Tag Archives: Climate Change

IPCC Climate Change Report

Sunset for Civilization

Sunset for Civilization

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has put out a monumental report. Ninety-one authors from 40 countries, plus 133 contributing authors, cited over 6,000 references, creating the Special Report on Global Warming of more than 700 pages in length. The results predict sunset for our civilization.

We have a decade or so to work on changing our anti-environment ways. But maybe we have no time left to gradually change. We must do so immediately in order to reach “net-zero” human-caused carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. Opposing this view, the British scientist Mayer Hill, among others, believe that achieving net-zero by mid-century will come much too late.

Whatever the timeline, every day during which CO2 does not diminish makes achieving net-zero more difficult to achieve. Making this worse is the increasing methane leakage from Artic permafrost, which will almost certainly require us to reach net-zero before 2050. (I experienced alarmingly hot Arctic conditions on my two trips to the far north.)

The IPCC report received scant attention from the major television news networks. The same networks refuse to acknowledge climate change in their hurricane news coverage. One could argue that the impending end of civilization deserved a bit more. But try convincing their commercial sponsors of that. (Parts of the print media have given better coverage to the issue.)

Would it be possible to mobilize against big-Carbon (or if you prefer, mobilize for net-zero) in the way we did for World War II? Back then, our way of life was at stake. Now, it is our lives that are on the line. And if so, who might lead us to net-zero?

The prevailing political conservatism is hostile to anything that might be anti-capitalism and even more so when internationalism is involved. If you believe with President Reagan that government is the problem or with President Trump that globalism is the problem, then pro-environment mobilization by all the world’s governments becomes an impossibility. IPCC is for them just another example of a world government agency run amok.

This is not trivial: the very psychological identity of the conservative is at risk. You can’t admit the existence of global climate change when your entire being is based on an ideology of anti-domestic big government and opposition to international bodies infringing upon national sovereignty.

American liberalism, in its current pro-Corporate incarnation (President Clinton’s contribution), is no less destructive to the environment. Liberal flirtation with identity politics doesn’t help, because “Nature,” as an identity in and off itself does not find a home in that worldview.

Free market capitalism (North America, Western Europe, etc.) and state sponsored capitalism (China, etc.) believe only in resource extraction for economic growth, in contradiction to the laws of biology. Our prosperity comes at the expense of all the other life forms on the planet.

Theological concerns largely center on human-to-God issues without recognizing Nature as a part of the mix.

We all have our political, religious, national, ethnic, gender identities. Have many of us identify first of all with nature itself? Narcissism is triumphant: we won’t/can’t give up our identities even if it kills us.

Modern civilization’s great political philosophers such as John Locke, Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and John Stuart Mill did not prepare us for a challenge of this magnitude. Our great naturalist philosophers including Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, and Ernest Thompson Seton demonstrated insight into our relationship with nature, but neither did they prepare us for what to do next in our current situation.

The IPCC report on climate disruption is just the most recent; similar ones show up every few months only to be subsumed into the larger news flow of political scandals, natural disasters, celebrity shenanigans, etc. For their part, IPCC and other scientists suggest technical solutions, but the mindset needed to move us toward a net-zero ideology won’t come from them either.

We are awaiting neither left-wing nor right-wing leaders, not technical or social engineers, but instead, the rise of consciousness-raising moralists. Maybe a Gandhi or King or Mandela for Nature will show up. We need them soon.

This is non-gradual diminishment.

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Generally True Patterns #2

 

Alp Lily, Mt. Wheeler, New Mexico

Alp Lily, Mt. Wheeler, New Mexico

Generally True Patterns: A New Natural History of Recognizing Ourselves as a Part of Nature

Part 2 of 22

 

 

Chapter 1 Patterns Part I: Above All Else, Nature Is Characterized by Movement

East of where Santa Monica Boulevard ascends a steep hill carrying its traffic congestion away from the ocean, but before Venice, is (or was) a quieter stretch of beachfront accessible off a little used street ending in a parking lot. A green-lawn hill slopes down from the road to the lot with its five double rows of yellow-lined slots, enough space for 250 vehicles with wide driving lanes. On the other side, a generous space borders the lot for bicyclists and rollerbladers. Beyond this hard ribbon is first cement, then wood-picket fences at the farthest landward encroachment of beach sand. At night this asphalt and sand California neighborhood is deserted.

