Dec 24, 2006

I DO Believe in Angels!

Angel Gabriel

It turns out an overwhelming majority of Americans believe in those mysterious, celestial beings. Belief in angels is most solid among Christian evangelicals at 97%, which doesn't seem terribly surprising. But belief in some type of angelic presence is also shared across a wide cultural spectrum, even among people who have no religious affiliation.

Protestants, women, Southerners, Midwesterners and Republicans were the most likely to believe in angels, although strong majorities in other groups also shared that faith. Belief in angels declined slightly with advanced education, from 87 percent of those with high school education or less to 73 percent of those with college degrees. Overall, 81 percent believed in angels.

One of the points made by Graham Hancock in his new book Supernatural is that religious belief is universal. These beliefs are not rational and not empirically provable, but they are part of every human civilization. He disputes the idea that religion is simply a means of providing comfort in a confusing world, by pointing out that religion is often counterproductive to cultural harmony. Many religious beliefs inspire fear as well as awe. And religious conflicts can escalate to open warfare. Hancock explores the human capacity for interfacing with the supernatural world that the highly reasonable dismiss as hallucinations. Hancock delves deep into shamanic practices, including the use of the notorious "vine of souls" ayahuasca. He posits the notion that the world we experience when we pierce the veil is not a disordered hallucination, but a separate reality accessible through the same brain that perceives this one.

In other words people cling to religious and spiritual beliefs because they experience them as real and tangible, even if their glimpses of this hidden reality are usually ephemeral. Such is the experience of Edward Pelz:

Edward Pelz, 80, of Grabill, Ind., said he believes that angels are guiding him, even though it's impossible to explain to anyone else.
"Have I ever seen one? Nope. We depict an angel as a person that's white, has a robe on, has wings on back. I'm not sure that's the way they look. So for me, I think sometimes there's angels that aren't that way."
Pelz recounted a story about a man who showed up to change his tire when he had a flat in Ohio five years ago.
"I look at life — I say, well maybe I had an angel with me here today. It could have been just another man doing a good deed."....
Pelz felt another spirit when he walked into his backyard on a winter's day — that of the wife he lost over two years ago. He called her Mom.
"She loved bluebirds," he said. "In the wintertime, we don't have bluebirds. I was out in the back, thinking, 'Mom I'd like to see you,' and this little bluebird comes by.
"I don't know, maybe that's an angel. It was just something I wanted to see. Maybe I imagined it. Next thing you know, it flew off. What is an angel? Is an angel something that has a heartbeat like us? Or is it ...?"
The thought trailed off.

Editor's Note: Graham Hancock's Supernatural is available in the bookstore. I will probably be writing more about the process of discovery Hancock leads the reader through in this amazing book. Really, one of the best books I've ever read.

Jun 22, 2006

How Many Episcopalians Does it Take to Change A Light Bulb?

Ten. One to change the light bulb and 9 to discuss how much better the old one was.

I'm old enough to remember the angst caused by revisions to the Book of Common Prayer in 1979, as well as the pitched battles over the decision to ordain women. I've always thought the Episcopal Church did an admirable job of straddling the line between forward, social momentum and regressive bickering.

Once again Anglicans are roiling with the changes that would allow them to keep pace with modernity. The recent appointment of a woman, the Right Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, to the post of Presiding Bishop of the US is the latest daring move for a Church internally at odds with its notorious tolerance. From Salon:

Jefferts Schori, a former oceanographer, was considered a long shot for the position by most church experts: Although she's a fairly mainstream liberal, her gender made it unlikely that the church would choose to be stirred up at a moment when it seemed to require smoothing over and calming down.

The Episcopal Church -- the American branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion, with 77 million members -- had already outraged conservatives three years ago by electing the openly gay Right Rev. Gene Robinson to head the Diocese of New Hampshire. Conservative African Anglicans joined with reactionary American Episcopalians, threatening to pull out of the Communion entirely if the enfranchisement of gay Christians was not stopped. There were name-calling, backstabbing, breakaway parishes, fights over property and thundering sermons about "abomination" and deviance. "The battle is about the authority of Scripture," proclaimed conservative American Bishop Robert Duncan. "It's about the basics of Christian faith ... The issues have to do with sexuality and morality, but at the very heart of it is whether Scripture can be trusted."

