Posts Tagged 'Climate'

Wind At The Back

Just next month, a new edition of Lyall Watson’s Heaven’s Breath: A Natural History of the Wind.

The title is iffy and I question its dependence on the Gaia hypothesis for its overarching theme. This seems par for course of Watson, who was a prolific popularizer of science who verged into the paranormal and New Age foolishness, where he seems to have confused curiosity for credulousness.

But, the woo-woo aside, there’s much to be gleaned in this encyclopedia of fascinations. By all means take a ride in its swirling currents.

The book originally came out in 1984, which perhaps explains why, for something about the thin but all important layer between rock and space, it takes its time getting to the greenhouse effect. Watson was… optimistic about the coming climate shift: “This is bound to affect economic and political stability and to change our coastlines and our lives, but it could also be the making of a new world — one worth getting excited about all over again.” Like many a peppy prognosticator, he is no longer around to check his opinion.

What I most take away from the book are the pages on aeroplankton. The air is its own ecosystem. It’s absolutely packed with lifeforms. Insects, of course. Tons of them. What else are the swallows and swifts gobbling up overhead? And spiders, lots and lots and lots of spiders, although I’ll wager less than in Watson’s day. Ditto the other insects. (Windshields used to be covered with dead bugs after night drives, but no more, cf: Michael McCarthy’s The Moth Snowstorm.) There’s pollen, too, as your nose knows, from ten thousand species of wind-pollinated plants.

And there lots of bacteria and viruses. Also spores, of fungi, lichens, mosses, liverworts, ferns. Then there’s the dust, from plowed field, desert, volcanoes.

From more recent research: 56 million metric tons of dust per year crosses the Pacific to North America, and that’s just one pathway; “the earth’s atmosphere is like a conveyor belt for microbes”; “it is now understood that even dead cells can play a functional role in weather and climate as cloud and ice condensation nuclei.”

Don’t forget the pollution which settles on the ice of the poles, reducing its albedo, meaning less reflection and more heat in the atmosphere.

“”…the latin root anima, meaning both ‘wind’ and ‘spirit’ — which leads ultimately to animus the ‘soul,’ animare to fill with ‘breath,’ and ultimately ‘animal.’ And the root spirare to ‘breath,’ from which comes ‘spirit,’ ‘aspire,’ and , in the end, ‘inspiration.'” [Not to mention ”conspire,” to breath together.]

A dictionary of wind blows through the final pages of Watson’s book. Oe, Halny, Williwaw, Waltzing Jinn, Chinook. I remember the latter from my year in Calgary: sudden thaws would pour down from the Rockies in winter. Spring came early, for a day or two.
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Hey, fun for the kids: how the world has warmed, down to the local level, and predictions on increasing warming in the place where you live.

Two Degrees

“What happens if one changes a systems’s parameters — the temperature, the weather, the climate? What will collapse and what will endure? Who will live and who will die?”

A two-degree rise in global mean temperature, which now sounds optimistically low for the results of global warming this century, may be compared with effects of the two degree drop during the Little Ice Age. Nature’s Mutiny, by Philipp Blom, details how, in the words of the subtitle, “the Little Ice Age of the long seventeenth century transformed the west and shaped the present.” The entire socio-political fabric of western civ. was ripped to pieces. Millions died of war, disease, and starvation from Spain to Russia. Irrationalism became triumphant with messiah-mountebanks running amuck. Some 50,000 people were burned or otherwise executed as witches, often blamed for crop failures, earthquakes, hail storms.

Feudalism was obliterated. Capitalism was born along with it’s eviler twin colonialism. In 1607, the first summer at Jamestown (Virginia) was the driest in nearly 800 years. The colony was reduced to cannibalism before reinforcements arrived from England.

The past is not prologue, of course, but using this model, we should think hard about massive demographic transformation, profound changes in political economy, and a radical up-rooting of everything we’ve known — in one-two-three generations. Of course, all this has already begun. The news from the Greenland, Alaska, Antarctica, the Himalayas… New Orleans, is all bad.