One night I was struck by an image of movement. A single figure filled the empty parking lot with her presence. The cold, clear air of mid-winter blew the sound of crashing waves inland. A rollerblade dancer ranged over the black pavement of her personal arena, cutting through the dusk, dressed all in black except for lighter boots of indistinguishable color. She made an ice-skater’s moves, rolling backwards, then changing directions rapidly or turning in slow twirls. I followed her movement through space and time and a chiaroscuro of shadow and spotlights of orange mercury vapor lights. She was a lean, lithe athlete wearing protective kneepads for which, in her perfection of movement, she had no need.

She experienced a moment of self-consciousness as I passed by, like a wild creature slowing to watchful hesitation at the approach of something novel or dangerous. I disappeared from her sight beneath the cover of trees that pressed in on either side of a steep stair where I was too captivated by her to continue on my way. She resumed her entrancing motion, dancing unhurried, graceful, as if in time to the rhythm of waves as darkness gradually overtook the scene. Finally she made use of only a small area, circling arms swinging out, one with the ongoing rush of water. She was alone, but was not a lonely figure; she seemed the epitome of uninhibited freedom, experiencing it like a meditation. I felt the need to write down every nuance of this choreography, scribbling notes that added up to no more than event description. She filled that parking lot with her moving presence; later, illuminated by a full moon, but without her, the place seemed unbearably bleak.

I have been a frequent and conscious observer of motion.

One late winter night, driving southward through Colorado toward the New Mexico state line, I watched the moon, two days past full, over the shoulder of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range looming to the east. The moon’s rising, from my perspective, left it riding on a long ridge that rose gradually to the south, matching and holding the moon rise to a steady grazing of the ridge top so that a constant march of saw tooth forms ran across the moon seemingly going north as I headed south. Because of the winter angle of moon to earth, my driving schedule coordinated accidentally with the changing relation between the increasing height of mountain summits and the rise and fall of the highway. I saw the moon rise and set dozens of times.

A narrow ridgeline divides north from south at 12,000’ (3660m) above Williams Lake near Taos, New Mexico. One summer’s day, although windless to the north, gale force winds assailed the south slope with an eye of tension maybe two paces across separating calm from storm. I lay down on the rocky surface, the cusp of the wind and no-wind worlds, a narrow summit between precipitous cliffs on either side. I closed my eyes for a time, and then looked straight up. Just above, little more than arm’s reach above me, a peregrine falcon rode the backward crested curl of wind wave, which, striking the south-facing slope, fell back on itself rather than crossing the ridge. The falcon achieved perfect harmony, motionless but for wind-ruffled outstretched wing and tail tips. Then it plummeted downward blindingly fast before disappearing. A poetic naturalist observing this event might have spoken of it as a demonstration of flow. A physicist could have remarked on the non-linear mathematics of air turbulence. A biologist would have had the opportunity to identify the ventral field marks on a diurnal raptor. Each might have explained their view to the other two, but not necessarily in a manner of mutual intelligibility.

On central Baffin Island in the Canadian territory of Nunavut, Canada’s northeastern Arctic, the Triangle Glacier points out northward, an appendage of the vast Barnes Ice Cap. Somewhere over a hundred years ago (or perhaps a little more) its ice streamed down a couple of hundred meters of hillside so steep that in places it seems more like a cliff. At the bottom, it joined the flow of the larger Lewis Glacier, and together, both edged forward to drop into the mighty Isortoq River, one of the largest on the island. Over decades, the glaciers retreated and separated as each moved back up its separate watershed. A half century ago, the Triangle still formed a giant wedge emerging from the ice cap, emitting two small melt streams so small that either could be stepped across. In 2009, in its remaining but diminishing lower reaches, I saw that the Triangle had taken a string bean shape, little more than a long narrow snowfield sheltered in the shade of a deep canyon.