The eponymous blogger at That's Not Christian offers this oh-so-gentle reminder to those who would cling to ideas of Biblical inerrancy in their battle against the legitimization of gay lifestyles.

The Old Testament contains several verses written by men who opposed homosexuality (and biblical literalists believe that every word written by these men was inspired by God)–but not in terms of restricting gay marriage or gay bishops or gay soldiers or gay whatnot. The only Old Testament prescription for handling gay people is "stoning unto death".

And there are several other groups of people, including adulterers and rebellious children, that Old Testament writers advised stoning unto death. In "Biblical days", stoning was the capital punishment of choice, though there were several lesser-known methods of punishment for the authorites to use as desired, such as "poisoning the womb" of women...

That last is actually a method of abortion, which underscores as well anything the level of hypocrisy called for by rigid fundamentalism.

I spent a good deal of my youth in a very moderate Episcopal Church. The Assistant Priest, who was charged with the responsibility of shaping our adolescent minds, was a bit of a lefty and had done a stint as a touring folk singer. He began one youth group meeting by telling us what he'd learned his first day of seminary. He snatched a Bible from the shelf and dropped it on the floor. He pointed at it and announced, "The Bible did not arrive that way." The holy scripture, he taught us, had many authors, and, while inspired by God, was flawed and internally contradictory. Not even the begats are consistent, he told us, with some listings skipping entire generations. "The thing that makes me nervous about fundamentalists," he used to say, "Is that I've never met people who were so sure that they were right and everybody else was wrong."

My opinions of the American Episcopal Church are largely shaped by the progressive attitudes I encountered in formative years spent under its tutelage. So it is painful to watch them lurch and limp into the future; alternating brave innovations with craven reversals.

This Friday PBS will air a new series, "Bill Moyers on Faith & Reason," exploring the role of religion in a modern, culturally diverse world. Says Moyers:

The chaotic events of the world have fueled a yearning for certainty, and fundamentalism is nothing if not certain -- it offers propositions that can be affixed as bumper stickers; it gives people sound bites to which they can assent. It's a life jacket in a stormy sea, solid ground in the earthquake of life.

Furthermore, if you believe a sacred text is literally the word of God, you don't need any other proof. And you don't want to waste time with people who disagree with you. You know God's mind -- who are they to stand in your way? Around the world, fundamentalism is waging war against the imagination -- against creativity, freedom (freedom of the mind, above all), and against the tolerance that is necessary if people of different beliefs are to live together.

It is the challenge of all humanity to juggle contradictions and the Episcopal Church has proved itself to be skilled at doing so. If history is any guide they will continue along the bumpy path of growth and change; seeking a contemplative and mature faith over a reactionary one.

Jun 2, 2006

New Studies: Hurricane Intensity Rising

Two new studies released earlier this week conclude that hurricane intensity is increasing with increases in global temperature. In an earlier post I noted a study from the Georgia Institute of Technology that saw a correlation between rising water temperatures and stronger, more damaging hurricanes. Early this week both Purdue University and Pennsylvania State University studies reached similar conclusions. This New York Times article emphasizes the hotly debated nature of these studies. They cannot be read as conclusive, but certainly as very interesting and concerning.

The Purdue scientists found that their results matched earlier work by Kerry A. Emanuel, a hurricane expert at M.I.T. Dr. Emanuel has argued that global warming, specifically the warming of the tropical oceans, is already increasing the power expended by hurricanes.

The approach used by the Purdue researchers, concentrating on what is called reanalysis data, has never been tried for this purpose before, Dr. Huber said in an interview, adding, "We were surprised that it did as well as it did."

In a statement accompanying the release of the study, Dr. Huber said the results were important because the overall measure of cyclone activity, whether through more intense storms or more frequent storms, had doubled with a one-quarter-degree increase in average global temperature.

In the other new study, Dr. Emanuel and Michael E. Mann, a meteorologist at Pennsylvania State University, compared records of global sea surface temperatures with those of the tropical Atlantic and said the recent strengthening of hurricanes was attributable largely to the rise in ocean surface temperature.

