target as New Orleans.

And the storms are cranking up. We have just had tropical storm Zeta, which churned up the eastern Atlantic ocean over New Year’s and tied the record for the latest tropical storm on record, while back in October Hurricane Vince became the first hurricane to make landfall in Spain, and in December we had Hurricane Epsilon, only the fifth hurricane ever reported that late in the season. Zeta was the 27th named storm this year, beating out the old record by 4 storms, and Epsilon was the fourteenth hurricane, beating out the old record by two. Oh, I forgot to mention the good news from the Himalayan study—it looks like maybe fluctuations in the Gulf Stream don’t have as much of an effect on climate as was previously thought. But there’s lots of other factors hard at work to change the climate.

The Bush administration is dragging its heels on admitting there is a problem here not, I believe, because they don’t think there’s a problem, but because if they admit there’s a problem, then they’ll have to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. As long as they don’t admit there’s a problem, they can quietly protect themselves from impending calamity, but they are under no obligation to do anything to help out the rest of us, which after all would divert resources away from protecting their own precious asses. So that’s why the emperor is wearing a beautiful suit of clothes, and the sky is not falling.

music: Mike Scott and the Waterboys, “Dumbing Down the World”


8 12 2005

More disquieting news on the global warming story came from Greenland this month, as a study revealed that the subcontinent’s glaciers are thinning and melting into the sea at an increasing rate. This is desalinizing the Arctic Ocean, and has had the net result of slowing the Gulf Stream down significantly. The Gulf Stream’s flow brings warmer water and warmer temperatures to northern Europe, but its flow has decreased by almost a third in the last twelve years, which has cooled northern Europe by about one degree centigrade. While this has slowed down the warming of northern Europe (which is still losing its glaciers at an alarming rate), the effect of being a cool spot on a warming globe will merely set up the likelihood of more unstable weather.

For example, a late November blizzard came on so suddenly in southern England that thousands of people were stranded on roads, in schools, and just wherever they happened to be when the storm hit. Kinda like the movie, “The Day After Tomorrow.”

As the Gulf Stream sucks less heat out of the tropics, more heat builds up in the southern oceans, helping fuel larger hurricanes. When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, I said, “watch out—category six storms are gonna be happening.” Lo and behold, not long after Katrina came Wilma, whose winds topped out at 175 miles an hour—just one mile per hour short of what would be a category six storm, extrapolating out from the Saffir-Simpson scale, in which hurricane categories change with about every twenty miles an hour of increase in wind speed.

Oh, there’s some good news in the Greenland story. The average temperature there is up by 5 degrees C, and for the first time since the Vikings originally colonized it a thousand years ago (during a natural global warming spell) it’s warm enough to grow potatoes in Greenland.

Meanwhile, in Asia, the glaciers that feed all that continent’s major river systems—the Indus, the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, the Irriwaddy, the Yangtze, and the Yellow River—are in retreat, cutting the flow of water into those rivers and threatening to dry out some of the most densely populated places on earth.

We in the Green movement have been sounding an alarm about the course of civilization for over thirty years now, and have always been brushed off with catch phrases like uneconomical, impractical, anti-progress, anti-technology, unAmerican, and the like. It is becoming increasingly obvious where the road we have taken instead is leading us—it’s a hot place, a dry place, and there ain’t much mercy there. How ’bout it, Christians, does it sound familiar?


12 09 2005

No sooner had John Bolton, acting on behalf of the Bush Junta, demanded that the United Nations delete the phrase, “respect for nature,” from the core values section of a major reform document the U.N. is drafting, than Nature responded by whupping the United States upside the head bigtime, bigtime, bigtime.

You know what I’m talking about. Hurricane Katrina. The biggest hurricane ever to come ashore—ever?–well, OK—the biggest in recorded history, the most lethal of the four category five hurricanes on record. Katrina let the United States know, in no uncertain terms, that this country is vulnerable—woundable—in ways that military preparedness and heightened security measures cannot prevent.

Certainly, there are plenty of things that could have been done to ameliorate the situation. There were plenty of railroad cars and busses available to evacuate those without their own transportation (and ironically, New Orleans’ excellent public transportation system has made it easier for people to live there and not own an automobile). Ways could have been found to assure these people that their homes and belongings would be safe from looting in their absence. And surely we have all heard by now about how the Bush Junta severely cut funding for maintaining New Orleans’ levee system (which was not even built to withstand a category 5 storm to begin with), and what in the world are the Louisiana National Guard’s HIGH WATER vehicles doing in Iraq?

