Jan. 10, 2007

Will they Greet them with Flowers This Time?


So President Bush will be speaking to his nation tonight, ignoring his own Baker Commission, the American Congress, the American Public, the whole damned world not to mention common sense let alone decency and ordering a "surge" of troops into Iraq. Let's just hope the Democrats have enough courage and integrity to fight this madness.

And don't forget that Iran is still in the neo-con cross-hairs either.

Some More on Climate Change

Some relevant information gleaned from the web;

You may have heard news reports about a funny gas smell in New York. The Wayne Madsen Report thinks it's oceanic methane;

According to U.S. maritime industry sources, tanker captains are reporting an increase in onboard alarms from hazard sensors designed to detect hydrocarbon gas leaks and, specifically, methane leaks. However, the leaks are not emanating from cargo holds or pump rooms but from continental shelves venting increasing amounts of trapped methane into the atmosphere. With rising ocean temperatures, methane is increasingly escaping from deep ocean floors. Methane is also 21 more times capable of trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

In fact, one of the major sources for increased methane venting is the Hudson Submarine Canyon, which extends 400 miles into the Atlantic from the New York-New Jersey harbor. Another location experiencing increased venting is the Santa Barbara Channel on the California coast.

Meanwhile, a strong natural gas odor was reported this morning in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Jersey City, Weehawken, and Newark. The strong odor was also detected in Union City, Secaucus, and Hoboken. Last August, a similar unexplained gas odor sent people to the hospital in Staten Island and Queens. Although methane is odorless, natural methane venting is often accompanied by the venting of acrid hydrogen sulfide, a byproduct of bacterial decomposition.

The US Coast Guard sent a message to ships and tugs in the bay and ocean south of New York requesting any reports of the odor being detected at sea. There were also an unconfirmed report of a similar strong odor being detected this morning on the Delaware coast near Lewes. This morning, the prevailing winds in New York and New Jersey were southerly at 5 to 10 miles per hour.

In other global warming news, the warm temperatures on the U.S. East Coast are resulting in early blooming of the cherry trees and azaleas in Washington, DC and New York City, apple and peach trees in Maryland, and roses, forsythias, and crocuses in Connecticut. A number of people along the East Coast are suffering from allergies usually experienced in April. Monk parakeets from South America have invaded the Chicago area.

George W. Bush continues to insist that global warming is "silly science" based on "fuzzy math." Corporate news media masters are pressuring plastic-faced and neatly-coiffured TV weathermen to treat the current abnormal warm weather as an unexpected "gift" for their viewers. The latte-sipping and SUV-driving yuppies in Washington, DC are certainly taking the current weather abnormality in stride -- they almost appear ecstatic about the weather, obviously unaware that the future of our planet is hanging on a thread.

There's some hard science that makes this plausible. Nature.com has an article about the massive methane out-gassing that triggered the early Eocene heating. What goes around comes around.

About 55 million years ago, our planet emitted a spectacular burp. Trillions of tonnes of methane, until then safely locked up in soils and beneath the ocean floor, were released into the oceans and atmosphere. Methane is a greenhouse gas, so the result was a global-warming incident that has not been matched since — within a few thousand years, average temperatures in some areas rose by up to 8 °C.

Although the evidence for this warming is clear, what sparked the methane release is a mystery. Some researchers believe that the trigger was a small change in ocean temperature. Others suggest that a comet impact was responsible. Analyses of cores from ocean-drilling experiments may soon provide the answer, but the results might do more than shed light on ancient climate — they may also tell us what the long-term consequences of current global warming are likely to be.

AlterNet has a piece looking at just how hard reversing global warming could be;

Monbiot argues for a global carbon emissions cap allocated on a per capita basis. Since all of humanity shares the biosphere, which has only a limited absorptive and cleansing capacity and all humans are created equal, then each should have equal use of that capacity.