The impact of stronger storms is already taking a toll on the environment and damaging sensitive ecosystems. After last year's deluge of hurricanes the entire gulf region of the United States experienced multiplicative damage. As per the Baltimore Sun:

Throughout the Gulf Coast region from Texas to Florida, barrier islands have been battered by wind and waves, leaving many fragmented and submerged.

The Chandeleur Islands off Louisiana's coast were stripped clean by Katrina, submerging much of the 40-mile-long, uninhabited chain and leaving the mainland more vulnerable in the coming hurricane season.

"It takes a long time for these dunes to re-establish naturally, so the next storm that comes along will have an easier job overtopping the islands and flooding inland areas," said oceanographer Abby Sallenger of the U.S. Geological Survey.

Louisiana had been losing coastal wetlands at a rate of about 25 square miles a year, scientists say. It is estimated that Katrina caused a loss of 118 square miles of wetland marshes.

"What potentially could happen if you take away the barrier islands, the wetlands could even disappear faster," Sallenger said. "The marsh itself will just disintegrate, and it supports an incredibly rich ecosystem."

Another recent study shows that New Orleans is simply not ready for another major hurricane and the impact could be devastating. But Florida's ecosystem is also hanging in the balance.

"These hurricanes are just taking big chunks of our landscape," Doyle said.

"It could eventually be the threshold that tips the bucket and leads freshwater systems to become brackish ... and the whole system kind of collapses. We now have this game board set with certain things in place, and in combination with more frequent hurricanes it can aggravate the situation in terms of sustainability in our social, agricultural and natural systems."

In Florida, where the Everglades has become a managed network of canals and levees, scientists face the daunting task of controlling more water from frequent storms to keep developed areas from flooding and to cleanse agricultural runoff of fertilizers and pesticides before it reaches surrounding wetlands.

Jun 1, 2006

"Religion is Hard Work"

I relate strongly to Karen Armstrong. No, I was never a nun, but my life has followed a similar path of spiritual exploration, disillusionment, and discovery. In the introduction to his interview with Armstrong, Salon's Steve Paulson describes her appeal thusly:

Armstrong now calls herself a "freelance monotheist." It's easy to understand her appeal in today's world of spiritual seekers. As an ex-nun, she resonates with people who've fallen out with organized religion. Armstrong has little patience for literal readings of the Bible, but argues that sacred texts yield profound insights if we read them as myth and poetry. She's especially drawn to the mystical tradition, which -- in her view -- has often been distorted by institutionalized religion.

The interview is quite compelling and well worth watching the ad to read. I've excerpted some of the highlights.

In her recent book, "The Great Transformation," Armstrong writes about the religions that emerged during the "Axial Age," a phrase coined by the German philosopher Karl Jaspers. This is the era when many great sages appeared, including the Buddha, Socrates, Confucius, Jeremiah and the mystics of the Upanishads. -- Salon

On the meaning of religion:

Religion is a search for transcendence. But transcendence isn't necessarily sited in an external god, which can be a very unspiritual, unreligious concept. The sages were all extremely concerned with transcendence, with going beyond the self and discovering a realm, a reality, that could not be defined in words.

On God as a personal concept:

No, but the great theologians in Judaism, Christianity and Islam say you begin with the idea of a god who is personal. But God transcends personality as God transcends every other human characteristic, such as gender. If we get stuck there, this is very immature. Very often people hear about God at about the same time as they're learning about Santa Claus. And their ideas about Santa Claus mature and change in time, but their idea of God remains infantile.

On whether the non-religious can be moral:

They can. I fully endorse that. I don't think you need to believe in an external god to obey the Golden Rule. In the Axial Age, when people started to concentrate too much on what they're transcending to -- that is, God -- and neglected what they're transcending from -- their greed, pompous egotism, cruelty -- then they lost the plot, religiously. That's why God is a difficult religious concept. I think God is often used by religious people to give egotism a sacred seal of divine approval, rather than to take you beyond the ego.

