Wednesday, August 18, 2010

metals and wheels

--climate happenings are at the data bank--

Three months and a week the blog had lain dormant. Now summer recess is over. Fall term is about to start. And blistered orb is back.

For archivists of these historic times and for philosophers wondering about the worldly wisdom of it all, 2010 does not disappoint. Wow!!! I mean look at this: atmospheric CO2 concentrations are creeping up to 390 ppmv worldwide, 40 ppmv in the red zone above safe limits, and no one's stopping it. The COP-15 Copenhagen talks collapsed ten months ago, and the COP-16 Mexico City talks are getting bad press before they've even started. Meanwhile 2010 is the hottest year ever, and the symptoms of climate change are becoming spectacular. Looking for culprits? Blame China, Russia, and the fabulous USA. Because of these three, we're still without any plan, blueprint, or accord to replace Kyoto, set to expire 2012. The species has no decarbonization timetable, no binding emissions limits, and no blueprint for evolving to a sustainable world. In the mekka of retarded consumerism, the US of A, Conversatives and Liberals alike hold on to the hope that things will return to capitalist normalcy. Indeed, numerous Republican candidates doubt global warming ... and that's why some call this era the American Disenlightenment. We're in denial of reality, and we're fresh out of ideas. Our kids are going to hate us really bad.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I don't even have kids. So what happened the past three months? What's going on? There are nice summaries out there. Here's one from Amy Goodman:
Wildfires in Russia have blanketed the country with smoke, exacerbating the hottest summer there in 1,000 years. Torrential rains in Asia have caused massive flooding and deadly landslides in Pakistan, Kashmir, Afghanistan, and China. An ice shelf in Greenland has broken off, sending an ice island four times the size of Manhattan into the ocean. Droughts threaten Niger and the Sahel.
Here's another, from Mark Morford:
The flooding in Pakistan has already caused more devastation than the 2004 tsunami in Asia, worse than the Haiti earthquake. One quarter of the country is underwater. They say Pakistan also just broke a record for the single highest temperature ever recorded on the Asian continent, at 128 degrees [53 C] (16 other nations also met or broke heat records this year, too.) That record was set in a city. Where people live. Not for very much longer, because they do not have giant air conditioners and pallets of Fiji water from Costco, like we do, so they probably won't survive.
And another, from Jeff Masters:

2010 has seen the most national extreme heat records for a single year: 17. The past decade was the hottest decade in the historical record. The first half of 2010 was the warmest such six-month period in the planet's history. The five warmest months in history for the tropical Atlantic have all occurred this year (likely leading to more frequent and severe Atlantic hurricanes).

Add to this that 2010 is the year with the lowest sea ice extent ever for the month of June. Because of the heat, the North Polar ice is also much thinner now than it used to be--floes and sheets contain less volume than they used to. The sea ice oscillation will bottom out at its annual trough in September. Next month we'll see whether 2010 tops the minimal sea ice record. Either way and anyway, the North Polar cap is now melting off.

As soon as we braid the various summaries into a panoramic view, the pattern becomes inescapable. The year shapes up to be a concatenation of national disasters, freak events, and record breakers. (Note to myself: update climate events at the data bank .) Freak rainstorms and floods happened in France, in Spain, in Germany, in Poland, in China, and --most astoundingly-- in Pakistan. A heatwave of unprecedented intensity swept across the northern hemisphere, affecting the US, Taiwan, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, and most noteworthy Russia. The 2010 heat surge in the north mirrors a cold spike in the south--Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina suffered, among others. The result is always the same: fish die, cattle die, crops die, and people die.

(And yes, cold weather is a logical consequence of global warming. Here's how it happens: rising greenhouse gas concentrations trap heat plus energy; the added energy makes the climate more dynamic; a more dynamic climate makes bigger waves; bigger waves in a dynamic system means that amplitude of seasonal swings widens; wider amplitudes mean that summers get hotter & drier, and winters get colder & snowier. Now imagine what this will do to crops.)

Remarkable, to my mind, and an ominous sign of things to come, are the data that came out of Mongolia in April and May. Last winter was the harshest on record; a sixth of the country's livestock didn't survive, and a fifth of the country's herders lost their livelihood. And that's a lot, since eighty percent of Mongolia's economy depends on animal husbandry. So now there are all these uprooted people that are flooding in the cities, hoping to work at 7-11 or whereever. Meanwhile the land abandoned by the destitute herders is ripe pickings for predatory multinationals seeking metals and oil.

Reminds me of this line in Two Towers (the script, condensing Tolkien's actual words), spoken by Treebeard the Ent:
There was a time when Saruman would walk in my woods. But now he has a mind of metal and wheels. He no longer cares for growing things.
Anyway, time to stop. It's late. Now we're back in the grotesque automotive society of Tampa Bay next to the toxically dispersed oil spill. The summer in Asia was lovely. Spent time with the family at the mountains in southern Taiwan, climbed into the foothills, and swept tiles. The construction of a climate philosophy is making progress. Occasionally I ventured from the Hakka village to the coastal cities, to conduct a workshop, to give a lecture. In spring I found out that the ideas in Letter on Humanism are a key to climate philosophy. But the reactionary, irrational thrust of Heidegger's critique is troubling. In summer I learned that Spinoza's evolutionary vision solves this problem; here's a future-oriented way that leads beyond humanism without doubling back to Heidegger's quasi-medieval postmodernity. Friends at Tunghai University showed me how to better understand the paradigm shift in store for academic philosophy; I realized I was still thinking too conventionally. Other friends, at Potsdam's Institute of Climate Impact Research, made me explore the impact of climate on the fate of religion. Which creeds will squeeze through the bottleneck? The days in Formosa passed nicely with writing, surrounded by chatty, cheerful children. This little renegade Republic of China fills me with hope. While there are just as many SUV-morons here as elsewhere, you really don't need a car. In three months I needed to drive only twice, and briefly at that. The road system is such that you can comfortably bicycle. Biking in the three million city of Kaoshiung is doable and relaxing. Biking the 500 klicks from Kaohsiung in the south to Taipei in the north is also perfectly viable, quite safe, and truly enjoyable. If bicycling is not your cup of tea, and you do want to roam, well then, just hop on the bus, subway, light rail transit, intercity trains, and the lovely gao-tie bullet train. Did you know that cruising through the countryside with 300 km/h (190 mph) gives you a three-dimensional view into the sky? I kid you not. Just look up when there are clouds, and you'll see the lower strata moving against the ones higher up. It's beautiful.

Seventy-six months left.

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