Saturday, December 29, 2012

January Excerpt: Fiddling While Rome Burns by Hugh Mercer Curtler

Fiddling While Rome Burns
Hugh Mercer Curtler
Baldock Solar Highway, Oregon

There is considerable talk these days about climate change and whether or not global warming is a fact or merely an opinion. Well, it is assuredly a fact in the sense that any verifiable empirical claim is a fact. The only thing that can still be debated at all is whether or not humans are part of the problem and that consideration is gradually shifting from opinion to cold, hard fact as well. But, as Diane Keaton recently said, “Climate change, like gravity, doesn’t give a damn whether you ‘believe’ in it or not. It’s happening regardless. While we sit around and debate its existence, it’s taking full advantage of the situation and using the time we’re giving it to make life miserable.” The problem is that in talking about it we may get the impression we are actually doing something about it when in fact we are not. As Keaton says, it just keeps happening.

The problem was made very real to me recently as I returned from Minneapolis to my home 150 miles west and south of that city with my two little granddaughters in the car. We passed dried-up drainage ditches and creeks; rivers where the water was barely visible and slowed to a crawl; we saw dust hovering in the air as far as the eye could see; we noted the burned-out lawns and the scattered crop residue in the parched fields now that the farmers have finished their harvest, such as it was. We also noted the small lakes and ponds that have shrunk below the grasses and reeds on the shore leaving several feet of dry shoreline exposed to the relentless winds. The words I have read and written myself about global warming began to be replaced by stark images as the message they convey moved from the head to the heart causing considerable distress and mild anxiety. I worried about the future of these two little girls. This is no longer an intellectual problem: at the risk of sounding dramatic, if something isn’t done to alter present conditions we will soon face a struggle for survival.

In this part of the upper Midwest the farmers have had a relatively decent year. It has been dry, but there were scattered but timely rains earlier in the summer and the farmers in this area will do fairly well–unlike others in the Midwest who have been hit hard by the prolonged dry spell that promises to drag on. However, the signs point to the severe drought spreading into this part of the country as well. And that’s the problem: the drought isn’t just part of the normal “cycle” of weather, as many of the farmers I talk with contend; it is something we are going to have to learn to live with–resulting in higher prices in the grocery stores and even the real possibility of rationing as food becomes scarce. And we could eventually be dealing with increasing levels of violence as well from growing numbers of hungry people who cannot find food to eat. In a word, the problem is here and talking about it won’t solve it.

If you would like to read more of this article in Empirical, the January issue is now available at your local bookstore.

1 comment:

  1. By 29 December 2012, the following statement was absurdly out of date and indicative of a severe lack of understanding of easily available data: "The only thing that can still be debated at all is whether or not humans are part of the problem and that consideration is gradually shifting from opinion to cold, hard fact as well."

    By 29 December, 2012, the fact of human causation of Climate Change had been irrefutably established for over twenty years, and even longer in the minds of those who were paying deep and serious attention to the accumulating hard data.

    One of the simplest ways to see the inexorable human caused changes that have been driving Climate change for the past fifty and more years is to simply look at the factual record of increasing atmospheric levels of CO2, which obviously have come from human burning of Coal, Oil, and Natural Gas, starting with the rapid increase in coal use back in the 1880's.

    The knowledge of the heat-retaining effect of small increases in the percent of CO2 in Earth's atmosphere goes back to Scientific discoveries in the late 1800's. These discoveries are empirically exact, are based on irrefutable laws of chemistry and physics, and make a total mockery of all attempts to deny or dispute or doubt the human causation of climate change.

    That the author is ignorant of such knowledge is obvious from the statement quoted above, and is further demonstrated by other parts of his essay. For example, "This is no longer an intellectual problem: at the risk of sounding dramatic, if something isn't done to alter present conditions we will soon face a struggle for survival." " the risk of sounding dramatic..."??? Risk??? Good grief, how can he feel the need to qualify the fact. We are facing, and have been known for years by the scientifically aware, to be facing not just some problems in the future, but a looming planetary disaster - NOW. Yes, a planetary disaster builds up slowly and invisibly to most in a way akin to a huge slow landslide. However, once started, the momentum creates an unstoppable progression of disasters.

    What we face now is an onrushing disaster that will only get worse the longer we fail to act. The actions necessary include complete cessation of burning of Coal, Oil, and Natural Gas for transportation, power, heating, and anything else. Would you care to make a bet on how soon the world will actually wake up and act on this necessary change?

    Unless authors such as Hugh Mercer Curtler quit the namby-pamby pussyfooting around, and get the facts straight, and put them into the public mind without waffling or worrying about "sounding dramatic", the "business as usual" scenario will continue its rudderless progress toward the cliff. Ultimately, and not far in the future at all, we will slip past the final tipping points and be on the unstoppable slippery slope to annihilation of human society and even to the extinction of all life on the planet. Yes. It can go that far. That is called the “Venus Syndrome”.

    What is the current response of the leaders of our industries and Nations? A scramble to build the Keystone pipeline to accelerate the madness of Tar Sand extraction, and another suicidal scramble to divide the soon-to-be ice free Arctic Ocean into national fiefdoms for oil and natural gas production. These acts are nothing short of Suicidal Madness. Of course, it is not just the money-blinded shortsighted profit-greedy leaders who are committing suicide. They are doing it for all of us. Some would call that murder. It will be the murder of the ignorant unless Curtler and others get the word out – clearly – not diluted and obfuscated by bewildered and fatal niceties.