The former streamlets are now torrents. Each exhibits such wild turbulence that one could imagine water molecules being torn into their separate component elements. The water drops so fast and violently that the decibel level of its roar is similar to that of the muscular Twin Otter airplane (the workhorse of the North). The canyon wildness of central Baffin, isolated from human sounds, is anything but serene and quiet. In the middle of what passes for night in the constant daylight of summer at 70 degrees north latitude, the motion of melting glacier water mimics the sound frequency of airplanes and disturbs whatever sleep the light has not.

The shared experience of motion must somehow connect dancers, birds, glaciers, and the moon, but the separate languages of poetry, spirituality, physics, and biology used to describe these occurrences often seem not to intersect meaningfully. I have gone to these places looking for processes common to all aspects of the natural world—the physical environment, the biosphere, and its special case, human culture and society. The exterior of the natural world—the mechanisms of how things work—is understood imperfectly, but in considerable detail through the physical and life sciences. At the same time, organization of this knowledge has come about with a concurrent disconnect to its meaning, a kind of person/nature split. Nature remains outside, not only out-of-doors, but also as an otherness from which we are separate.

The consequent loss of meaningfulness has been catastrophic. Overcoming this disconnect is the most pressing issue of our time, the one on which all other issues ultimately rest. I believe we need to find a means of establishing awareness and connection, a recognition of the integration of our lives with a larger concept of nature. Underlying this is the assumption that categories we understand as art, religion, science, history (and many more) are parts of a larger, integrated and indivisible whole. This has political and social implications, for if we truly understand ourselves as individuals living as part of a greater whole, then our politics and morality must move in a different direction that if we believed otherwise.

The other-wise belief prevails, although not unchallenged. From the 1960s when Rachel Carson warned of the Silent Spring, to the end of the century when James Lovelock explained Gaia (all living and non-living aspects of Earth as a system), to the beginning of the 21st century when E.O. Wilson painted a bleak picture of The Future of Life, our deepest thinkers have given eloquent warnings. But judged by our actual behavior (not our rhetoric), the loss of biodiversity, destruction of open spaces, and alteration of the atmosphere have been ignored. Despite the obvious changes in our climate, no significant mitigating actions have been taken. Scientists report statistics, corporations obfuscate, politicians dither, and many of the rest of us live in denial or powerlessness. Environmentalist organizations have saved segments of wild-nature in a series of temporary, infrequent victories while remaining on the political fringes or worse, allying themselves to the corporate and government structures causing the destruction. Ruination of the natural environment continues unabated, causing irretrievable loss of the wild-nature that is integral to who we are. Whatever we have needed to learn or experience to create a shift in our civilization from an anti-nature to a pro-nature stance has not yet taken place.

The prevailing paradigm of other-wise thinking has been challenged by integrative models including Alfred North Whitehead’s process philosophy, Ken Wilber’s spiritual mapping of reality, and the deep ecology of Arne Naess. Where Cartesian mind/body separation and Newtonian (or classical) mechanics are increasingly understood as incomplete explanations of a complex universe, systems thinkers, primarily from the physical sciences, have developed theories that integrate the processes of nature into one that is holistic rather than piecemeal. Scientists including Ludwig Von Bertalanffy, David Bohm, Ilya Prigogine, Gregory Bateson, and Erwin Laszlo have explained nature in terms of nonlinear and emergent properties, “systems theories” that go by names such as “complexity” and “chaos.” These ideas have been presented as applicable to the realm of physical systems (physics and chemistry), biological systems (microbiology, genetics, etc.) and social systems (psychology, sociology, economics, etc.) but commonalities among them, if recognized at all, have been made mostly by analogy. Different events may be explained comparatively, but they remain different things.

