Thursday, July 23, 2015

Chicken Little Says, "Watch Out For Global Warming!"

Perhaps you can forgive me for my fixation with the end of the world.  Perhaps you can’t.  Whatever, I’m stuck with it.  Put “end of the world” in the word-search box and you’ll see what I mean.  I blame it on having spent decades under the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).  

I read a couple of good articles last week that fed my interest in the end times. 

One was a very serious article about global warming that went way, way beyond the usual levels of threat and urgency.  “Mass Extinction:  It’s the End of the World as We Know It,” by Dahr Jamail, for Truthout (and on to me through 

This one was more or less an interview with Professor Guy McPherson, professor emeritus of evolutionary biology, natural recourses and ecology at the University of Arizona.  He also has a blog, “Nature Bats Last,” but I haven’t checked that out yet.  The University of Arizona is on everyone’s list of serious institutions of higher learning, and the “professor emeritus” thing only comes with faculty/alumnae participation, so this guy is an academic big-wig.  The Professor is way over in the pessimistic end of the global warming debate.  WAY over.  He believes that it’s too late already, it’s a done deal, we’re toast, adios M.F., “by-by Brookleen.”  He presents compelling arguments. 

He has amassed a list of fifty of what he calls “self-reinforcing feedback loops” to prove his case.  One of these, taken as an example, goes like this:  permafrost is melting . . . methane is released into the atmosphere . . . this causes warming . . . more permafrost melts . . . more warming . . . etc.

Yup, he’s got fifty of those.  He makes it sound like the entirety of the support system for human beings could disappear any month now, and suddenly too.   Consider the imminent “ice-free Arctic Ocean.”  Either this summer or next summer there will be zero ice at the North Pole.  Freaky, eh?  Nobody seems to know or care, but the Naval Post Graduate School, no less, says that it’s true.  No ice up there means more methane released, and, you guessed it, more warming.  (And more methane!  And more warming!)

Professor McPherson is a Cassandra alright.  He’s so down-beat that after reading the article I wanted to start spending down my bank money to avoid being caught at the end of the world with money in the bank.  I thought, maybe now is a good time to go and see Venice, you know, before it sinks in the lagoon, and why not fly first class?  Maybe I’d just been looking for excuses to go to Venice and fly first class.  I got over the impulse in time, thankfully.

The Professor even mentions a recent paper in Science Advances that says that the sixth “great mass extinction” is already underway.  They could be right, species great and small are disappearing right and left.

We see these things in the paper all the time.  I say, “in the paper,” as though anyone reads newspapers anymore.  I mean on the Internet and TV.  The ice; the glaciers; Greenland actually becoming green; the Larsen Ice Shelf in Antarctica running away faster than an abused teenager; the droughts in California, Thailand and elsewhere; the fires in the west of Canada and the United States (starting in June!); the floods; snow in Hawaii in July!!!  These are facts, and although guys like McPherson may be Cassandras, many times the Cassandras are correct.

The other apocalyptic article that I read last week had to do with earthquakes.  “The Really Big One,” by Kathryn Schulz, in a recent New Yorker Magazine.  It seems that the Pacific Northwest is way, way overdue for a huge earthquake, an earthquake that could range up to nine-plus on the Richter scale.  It's all settled science now, it's all been worked out.  The reason that it has only come to light recently is that "recorded history" in the Pacific Northwest only started in 1805 or so.  The last "big one" took place in 1700, unnoticed by scientists, historians, or anyone who could write.  Huge quake, huge tsunami, killed a lot of American Indians. 

We remember the Tohoku Earthquake in north-eastern Japan in 2011.  We remember the earthquake, with its associated tsunami.  That was a 9.0 earthquake.  I can hardly imagine those myself.  I’ve been caught in a lot of earthquakes, a lot, but most of them were in the 3.5 to 5.5 range.  Those aren’t bad at all.  I’ve experienced a couple in the low sixes, they make you sit up and prepare to do something, but they’re over before you get started.  The longer they shake, the stronger the quake.  I sat through the 7-point-something earthquake in Los Angeles in 1994, and that one really got my attention, I can tell you.  It shook for almost thirty seconds, and the shaking was very unpleasant.  By the time it was over, I was sitting on the edge of my bed with my pants on, both socks and one shoe on, watching bookcases fall over and a TV crash to the floor, listening to my wife screaming, standing over in the door jam as we’re told to do, and my big MagLite was already on the bed next to me.  Thirty seconds is a long time.  The 9.0 in Japan shook for four full minutes, and produced a tsunami that inundated a vast area.  A couple of tens of thousands of people were killed, and a couple of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage was done to property. 