On mythos and logos:

Yes. In the pre-modern world, there were two ways of arriving at truth. Plato, for example, called them mythos and logos. Myth and reason or science. We've always needed both of them. It was very important in the pre-modern world to realize these two things, myth and science, were complementary. One didn't cancel the other out.

On violence in the Quran:

I would say there are more passages in the Bible than the Quran that are dedicated to violence. I think what all religious people ought to do is to look at their own sacred traditions. Not just point a finger at somebody else's, but our own. Christians should look long and hard at the Book of Revelation. And they should look at those passages in the Pentateuch that speak of the destruction of the enemy.

On fundamentalism as a reaction to institutionalized secularism:

Yes, because fundamentalism has developed in every single one of the major traditions as a response to secularism that has been dismissive or even cruel, and has attempted to wipe out religion.

On the practice of relgion:

Religion is hard work. It's an art form. It's a way of finding meaning, like art, like painting, like poetry, in a world that is violent and cruel and often seems meaningless. And art is hard work. You don't just dash off a painting. It takes years of study. I think we expect religious knowledge to be instant. But religious knowledge comes incrementally and slowly. And religion is like any other activity. It's like cooking or sex or science. You have good art, sex and science, and bad art, sex and science. It's not easy to do it well.

On creation myths and the book of Genesis:

Well, it's not a literal account because it's put right next door to another account in Chapter 2, which completely contradicts it. Then there are other creation stories in the Bible that show Yahweh like a Middle Eastern god killing a sea monster to create the world. Cosmogony in the ancient world was not an account of the physical origins of life. Cosmogony was usually used therapeutically. When people were sick or in times of vulnerability, they would read a cosmogony in order to get an influx of the divine, to tap into those extraordinary energies that had created something out of nothing.

May 29, 2006

Anatomy of Climate Lie

It's behind the curtain of New York Times Select, but Paul Krugman's latest column is an insightful dissection of one emblematic case of disinformation used to obscure the evidence of global warming.

NASA climatologist James Hansen is introduced in Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth."

Dr. Hansen was one of the first climate scientists to say publicly that global warming was under way. In 1988, he made headlines with Senate testimony in which he declared that "the greenhouse effect has been detected, and it is changing our climate now." When he testified again the following year, officials in the first Bush administration altered his prepared statement to downplay the threat. Mr. Gore's movie shows the moment when the administration's tampering was revealed.

Krugman fleshes out more of Mr. Hansen's story and demonstrates how far energy companies are willing to go to disinform the public about hard science.

But soon after Dr. Hansen's 1988 testimony, energy companies began a campaign to create doubt about global warming, in spite of the increasingly overwhelming evidence. And in the late 1990's, climate skeptics began a smear campaign against Dr. Hansen himself.

Leading the charge was Patrick Michaels, a professor at the University of Virginia who has received substantial financial support from the energy industry. In Senate testimony, and then in numerous presentations, Dr. Michaels claimed that the actual pace of global warming was falling far short of Dr. Hansen's predictions. As evidence, he presented a chart supposedly taken from a 1988 paper written by Dr. Hansen and others, which showed a curve of rising temperatures considerably steeper than the trend that has actually taken place.

In fact, the chart Dr. Michaels showed was a fraud — that is, it wasn't what Dr. Hansen actually predicted. The original paper showed a range of possibilities, and the actual rise in temperature has fallen squarely in the middle of that range. So how did Dr. Michaels make it seem as if Dr. Hansen's prediction was wildly off? Why, he erased all the lower curves, leaving only the curve that the original paper described as being "on the high side of reality."

The experts at, the go-to site for climate science, suggest that the smears against Dr. Hansen "might be viewed by some as a positive sign, indicative of just how intellectually bankrupt the contrarian movement has become." But I think they're misreading the situation. In fact, the smears have been around for a long time, and Dr. Hansen has been trying to correct the record for years. Yet the claim that Dr. Hansen vastly overpredicted global warming has remained in circulation, and has become a staple of climate change skeptics, from Michael Crichton to Robert Novak.

It is just this kind of distortion that has allowed energy companies and their front men in political office to perpetuate the myth that global warming is still debatable and unproven. Pioneers like Dr. Hansen have been sacrificed on the altar of political expediency. Meanwhile, the planet keeps getting warmer.