My study of the natural world led has me to believe that the things, events, and processes that constitute our perception of reality are interconnected by a means both more intimate and more substantial than is suggested by analogy. The natural history I propose is based on the premise that commonalities exist on a broad scale in complex, ever-changing physical and biological systems and, as well, in the structures and organizations that we ourselves have created. Generally true patterns are those that repeat themselves or behave in similar ways through dissimilar systems. It is possible to draw lessons from them that can provide guidance for our actions in the world.

A pattern can be recognized in physical events or in ideas or conditions as the result of the interaction of things, events, and processes. The parts of a pattern (formally known as information or signals) can be interpreted as quantities or measurements, as concrete as the numbers of migrating birds or as abstract as the ones and zeros of computer code. The parts, collectively, operate in a general way, as patterns that give insight into the structure of all dynamic relationships.

Patterns are held in common across all scales of size in non-living, living, and social systems. Pattern recognition can provide guidance through the maze of interconnecting and evolving issues that confront and confound us, including the environmental crisis. In nature (including human society), all processes have, simultaneously, unpredictable consequences, but also inevitable outcomes. Generally true patterns help explain that apparent paradox.

Next essay: Chapter 1 Patterns Part II: Above All Else, Nature Is Characterized by Movement

 

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Yosemite and Mono Pass

Yosemite National Park and Mono Pass Photographs July 27, 2017

The Mono Pass trailhead is located within Yosemite National Park a few miles south of the Tioga Pass entrance. Pristine and wonderful. Unlike some other places.

There are now millions of climate change refugees worldwide, including thousands in the United States who have lost everything to floods, hurricanes or firestorms. Climate experts have indicated that such disasters are more likely than not to continue.

This is one in a series showing places around Yosemite National Park that have, so far, escaped catastrophic events. Consider them as baseline documentation before inevitable future changes. Photos were taken summer 2017 on hiking/photography expedition with naturalist Bob Hare.

Photo copyright 2017 David L. Witt

Heading southeast and up towards top of Mono Pass

 

Lake at top of Mono Pass

 

East South East and down from Mono Pass into Bloody Canyon

 

Mono Lake in the distance

 

Looking up to Snow fields in Bloody Canyon–zig-zagged through the rocks to get around them

 

Lake in Bloody Canyon, named “Red Lake” by John Muir

 

Crimson Columbine/Aquilegia formosa  and Potentilla species in Bloody Canyon

 

Globe Penstemon/Penstemon globosus in Bloody Canyon

 

Glacial Tarn in Bloody Canyon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  Mountain Heather/Phyllodoce breweri

 

View down to Mono Lake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Upper Bloody Canyon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Upper Bloody Canyon

 

Bob documenting old cabins just west of Mono Pass

 

 

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The Environmental Movement Betrayed

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Liberals and conservatives have failed to adequately address the climate change crisis. Neither political party gave significant attention to any environment issues during the 2016 elections. Politicians left and right are unable even to ask meaningful questions regarding the environment because the frame of reference of these philosophies is not set up to do so.

In his 2014 book, The Great Debate, Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, And The Birth of Right and Left, the political scholar Yuval Levin chronicles the late 18th century origins of conservatism (Burke) and Liberalism (Paine).

Burke believed that rejecting the traditions and practices of the past leads to disaster. He feared that the passions of the moment overwhelm reason, and that instead, keeping to what works contributes to overall societal happiness. We retain inherited political and social institutions for good reason—the maintenance of order. Social relations are and must be restrained by the legacy of past generations and by our obligations to future generations. These traditions mostly obviate the need for social engineering by government regulation.

Paine believed that not rejecting those traditions and long standing practices leads to disaster. Discarding the dead hand of the past and adapting to changing conditions creates justice in the contemporary world contributing to overall happiness. He trusted citizens to employ “reason” in their consideration of political matters. Social and power relations should change with each generation, through revolution if necessary, and that the present should be of greater importance than the past or the future. Reason, rather than tradition, should be our guide.

Paine favored individual choice. Burke supported the obligations and privileges to which we are born. Both views have negative implications for contemporary environmentalism.