So, the Cassandra.  It seems that earthquakes have an upper limit that scientists can predict.  Without much certainty, as it turns out.  The predicted upper limit for the east of Japan was 8.4, and Japan was the most prepared nation in the world for earthquakes.  Up to 8.4.  A guy named Jasutaka Ikeda, in 2005, told his colleagues at some seminar that Japan should expect an earthquake of 9.0 “in the near future.”  Yup, they didn’t listen. 

The Take Away

Earthquakes are one thing.  They can come this year or in a hundred years, or two hundred.  But global climate change is another thing altogether.  It doesn’t happen suddenly, like an earthquake.  It happens over time.  (Unless some of the Cassandras are right and it will reach a point and then just spring into action within a few weeks.) 

Scientists are in greater agreement than usual regarding the phenomenon of global warming.  There might be some disagreement about details, but as far as the big picture goes, they all get it.  It’s happening.  It’s accelerating.  It’s serious.  Something needs to be done.  Here’s the problem:  no one is listening to the scientists.  Not people in general; not politicians; nobody important except the pope.  Amazingly, Pope Francis is the island of reason in this non-debate!  No one really gives a shit what the experts say.  If you Google, “global warming warnings,” you get twenty-five million hits.  Most of these are middle-of-the-road “things you should know” kind of web sites, and some of them are global warming denial sites, but a lot of them are real, hard science sites with a serious message.  Real science publications; real science faculties.  The America Institute of Physics or something.  The research on the issue goes back to the mid-Nineteenth Century, and by now new research is being published daily.  It’s all very worrisome.  Shouldn’t people be paying attention? 

Lots of Americans are actively hostile to the scientific and academic communities in the first place.  Most Americans think that the time line is way too long to affect them personally.  American businesses don’t want to spend profits this year to create a potential and speculative benefit at some future date.  It is the first of these groups that I find most interesting, the hostile Americans.  Most of them don’t know shit about science, so why the hostility whenever global warming comes up?   

Look at a site, a “news site,” like the Daily Caller, for instance.  Maybe it’s a political site masquerading as a news site.  Most of the articles are about politics in general, and about how “Libtards” are ruining the world, specifically.  There’s very little that is newsworthy.  It loves to feature articles on the subject of global warming, although articles about other areas of science are largely absent.  These are always of the “actually, it’s getting cooler!” type; the “then why is it so cold this February?” type; the “it’s snowing in Hawaii!” type; the “Al Gore is a numbskull” type.  They sure do love to pile on poor Al Gore, and they love to make fun of science in a broader sense.  What do they know!  Why have we had some winters that were colder than usual!  Who cares if it gets “a couple of degrees warmer?”  This is obviously part of The Daily Caller’s agenda, an anti-caring-about-global-warming agenda.  (I’d say “anti-global-warming,” but you can’t be against something that you don’t believe is real.)

It’s political.  The site is part of the right wing echo chamber, they’re all wholly owned subsidiaries of the Republican Party.  The program here is to court the anti-intellectual vote, and to kiss up to corporate interests.  The platform is pro-business, and anti-academia; anti-science; anti-worker; anti-retiree; anti-minority; anti-woman; and anti-democratic.  It’s all about the short term profits. 

I hate to tell you, but the Republican politicians and the corporate big-wigs all understand that global warming, or more accurately “global climate change,” is a problem.  They know that it’s real.  The reason that they mock the scientists and deny the problem is naked greed.  The corporate types are protecting their profits, their fabulous salaries, and their shareholders from having to support an effort to tackle the problem.  The Republicans are protecting their positions and their prosperity.  None of them care about the inevitable result of our failure to take action in a timely manner to mitigate the effects that humans are having on the environment.  They care about their own short term economic interests. 

If push comes to shove, they’ll all be able to explain their behavior away somehow.  Probably by blaming President Obama, or Democrats in general. 

And yes, those Democrats, yes, they should be doing more.  They are, at best, the lesser evil when it comes to climate change.  The best that can be said is that Democrats are not out hard-charging, 24/7, blocking any effort to even acknowledge that global climate change exists.  The rest of the world are involved too, and they are a mixed bag of tricks at best.  What is needed is a lot of "we mean business and we will take the difficult steps," but what we're getting varies only from "we'll make a gesture to try to look good," down through, "we need to start working on this," and all the way down to, "who gives a shit?"  

Oh, I wish that it were not so easy for our politicians and our corporate news media to distract us with fluff.  The last thing you want to hear from a lawyer or a doctor is, “I wish that you had taken my advice when I offered it to you.”  You know, after it’s too late.  We may get that message from the scientists someday, too late.  That’ll be a bad day.

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