May 27, 2006

Gold Star Widow Seeks Pentacle

Sgt. Patrick Stewart served his country twice; once in Desert Storm with the regular Army and again in Afghanistan with the National Guard. He did not return from Afghanistan. Last September he died there when his helicopter was shot down. He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart; symbols of his service and sacrifice. But it is the symbol of his religion that has become a complicated issue. Stewart was a Wiccan and his wife has been fighting a protracted battle to memorialize him with a pentacle.

Over the years, families have used religious symbols such as the Jewish Star of David, the Christian cross and the Islamic crescent and star to honor their loved ones on headstones and markers.

For Sgt. Patrick Stewart's family, the symbol of choice was also from his religion: the Wiccan pentacle.

But of all the symbols and faiths recognized by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Wicca and its emblem – a circle around a five-pointed star – are not among them.

There are hopeful signs from the VA.

The state's top veterans official, Tim Tetz, said he was “diligently pursuing” the matter with Gov. Kenny Guinn, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev.

“Sergeant Stewart and his family deserve recognition for their contributions to our country,” said Tetz, executive director of the Nevada Office of Veterans Services.

“It's unfortunate the process is taking so long, but I am certain Sgt. Patrick will ultimately receive his marker with the Wiccan symbol,” he said Thursday.

However, Stewart's family is not the first to pursue equal consideration for Wiccans who have served their country with discouraging results.

The Rev. Selena Fox, senior minister of the Wiccan Circle Sanctuary in Barneveld, Wis., is among those who have been pushing the federal government to adopt the emblem.

Fox said Veterans Affairs has been considering such requests for nearly nine years with no decision.

“While this stonewalling continues, families of soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice are still waiting for equal rights,” Fox said.

Only time will tell.

Mar 28, 2006

"Sudden Climate Change" pt. 4: Media Tipping Point

First "60 Minutes," now Time magazine. The mainstream media are suddenly waking up to the grim reality of global warming and its gathering danger.

Never mind what you've heard about global warming as a slow-motion emergency that would take decades to play out. Suddenly and unexpectedly, the crisis is upon us.

It certainly looked that way last week as the atmospheric bomb that was Cyclone Larry -- a Category 5 storm with wind bursts that reached 180 m.p.h. -- exploded through northeastern Australia. It certainly looked that way last year as curtains of fire and dust turned the skies of Indonesia orange, thanks to drought-fueled blazes sweeping the island nation. It certainly looks that way as sections of ice the size of small states calve from the disintegrating Arctic and Antarctic. And it certainly looks that way as the sodden wreckage of New Orleans continues to molder, while the waters of the Atlantic gather themselves for a new hurricane season just two months away. Disasters have always been with us and surely always will be. But when they hit this hard and come this fast -- when the emergency becomes commonplace -- something has gone grievously wrong. That something is global warming.

Time's Jeffrey Klugar does a very capable job of describing some of the tipping points and feedback loops that are leading to escalated warming and escalating concern amongst climatologists.

What few people reckoned on was that global climate systems are booby-trapped with tipping points and feedback loops, thresholds past which the slow creep of environmental decay gives way to sudden and self-perpetuating collapse. Pump enough CO2 into the sky, and that last part per million of greenhouse gas behaves like the 212th degree Fahrenheit that turns a pot of hot water into a plume of billowing steam. Melt enough Greenland ice, and you reach the point at which you're not simply dripping meltwater into the sea but dumping whole glaciers. By one recent measure, several Greenland ice sheets have doubled their rate of slide, and just last week the journal Science published a study suggesting that by the end of the century, the world could be locked in to an eventual rise in sea levels of as much as 20 ft....

One of the reasons the loss of the planet's ice cover is accelerating is that as the poles' bright white surface shrinks, it changes the relationship of Earth and the sun. Polar ice is so reflective that 90% of the sunlight that strikes it simply bounces back into space, taking much of its energy with it. Ocean water does just the opposite, absorbing 90% of the energy it receives. The more energy it retains, the warmer it gets, with the result that each mile of ice that melts vanishes faster than the mile that preceded it.