In these pages, I discovered William Shakespeare doing some script-doctoring for the play Sir Thomas More. He wrote this speech for More’s character. This fictional (the real More was fairly awful) More is confronting an anti-immigrant mob, asking them to put themselves in the place of strangers in a strange land — say someplace of virulent nativists, for-profit concentration camps, fascist thugs in uniform, orange pancake makeup-wearing ogres:

Why, you must needs be strangers, would you be pleas’d
To find a nation of such barbarous temper
That breaking out in hideous violence
Would not afford you an abode on earth.
Whet their detested knives against your throats,
Spurn you like dogs, and like as if that God
Owed not nor made not you, not that the elements
Were not all appropriate to your comforts,
But charter’d unto them? What would you think
To be us’d thus? This is the strangers’ case
And this your mountainish inhumanity.

“As you know, this is not a new issue.”

Recently, I cited this April 1979 report, The Long Term Impact of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide on Climate, from the Jasons to the DOE.

That same year saw the publication of Carbon Dioxide and Climate: A Scientific Assessment, by the Ad Hoc Study Group on Carbon Dioxide and Climate. It’s conclusion: “It appears that the warming will eventually occur, and the associated regional climatic changes so important to the assessment of socioeconomic consequences may well be significant, but unfortunately the latter cannot yet be adequately projected.”

Two years earlier, Frank Press penned this letter to President Jimmy Carter. He wrote: “The potential effect on the environment of a climate fluctuation of such rapidity could be catastrophic and calls for an impact assessment of unprecedented importance and difficulty.” Press served four presidents as a science advisor; he was director of Carter’s Office of Science and Technology Policy. The title of today’s post also comes from this letter. Carter was a fairly insipid neocon abroad and a neoliberal at home. His redemptory glow stems from his post-White House career. He didn’t do diddly about Press’s letter, or the other reports (noted above) during his administration, in fact, quite the opposite, and one assumes that that is what he will be remembered for in 2100, if anything.

Decades before all this, Svante Arrhenius made the first quantitative predictions for the greenhouse effect. (As analogies go, the atmospheric greenhouse is one of my favorites.) He was, of course, preceded by others. For instance, in the 1820s, Joseph Fourier said the Earth should have been colder than it was because of its distance from the Sun; he postulated that our atmosphere was an insulator. Ding, ding! Claude Pouillet finessed Fourier’s work in the following decade. In 1856, Eunice Newton Foote’s paper at the AAAS (being female, she wasn’t allowed to read it herself) noted that the proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would effect temperature.

Charles Keeling, who died in 2005, gave his name to the Keeling Curve, which charts the CO2 build up in the atmosphere. This has been measured at the base of Mauna Loa since 1958. The NSF stopped funding him in the early 1960s, although his work was cited in their 1963 report on the increasing amounts of heat-trapping gasses. In 1965, LBJ’s Science Advisory Committee produced a big report on pollution, including the hazardous increase of CO2 in the atmosphere. Some of the challenges in that report were met, even by the ghastly Richard Nixon. Before Trump, we’d done wonders to clean up our air, water, and food — but the atmosphere was left alone by the lot of them.

Today, a well-funded effort by the petroleum industry — whose own scientists were talking of all this half a century ago, — has sown doubt and confusion amidst the scientifically illiterate. (Speaking of which, did you see the news about the GOP Governor of Alaska demanding 41% evisceration of the U of Alaska’s budget: these fucks know ignorance pays off for them.) The fanaticism of true-believers in falsehood is manifest in the attempts to deny physics, and erase this science out of history. They’re doing this at Trump’s EPA, not Orwell’s Ministry of Truth.

But hiding data won’t change the facts, or the effects of those facts. Those are proceeding apace.

Next Sunday: that time a two degree change in the global average changed the world.

Sinister Snails

Little freshwater mollusks in the Physa genus, according to the iNaturalist community. The aperture is on the left side, hence sinistral. In the Sylvan Water. How did they get here? Did they arrive via muddy duck feet, a noted transportation system for plants and animals?Less than a centimeter long, with some smaller. To the nearly six-foot tall observer, they look like tiny rocks.
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Nathaniel Rich’s NYTimes Magazine article on climate change last summer has been expanded into a book called Losing Earth: A Recent History.