The implications of biospheric equity are so profound and so disturbing, that it is understandable why American environmentalists shy away from discussing the issue. Currently, global carbon emissions are about 7 billion tons, roughly, 1 ton per person. But the average American generates, directly and indirectly, some 10 tons per capita. Thus, to save the planet and cleanse our resource sins, Americans must go far beyond freezing greenhouse gas emissions. As a nation, we must reduce them by more than 90 percent, taking into account the sharp reductions in existing global emissions necessary to stabilize the world's climate.

Suddenly we realize that addressing the global warming problem will be very difficult, not only politically but economically and institutionally. And it may well entail significant sacrifice.

I'm not very optimistic that the public really wants to go there. I think the sad story of the East Coast fishery is instructive. The Grand Banks of Newfoundland used to have the most prolific cod fishery in the world. Old accounts from early sailors tell how they would lower a boat, swing an oar in the water and club a couple of fishes for lunch. No more. The Grand Banks sustained a lucrative commercial fishery for four hundred years until the methods switched to big factory ships and huge drag nets. Already in the 'eighties marine biologists were warning that the catch was unsustainable. But no politician concerned would dare impose realistic quotas.

I well remember the then Minister of Fisheries, John Crosbie, thundering in the House in his thick Newfoundland accent about "not talking work from our fishermen." There were a few very profitable years and now the fishery is gone, probably beyond hope of recovery. Not diminished, not scaled back - gone. There is no commercial cod fishery in Eastern Canada. Unless this kind of greedy short-term thinking is changed, our whole civilization will be going the way of the cod.

Jan. 8, 2007

Buddhist look at Climate Change

The weather is really freaky this winter. Locally, we've been ten or fifteen degrees Celsius above seasonal norms. We've had rain in Dec. and Jan. which I've never seen before. Massive ice-sheets are breaking up in the high arctic. People across the country are starting to notice, and suddenly climate change is the number one hot political issue, causing even the Alberta oil-men of the Conservative government to make feeble green noises.

Guess what folks? You're about twenty years late and a few billion dollars short. This late in the game and they're still talking in terms of "sustainable development." I agree with Lovelock that we've gone beyond the point where that is useful concept. He talks about a "sustainable retreat." It's no damn use at all to mandate ten percent ethanol (like our provinvial gov't) or roll out new hybrid SUVs like GM. We need to start thinking about managing the down-sizing of our industrial civilization before mother nature does it for us, the hard way.

This is where Buddhism can make a real contribution. Buddhism teaches the virtue of santutthi, contentment with little. This is something the whole world needs to take seriously. So far, most people hang on to the forlorn hope that they can sustain their profligate life-styles with just a little greening around the edges; using the recycle box, adding ethanol to gas (a total crock), buying anything marketed with an "Eco" label.

Was it Thoreau who said "All the trouble in the world comes about because people are not content to sit quietly in their rooms"? (note- anyone know the source of this for sure?) Whoever said it, it's spot on. As a species, as individuals, we are all of us taking more from this planet than it can sustain. One way or another, we are going to be reverting to a simpler subsistence life-style in the coming decades. We can do it the easy way, or the hard way.

When scattered individuals here and there adopt some degree of voluntary simplicity, it certainly is good for their own spiritual well-being, but it has very little real impact on the environment. This needs to be a societal change, and it would be a good first step if political leaders and opinion makers stopped talking about "economic growth." If they were wise, they would be planning for a steady-state equilibrium at a much lower level of consumption than now. I don't see any signs of that happening.

Another teaching from Buddhism that helps keep our individual sanity in all this is the teaching of impermanence. The earth we know and love is a changing planet. It's always been in a state of change, just look at some geological history. We actually passed through a hundred thousand year hot spell 55 million years ago at the start of the Eocene. Hey, we got through that eventually.

Buddhist cosmological myths (which I don't necessarily take literally, but think embody a deeper truth) tell us that this world-system will come through a very dark period into one more golden age before the end (not of everything, but of this world). So the long range forecast is good.

New Look

As you may have noticed, I've changed the blog template. I've gotten one negative comment. What do the rest of you think?


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