Feb 27, 2006

Let's Talk "Sudden Climate Change"

It was a balmy, spring day in January when I bumped into my neighbor outside. "Lovely weather," he remarked.

"Lovely. But a little creepy when you consider it comes courtesy of global warming."

"Global warming? Maybe hundreds of years from now." He made a hasty break for his SUV.

Here in the United States, where the reality of global climate change is still being debated, such denial is common. However, as I tried to explain to my rapidly retreating neighbor, we are seeing the results of global warming right now, all over the world, and there is the very real threat that those results will escalate dramatically in a very few years. There are whisperings of something called "sudden climate change." New research is showing that we are ahead of many of the timetable predictions. Worse, at a certain point the changes in our climate become cumulative. As John Atcheson explains in "Hotter, Faster, Worser," there are developing "feedback loops" in which the increasing warmth of the planet is giving birth to sudden outpourings of carbon dioxide and methane, which accelorate the warming, which increases the release of carbon dioxide and methane... Well, you can see where this is going.

...the scientific community failed to adequately anticipate and model several positive feedback loops that profoundly amplify the rate and extent of human-induced climate change. And in the case of global warming, positive feedback loops can have some very negative consequences. The plain fact is, we are fast approaching – and perhaps well past – several tipping points which would make global warming irreversible.

In an editorial in the Baltimore Sun on December 15th, 2004 this author outlined one such tipping point: a self-reinforcing feedback loop in which higher temperatures caused methane – a powerful heat-trapping greenhouse gas (GHG) – to escape from ice-like structures called clathrates, which raised the temperature which caused more methane to be released and so on. Even though there was strong evidence that this mechanism had contributed to at least two extreme warming events in the geologic past, the scientific community hadn’t yet focused on methane ices in 2004. Even among the few pessimists who had, we believed – or hoped – that we had a decade or so before anything like it began happening again.

We were wrong.

In August of 2005 a team of scientists from Oxford and Tomsk University in Russia announced that a massive Siberian peat bog the size of Germany and France combined was melting, releasing billions of tons of methane as it did.

The last time it got warm enough to set off this feedback loop was 55 million years ago in a period known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum or PETM, when increased volcanic activity released enough GHGs to trigger a series of self-reinforcing methane burps. The resulting warming caused massive die-offs and it took more than a 100,000 years for the earth to recover.

It’s looks like we’re on the verge of triggering a far worse event....

While I've been concerned about the environment for many years, there was a tipping point in my own consciousness in 2003 when I read reports of vast numbers of French citizens dropping dead from a heat wave. Atcheson puts the final tally of European heat related deaths that summer at 35,000. But aside from the alarming freakishness of this event, there were more far-reaching consequences. As Atcheson explains:

There are other positive feedback loops we’ve failed to anticipate. For example, the heat wave in Europe that killed 35,000 people in 2003 also damaged European woodlands, causing them to release more carbon dioxide, the main GHG, than they sequester – exactly the opposite of the assumptions built into our models, which treat forests as sponges that sop up excess carbon.

This is the type of occurence that could lead to sudden climate change. And Atcheson explains that there are similar concerns about other regions.

The same thing is happening to a number of other ecosystems that our models and scientists have treated as carbon sinks. The Amazon rainforest, the boreal forests (one of the largest terrestrial carbon sinks in the planet), and soils in temperate areas are all releasing more carbon than they are absorbing, due to global warming-induced droughts, diseases, pest activity, and metabolic changes. In short, many of the things we treat as carbon sponges in our models aren’t sopping up excess carbon; they’re being wrung out and releasing extra carbon.

The polar ice cap is also melting far faster than models predict, setting off another feedback loop. Less ice means more open water, which absorbs more heat which means less ice, and so on.

Even worse, we’ve substantially underestimated the rate at which continental glaciers are melting.

Climate change models predicted that it would take more than 1,000 years for Greenland’s ice sheet to melt. But at the AAAS meeting in St. Louis, NASA’s Eric Rignot outlined the results of a study that shows Greenland’s ice cover is breaking apart and flowing into the sea at rates far in excess of anything scientists predicted, and it’s accelerating each year. If (or when) Greenland’s ice cover melts, it will raise sea levels by 21 feet – enough to inundate nearly every sea port in America.

All of this paints a picture far worse than people like my neighbor are taking in. The impact of global warming is not in the indefinite future. It's now. As a recent Washington Post article explains, increasing global temperatures are estimated to claim 150,000 lives and cause roughly 5 million illnesses a year. Most of the victims of the rising occurences of malaria, malnutrition, and diarrhea are the world's poor, whose lack of political clout has made their deaths largely invisible to suburban America.

But the "oceans will not protect us" from the impact of sudden climate change and it could occur within 20 years. A report ordered by the Pentagon, and quietly buried without fanfare, posited that the effects of climate shift could plunge us into a world war.

Climate change over the next 20 years could result in a global catastrophe costing millions of lives in wars and natural disasters..

A secret report, suppressed by US defence chiefs and obtained by The Observer, warns that major European cities will be sunk beneath rising seas as Britain is plunged into a 'Siberian' climate by 2020. Nuclear conflict, mega-droughts, famine and widespread rioting will erupt across the world.

The document predicts that abrupt climate change could bring the planet to the edge of anarchy as countries develop a nuclear threat to defend and secure dwindling food, water and energy supplies. The threat to global stability vastly eclipses that of terrorism, say the few experts privy to its contents.