This review provides a good synopsis. It also notes something Rich dug up that I’d never heard of before, a JASON (scientific advisors) report to the Department of Energy. The Long Term Impact of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide on Climate was published in 1979. Nineteen-fucking-seventy-nine. I tracked it down. The brainiacs suggest that if current conditions etc. continued the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide would double by 2035 and the resulting warmer planet would have ominous results the world over. The report was largely ignored. 1979!

Since then, the carbon giants, whose own scientists told them the same thing, have so successfully poisoned so many susceptible minds, that the likes of the Oregon situation is unfolding.

Sheet Music

A bridge and a stream. What more could Organ Pipe Mud-dauber Wasps (Trypoxylon politum) need than shelter from the rain and a source of their building material?

Well, spiders, of course. These wasps paralyze spiders to feed their young inside these mud-nests. Here’s an interesting observation: Tufted Titmouse and Downy Woodpeckers breaking into these to get the larval wasps. And also the spiders?

I don’t seem to have a photograph of one of these wasps. I’ve sure seen a similar species, the Black and Yellow Mud-daubers (Sceliphron caementarium). They’re particularly photogenic, or just hang around long enough for photographs. They also feed their young spiders.

(Click on image above to make it fill your screen if not your speakers.)
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Well, if you think I’m a worse case scenario-ist, read this on the effects of the return to Miocene-level global temperatures for the centuries to come. We’re remaking the planet like it was 16 million years ago!

The Fate of Us?

Environmentalist eschatology has it that the world is ending. Nature? I think not. The human world as we’ve known it, undoubtedly — that has been the pattern for as long as there have been humans; it’s just a question of timing. But the planet will abide. Much simplified and profoundly poisoned by humans, true, but the Earth will keep spinning, life will keep living, however much we’ve knee-capped it. One day, all this will just be a toxic layer in the geological strata. The HS — for Homo sapiens — Line?

It’s we who are the worry. Among ourselves, anyway. Ain’t nobody going to miss us when we’re gone.

Climate instability, global networks of trade, exotic diseases sparked at the ever expanding human/wilderness frontier. These three horsemen go together.. and have done so for some time now. This is the thought that inevitably bubbles up while reading Kyle Harper’s The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, & the End of Empire. “The precise conjuncture of environmental damage, political disintegration, and religious ferment decided the final sequence of Rome’s demise.”

As we race towards our own climatic fate, much of historiography is now climatological. There was, for instance, a Roman climate optimum (200 BC – 150 AD), when the glory of Rome was something to write home about. It was warm and wet — only August didn’t see rain, unlike now when the Mediterranean climate is essentially dry through the whole summer. (Great for tourists, more problematic for food-production.) Remember marveling at the idea of North Africa being the granary of empire? Times were good (-ish, it depended where you lived and who you were, of course).

Then came three centuries of climate transition, becoming dryer and dryer. This transitional era saw two devastating plagues (165 AD, probably smallpox — hey, anti-vaxxers, this one’s for you, you selfish fuckers) and (249-262 AD, possibly something Ebola-like). Recoveries of sorts were made, but there was no going back; the borders were busted, the economy in decline, the barracks emperors a dime a dozen to the last trump.

Finally (for Rome) the one-two of little ice age (450-700AD ) and the Justiniaic Plague (541-543 AD, then reoccurring for 2 more centuries). This last seems to have been humanity’s first pandemic. Mortality may have been as much as half the population of the Roman empire–in Constantinople they say 5000 died a day. This was plague of the plague, the same bacillus (Yersinia pestis) as the medieval Black Death.

Harper touches lightly on the similarities between that decline and fall and ours — which of course we can’t know beforehand, but…. He doesn’t need to be heavy-handed. History speaks for itself. Climate disruption, political instability, untold suffering, massive migration, dictators promising walls and fantasies of ethno-racial nativism. I read history in light of the present. How will our times be remembered?

Well, if you’ve made it this far, you probably need some BBs of H.

Solidarity with Youth Climate Strike

What.

Why.

Where.

Greta Thunberg.


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