That is what scientists call a feedback loop, and it's a nasty one, since once you uncap the Arctic Ocean, you unleash another beast: the comparatively warm layer of water about 600 ft. deep that circulates in and out of the Atlantic. "Remove the ice," says Woods Hole's Curry, "and the water starts talking to the atmosphere, releasing its heat. This is not a good thing."

A similar feedback loop is melting permafrost, usually defined as land that has been continuously frozen for two years or more. There's a lot of earthly real estate that qualifies, and much of it has been frozen much longer than two years--since the end of the last ice age, or at least 8,000 years ago. Sealed inside that cryonic time capsule are layers of partially decayed organic matter, rich in carbon. In high-altitude regions of Alaska, Canada and Siberia, the soil is warming and decomposing, releasing gases that will turn into methane and CO2. That, in turn, could lead to more warming and permafrost thaw, says research scientist David Lawrence of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo. And how much carbon is socked away in Arctic soils? Lawrence puts the figure at 200 gigatons to 800 gigatons. The total human carbon output is only 7 gigatons a year.

Only time will tell if this marks a tipping point in the public consciousness and will result in the drastic reform needed. But it appears time is the one thing we don't have.

Mar 21, 2006

"Rewriting the Science"

If you missed this Sunday's "60 Minutes" you can read a recap here. As I wrote a few weeks ago, only in the US is global warming still being debated. For most of the world it's settled science. Now comes further insight into how our current Administration has been keeping the jury out all this time -- by silencing the prosecution.

As a government scientist, James Hansen is taking a risk. He says there are things the White House doesn't want you to hear but he's going to say them anyway.

Hansen is arguably the world's leading researcher on global warming. He's the head of NASA's top institute studying the climate. But this imminent [sic] scientist tells correspondent Scott Pelley that the Bush administration is restricting who he can talk to and editing what he can say. Politicians, he says, are rewriting the science.

What the science actually says, according to Hansen is that global warming is real, accelorating, and caused largely by human activity. This is the message that an Administration with strong ties to the energy industry has suppressed with tactics Stalin might have envied.

"In my more than three decades in the government I've never witnessed such restrictions on the ability of scientists to communicate with the public," says Hansen.

Restrictions like this e-mail Hansen's institute received from NASA in 2004. "… there is a new review process … ," the e-mail read. "The White House (is) now reviewing all climate related press releases," it continued.

Veteran of both the Clinton and Bush Administrations Rick Piltz explains the anatomy of that vetting process.

"It comes back with a large number of edits, handwritten on the hard copy by the chief-of-staff of the Council on Environmental Quality."

Asked who the chief of staff is, Piltz says, "Phil Cooney."

Piltz says Cooney is not a scientist. "He's a lawyer. He was a lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute, before going into the White House," he says.

Cooney, the former oil industry lobbyist, became chief-of-staff at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Piltz says Cooney edited climate reports in his own hand. In one report, a line that said earth is undergoing rapid change becomes “may be undergoing change.” “Uncertainty” becomes “significant remaining uncertainty.” One line that says energy production contributes to warming was just crossed out.

"He was obviously passing it through a political screen," says Piltz. "He would put in the word potential or may or weaken or delete text that had to do with the likely consequence of climate change, pump up uncertainty language throughout."

In a report, Piltz says Cooney added this line “… the uncertainties remain so great as to preclude meaningfully informed decision making. …” References to human health are marked out. 60 Minutes obtained the drafts from the Government Accountability Project. This edit made it into the final report: the phrase “earth may be” undergoing change made it into the report to Congress. Piltz says there wasn’t room at the White House for those who disagreed, so he resigned.

"Even to raise issues internally is immediately career limiting," says Piltz. "That’s why you will find not too many people in the federal agencies who will speak freely about all the things they know, unless they’re retired or unless they’re ready to resign."

As for Mr. Cooney:

For months, 60 Minutes had been trying to talk with the president’s science advisor. 60 Minutes was finally told he would never be available. Phil Cooney, the editor at the Council on Environmental Quality didn’t return 60 Minutes' calls. In June, he left the White House and went to work for Exxon Mobil.