'Disruption and conflict will be endemic features of life,' concludes the Pentagon analysis. 'Once again, warfare would define human life.'

The theorist behind this alarming prediction is the respected military advisor Andrew Marshall; known in National Defense circles as "Yoda." He was appointed by Donald Rumsfeld in pre-9/11 2001 to bring his considerable influence to bear on the reshaping of the American military. But the report Marshall delivered in early 2004 concluded that the threat of an environmental catastrophe is far greater than that of global terrorism.

Worse, we may have already passed the point of no return. Says Atcheson:

A little over a year ago at the conclusion of a global conference in Exeter England on Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change, scientists warned that if we allowed atmospheric concentrations of GHG to exceed 400 ppm, we could trigger serious and irreversible consequences. We passed that milestone in 2005 with little notice and no fanfare.

The scientific uncertainty in global warming isn’t about whether it’s occurring or whether it’s caused by human activity, or even if it will "cost" us too much to deal with it now. That’s all been settled. Scientists are now debating whether it’s too late to prevent planetary devastation, or whether we have yet a small window to forestall the worst effects of global warming.

Feb 26, 2006

Christian Mob Kills Muslims

You have heard that it was said,
"An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth."

But I say to you, do not resist him who is evil;
but whoever slaps you on your right cheek,
turn him the other also.

MATTHEW 5:38-9

To members of the Nigerian Igbo tribe, I have to ask, how's that "turn the other cheek" thing workin' out for you?

AN enraged mob of Nigerian Christian youths has slaughtered dozens of Muslims in two days of rioting in the southern city of Onitsha.

Rioting broke out in the lawless trading town on the banks of the Niger River yesterday when members of the Igbo tribe launched revenge attacks in response to an earlier massacre of Christians in the north of the country.

Nineteen corpses were seen scattered by the side of the main road into the city across the Niger River bridge, where a contingent of soldiers had set up a roadblock to hold back hundreds of rioters armed with clubs and machetes.

The bodies had been beaten, slashed and in some cases burnt. Around the bloodied corpses lay scattered the caps and Islamic prayer beads associated with the northern Hausa tribe.

It gets better.

"Some of them had been beheaded, others had had their genitals removed. I saw one boy holding a severed head with blood dripping from it," he said.

I don't mean to be flip, but it does give the lie to that whole "religion of peace" idea. I know what you're saying. This is a skirmish among Nigerian tribesmen; an atrocity committed by people whose Christian conversion just hasn't permeated their more ancient tribal differences. I don't know enough about the history of these tribes to say what other cultural factors are at play. I do know enough about the Christian Bible to say that it does not instill the values of peace and forgiveness.

But if there is any further injury,
they you shall appoint as a penalty

life for life,eye for eye, tooth for tooth,
hand for hand, foot for foot,
burn for burn,
wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

EXODUS 21: 23-5

And if a man injures his neighbor,
just as he has done so it shall be done to him:

fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth;
just as he has injured man,
so it shall be inflicted on him.
LEVITICUS 24:19-20

Thus you shall not show pity: life for life, eye for eye,
tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

So, one could argue that our Igbo brothers were simply following a different Biblical directive. Christianity is anchored in a time of tribal warfare and an ethic that is by most modern standards, barbaric. To quote Joseph Campbell:

[The Bible is] the most over-advertised book in the world. It's very pretentious to claim it to be the word of God, or accept it as such and perpetuate this tribal mythology, justifying all kinds of violence to people who are not members of the tribe.

The thing I see about the Bible that's unfortunate is that it's a tribally circumscribed mythology. It deals with a certain people at a certain time. The Christians magnified it to include them. It then turns this society against all others, whereas the condition of the world today is that this particular society that's presented in the Bible isn't even the most important. This thing is like a dead weight. It's pulling us back because it belongs to an earlier period. We can't break loose and move into a modern theology.

One of the great promises of mythology is, with what social group do you identify? How about the planet? To say that the members of this particular social group are the elite of God's world is a good way to keep that group together, but look at the consequences! I think that what might be called the sanctified chauvinism of the Bible is one of the curses of the planet today.

Feb 15, 2006

There Is Only One World

There is only one world, the world that is pressing up against you this minute.
-- Storm Jameson
And it's feeling a little close right now, isn't it? Everyone I've spoken to over the last week has been feeling like they're in a pressure cooker. I know I am. A friend of mine gave me a book for Christmas called "365 Nirvana: Here and Now." Periodically I just flip the book open and see where I land. The quote above was the first thing I saw the other day when I tried this bit of bibliomancy. It was not a comfort.

G  35 Illustration of Earth
My colleague and shamanic healer Christina Pratt talks about "clear mirrors" and "smoky mirrors." Clear mirrors are pleasant reflections. When we encounter people and events that feel pleasing to us, they are reflecting the best in us. But other reflections are not so attractive -- even repellent. Those are smoky mirrors; reflections of our shadow self.

I'm not an astrologer but I've been told that we are moving through some difficult transits right now. There is certainly a sense of shared tension; the Muslim world is rioting over offensive cartoons, Vice President Cheney shot a man in a hunting accident... It would be nice to think that those things are "over there." They're not. They're part of our collective consciousness. Whether we like it or not, some tiny piece of these events around the globe is in each one of us, and is undoubtedly mirrored in some way in our daily lives. We would do well to heed those reminders of what we need to clear in our consciousness. As the next quote in my book reminds me:
Everything comes to you in life as a teacher.
Pay attention.
Learn quickly.
-- Old Cherokee Woman to Her Grandson