You know, though, that even if everything had been done right, Katrina wasn’t the whole show, she was just an opening number. It’s still only the middle of this hurricane season, and we’ve had thirteen named storms so far—the overall average is four or five. Katrina didn’t go right over the top of New Orleans, but the next storm might—or it might hit Houston, or Mobile, or Tampa—or Miami, Norfolk, WASHINGTON, Philadelphia or New York. Not only the frequency but the intensity of hurricanes is increasing—how long will it be until we have to create a “category six” and then maybe a “category seven”? And not only is the ocean getting warmer, it’s rising….

Dennis Hastert is not my kinda guy, but I think he was right to question the wisdom of rebuilding New Orleans. The city is below sea level, below the level of the Mississippi, it’s now a toxic waste cleanup site, and the river has been trying to take the Achafalaya bypass for a hundred years already. Channelization of the river for human/economic purposes has destroyed much of the network of barrier islands and marshland that used to buffer the city from storms. Maybe it’s time to let the river move, relocate New Orleans upriver to Baton Rouge, and start all over again. Maybe we can do it right this time, though I’m sure it will be done wrong if Messers. Hastert and Bush are in charge. Unfortunately they are in charge, and it looks like we may be getting a Halliburton-dominated, sanitized simulacrum of New Orleans in place of the real thing. Look for lots of eminent domain to be exercised and thousands of poor people to lose everything they had, most especially their communities.

Meanwhile, offers of aid are pouring in from around the world. We’re taking up Germany and France on their offers of fuel, but ignoring Venezuela’s offer of fuel and medical help, and of course ignoring Cuba’s offer of medical help. In case you didn’t know, Cuba has made medical aid one of its chief exports. Cuban medical personnel provide primary health care in Venezuela in exchange for petroleum for Cuba, and whenever there is a disaster in the world, Cuban doctors and nurses are there to help out.

And, by the way, Ivan, a category 5 hurricane, went over Cuba last year, bringing 160 mile-an-hour winds and a 20-foot storm surge, slightly stronger than Katrina. The Cubans evacuated a million and a half people—in a country where private cars are the exception, not the rule—and nobody died. People were allowed to take pets and prize possessions with them, and there was no looting. Ah, these backwards, third-world, communist countries. They’ve got a thing or two to learn from us, don’t they?

So now the spinning and the finger-pointing have begun, along with aid to the victims of this human-assisted natural disaster. There have been demands that various federal officials be fired for malfeasance and incompetence, but we have a government that really appreciates malfeasance and incompetence, so don’t expect any action there—and even if they did get rid of someone, maybe for not being venal enough, the Bush Junta would find an even more obnoxious replacement for them—look at trading Ashcroft for Gonzalez, look at the Supreme Court—Bush nominates good Nazi John Roberts as an associate justice, ignites a storm of well-justified criticism, and responds by—nominating Roberts for CHIEF justice. THAT’S justice? Since when do criminals get to select their judges? What really makes me gag is that a lot of Democrats seem to be willing to go along with giving us a Supreme Court that’s way out in right field.

The Bush junta is probably feeling a bit relieved by the news shift blown in by Hurricane Katrina. Iraq is out of the headlines, Cindy Sheehan is out of the headlines, and the Justice Department’s decision not to challenge Georgia’s new voter registration rules, which some are calling the reintroduction of Jim Crow, didn’t even make it into the headlines. The Republifascists get to try and look like good guys, if they can keep George from sticking his foot in his mouth babbling about rebuilding Trent Lott’s house, and if the skinny on the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Kafkaesque rules doesn’t get out too far—they will only mail you the forms you need to your home address, but what if you’ve been evacuated due to a—duh, emergency, and can’t go home because the government won’t let you?

And of course all these wonderful billions of dollars they’re so magnanamously voting to spend are going to be borrowed from the Chinese. At least the Junta had the sense not to try and repeal the estate tax at the same time. Maybe the estate tax repeal is now off the table for good. Maybe. Just maybe. And maybe this whomp upside America’s head will keep the government too occupied to jump off on Iran like they were working up to. Maybe. Just maybe. Stay tuned.

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