Mar 17, 2006

"Sudden Climate Change" Pt. 3: Tipping Point

As I said in my previous entries on this topic, the climate is in far worse shape than most Americans know or our current governmental agencies will acknowledge. Now comes news that we have passed a key tipping point in global warming. The warming has become self-reinforcing so that even if we were to cease our production of greenhouse gases, the planet would continue to heat. As per Reuters:

"It would keep on warming even though we have stopped the cause, which is greenhouse gases from the combustion of fossil fuels," David Jhirad of the Washington-based World Resources Institute said on Wednesday.

The rate of warming would be slower, Jhirad said in a telephone interview, but a kind of thermal inertia would ensure that global temperatures continue their upward trend.

He referred to a report released by the nonprofit institute this week that analyzed research reports on climate change for 2005.

"Taken collectively, they suggest that the world may well have moved past a key physical tipping point," the institute wrote.

Jhirad said there were actually two tipping points. The first is that there is no doubt human activities cause global warming; a more physical tipping point is that the effects of global warming are evident now.

The report, based on research published in journals including Science and Nature, also found the effects of climate change were so severe they should spur urgent action to prevent more damage and to combat damage that has already occurred.

"We can't assume this change is so far in the future that we can afford to delay," Jhirad said.

The World Resources Institute, founded in 1982, is a nonpartisan environmental think tank that works with industry and other ecological groups around the world.

In other news the increased planetary temperatures are producing stronger hurricanes, according to a new study.

Rising ocean surface temperatures are the primary factor fueling a 35-year trend of stronger, more intense hurricanes, scientists report in a new study.

The finding backs up the results of two controversial papers published last year that linked increasing hurricane intensity to rising sea-surface temperatures, said Judith Curry, an atmospheric scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.

"Global warming is sending sea-surface temperatures up, so we're looking at an increase in hurricane intensity globally," Curry said.

She added that in the North Atlantic Ocean basin—where hurricanes that affect the U.S. form—the number of hurricanes may also increase.

"Other ocean basins don't show an increase in [the] number [of hurricanes], but the North Atlantic does," she said.

Curry is a co-author of the new study, which appears in tomorrow's issue of the journal Science.

She also co-authored a study published last September in Science, that found the yearly number of hurricanes that reach Category Four and Five—the strongest storms on the hurricane intensity scale—has doubled since 1970.

This finding coincides with a 1°F (0.5°C) rise in global sea-surface temperature over the same time period.

Mar 5, 2006

Eye of God

This photo, dubbed the "Eye of God," has been circling the web, and recently found its way into my inbox.

The photo is from the NASA website and depicts the Helix Nebula. According to Snopes the nebula is not that colorful in real life. The photo is actually a composit of 9 different photographs of the nebula. Here's another photo of the same nebula, also from the NASA website.

This is NASA's description of what is occurring:

One day our Sun may look like this. The Helix Nebula is the closest example of a planetary nebula created at the end of the life of a Sun-like star. The outer gasses of the star expelled into space appear from our vantage point as if we are looking down a helix. The remnant central stellar core, destined to become a white dwarf star, glows in light so energetic it causes the previously expelled gas to fluoresce. The Helix Nebula, given a technical designation of NGC 7293, lies 450 light-years away towards the constellation of Aquarius and spans 1.5 light-years. The above image was taken with the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) located atop a dormant volcano in Hawaii, USA. A close-up of the inner edge of the Helix Nebula shows unusual gas knots of unknown origin.

So the real explanation may not be as "feel-good" as the urban legend floating around the web. Sorry, no matter what you've read, sending the photo to seven people on your email list won't bring you luck. But if you're willing to contemplate the wonder of a planetary star in entropy, it's truly magnificent.

I was struck by this image for another reason. It is an example of replicated geometries. It is not accidental that certain cardinal shapes recur throughout our reflective reality. "Sacred geometry," which pertains to the architecture of matter, ascribes significance to certain forms. This is why we see them in so many sacred symbols. The shapes themselves demonstrate the geometric requirements of manifest form.