Conservatives see no reason to intervene in ancient environmental systems since those have and will continue to manage—and even evolve—on their own. Applying “reason” (including science) to address environmental issues unnecessarily grants authority to radicals who are more than willing to tear down the existing order for obscure (to the conservatives) revolutionary objectives. We have built a great nation on certain shared values (such as property rights, capitalism). Leave well enough alone.

Don’t expect liberals to come to our rescue. According to Paine, the motives of authorities (representing the long existing establishment, including scientists) are suspect; they are not to be trusted. Personal experience and immediate needs (such as alleviation of poverty, prevention of war) are of greatest concern. The people of the future can (and should) address the problems of their own time. Meanwhile, we must look out for ourselves.

As a result, neither conservatives nor liberals have much to offer environmentalism. Conservatives fear that environmental action will trample the rights of individuals well vested in the current system. Liberals fear that environmental action could compromise their goal of a more just and equitable society.

If conservatives admit the reality of climate change, then they have to admit that the issue can only be addressed though collective action organized by multinational governmental agencies. If liberals admit that climate change is real, then they have to adjust to societal sacrifices, knowing that the less well off and less powerful will give up more than the rich and powerful in addressing the problem.

Their differing worldviews make conservatives and liberals unable to understand one another on almost any issue. At the same time, but for entirely different reasons, their preconceptions make them equally unable to take revolutionary action that would disrupt our world society today for a payoff (in environmental and climate terms) that cannot be achieved until far into the future.

 

“The Great Chasm” Photo: David L. Witt

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Framework Convention on Climate Change

DSC_5428 Sun Dog

Adoption of the Paris Agreement

December 12, 2015

In combating climate change, the Agreement emphasizes “should” rather than “must,” which is to say that it is voluntary. It calls for recognition of social justice, for sharing technology, and for wealthier countries to support appropriate development in less wealthy countries. Environmentalists (including me) will fault the agreement for not being stronger. At the same time, however, it does establish an international moral imperative to combat this grave danger that threatens us all.

Will it be enough to save remaining wild nature and the larger part of world civilization? Implementation of the agreement is likely to be slower than needed. But how could 190 countries have come up with a better plan? Short term interests of corporations and the politicians they buy is as strong as ever.

Still, maybe, perhaps, if we’re lucky, maybe the United States of America will take the lead as its used to do in the 20th century when faced with global challenges.

Here are some highlights. For the full document, go to:

http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/eng/l09r01.pdf

Article 2

This Agreement, in enhancing the implementation of the Convention, including its objective, aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty, including by:

(a) Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change;

(b) Increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production; (c) Making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.

Article 4

  1. In order to achieve the long-term temperature goal set out in Article 2, Parties aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science, so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century, on the basis of equity, and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.
  1. Each Party shall prepare, communicate and maintain successive nationally determined contributions that it intends to achieve. Parties shall pursue domestic mitigation measures, with the aim of achieving the objectives of such contributions.

Article 6

  1. Parties recognize that some Parties choose to pursue voluntary cooperation in the implementation of their nationally determined contributions to allow for higher ambition in their mitigation and adaptation actions and to promote sustainable development and environmental integrity.

Article 8

  1. Parties recognize the importance of averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including

extreme weather events and slow onset events, and the role of sustainable development in reducing the risk of loss and damage.

Article 9

  1. Developed country Parties shall provide financial resources to assist developing country Parties with respect to both mitigation and adaptation in continuation of their existing obligations under the Convention.

Article 10

  1. Parties share a long-term vision on the importance of fully realizing technology development and transfer in order to improve resilience to climate change and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Article 21

  1. This Agreement shall enter into force on the thirtieth day after the date on which at least 55 Parties to the Convention accounting in total for at least an estimated 55 percent of the total global greenhouse gas emissions have deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession.

<Will it be sunset, sunrise, or something in between? Aylmer Lake sundog, Summer 2015. dlw photo)

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