The eye shape is sacred to many cultures. The variously attributed "Eye of Ra" or "Eye of Horus" in ancient Egypt is one example.

Legends and images of eyes permeate both mythology and superstition and with all manner of magical attributions. The evil eye is common to the folklore which has been disseminated outward from Mediterranean cultures. I've known many Greek and Italian Americans who wore a single disembodied eye in jewelry and on key chains; protection from the evil eye.

Every US dollar bears the "Eye of Providence." In the orignal sketches for the Great Seal, it was a single disembodied eye floating over a truncated pyramid, surrounded by a "glory." In its final form it was encapsulated in a triangle, reminiscent of the Egyptian benben; an icon of manifestation.

The "eye," then, captures our imagination in a way that few forms do. The geometry of the eye, with its alternations of spherical and vesica pisces shapes, tells the story of manifest creation. In sacred geometry the sphere represents the unity from which all manifestation springs. The vesica pisces, or almond shape, occurs when spheres overlap sheres. It is the shape of cell division, when one becomes two. That duality and oppostion makes possible the wave form out of which all things generate. Robert Lawlor explains in his book Sacred Geometry: Philosophy and practice.

The idea of the unknowable Unity at the beginning has been the basis of many philosphies and mythological systems. While Shakhara, with the Buddhism of a certain period, posited the void as a fundamental assumption, the main stream of Hinduism has always rested on the notion of the One, the Divine, who divided himself within himself to form his own self-created opposite, the manifested universe. Within the divine self-regard, three qualities of himself became distininguished: Sat (immobile being), Chit (consciousness-force) and Ananda (bliss). The original unity, represented by a circle, is then restated in the concept of the Real-Idea, the thought of God, which the Hindus called the bindu or seed, what we call the geometrical point. The point, according to the Shiva Sutra Vimarshini Commentaries, forms the limit between the manifest and non-manifest, between the spatial and the non-spatial. The bindu corresponds to the 'seed-sound idea' of the Tantras. The Divine transforms himself into sound vibration (nada), and proliferates the universe, which is not different from himself, by giving form or verbal expression to this self-idea. Ramakrishna summarized the scripture by saying, 'the Universe is nothing but the Divine uttering his own name to himself.'

Thus the universe springs forth from the Word. This transcendent Word is only a vibration (a materialization) of the Divine thought which gives rise to the fractioning of unity which is creation. The Word (
saabda in Sanskrit, the logos of the Christians and Gnostics), whose nature is pure vibration, represents the essential nature of all that exists. Concentric vibrational waves span outward from innumerable centres and their overlappings (interference patterns) form nodules of trapped energy which become the whirling, fiery bodies of the heavens. The Real-Idea, the Purusha, the inaudible and invisible point of the sound-idea remains fixed and immutable. Its names, however, can be investigated through geometry and number. This emitted sound, the naming of God's idea, is what the Pythagoreans would call the Music of the Spheres.

Seeing the Eye of God, then, is not a once in a lifetime opportunity, seen through a telescope. We see the Eye of God everytime we look into the eyes of another, or into our own eyes in a mirror. For "God is an infinite sphere whose circumference is everywhere and whose center is nowhere."

Mar 4, 2006

"Sudden Climate Change" cont.

Antarctic ice sheets are melting faster than thought; as much as 26 miles of ice per year. From the Washington Post.

The new findings, which are being published today in the journal Science, suggest that global sea level could rise substantially over the next several centuries.

It is one of a slew of scientific papers in recent weeks that have sought to gauge the impact of climate change on the world's oceans and lakes. Just last month two researchers reported that Greenland's glaciers are melting into the sea twice as fast as previously believed, and a separate paper in Science today predicts that by the end of this century lakes and streams on one-fourth of the African continent could be drying up because of higher temperatures.

The new Antarctic measurements, using data from two NASA satellites called the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), found that the amount of water pouring annually from the ice sheet into the ocean -- equivalent to the amount of water the United States uses in three months -- is causing global sea level to rise by 0.4 millimeters a year. The continent holds 90 percent of the world's ice, and the disappearance of even its smaller West Antarctic ice sheet could raise worldwide sea levels by an estimated 20 feet.

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