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Part of my new series on the 21st Century Crisis and also posted at Blue House Diaries

University of British Columbia geographer Greg Henry never used to wear a t-shirt in the Arctic, even in the middle of summer. But as The Tyee, a British Columbia-based lefty web magazine describes, he does now.

His data shows an average 6 C [nearly 11F] increase in winter temperatures at Alexandra Fjord since 1970, and a 1 degree per decade summertime increase.

The story of his findings is more than a sobering reminder of the inevitability of climate change. Instead it shows that massive climate change is already happening. The Arctic isn't the canary in the coal mine, Henry says, "the mine canary's dead. We're into full-fledged climate change."

After we all watched An Inconvenient Truth last summer we all probably looked around for ways to forestall the inevitable without making a drastic change to the way we live. It wasn't that we needed to stop driving, we just needed to change what we drove. It wasn't that we needed to stop spewing CO2, we just needed to somehow do less of it. Gore's film had a message of hope at its root, the hope that we could bring ourselves to make the small but significant changes that we hoped would forestall disaster.

The Arctic, however, may not wait. Henry and numerous other climatologists now believe that climate change is an irreversible fact of life. It's not something out there waiting for us if we don't drive a Prius, it's something we have already bought and paid for. It is happening.

Henry's forté is glaciation. Or as we should say today, the lack of it. As hundreds of mountain climbers have reported, glaciers around the world are in rapid retreat. In the Andes Mountains this retreat threatens Peru's and Bolivia's water supplies. And in the Arctic, the rate of retreat is stunning. Greenland is seeing a retreat of about 10-15 km per year in its glaciers.

Gore told us that a melting of the Greenland ice cap would alone be a catastrophe. When we watched that we thought it was a dire prediction. We now know, however, that he was merely reporting on a current event.

Henry believes we will see a 10 C [18 F] increase in Arctic temperatures between now and 2100, an average of 1 C per decade. That is merely the present rate; as John England, a University of Alberta scientist points out, we can expect this to accelerate as Arctic warming continues:

England believes that most scientists have, out of a natural caution, underestimated the global dangers ahead. "The sea ice will be GONE," he says, speaking of the Arctic Ocean, "by the end of this century. That's radical. That's HUGE! Once you remove the ice, you remove the solar reflectivity. The darker ocean water absorbs the sun's heat. As the ice goes, the Arctic warms up even faster. And that's not all: the permafrost is melting. It's melting fast! That's releasing a lot of methane into the atmosphere. You have all this carbon dioxide gas and moisture in the air from evaporation... it means more clouds. That warms things even more."

Of course, this means that sea levels will rise. If Greenland melts, we can expect a 7 meter rise in global sea levels. 7m would inundate most coastal cities and many low-lying nations, and it must be added that if Greenland were to melt, it would not do so in solitude.

But let me go back to the first sentence in England's blockquote there. Most scientific reports likely understate the amount of change we can expect. The same is true of the IPCC reports that are currently being generated. This is not necessarily because of complicity or blindness but because scientists are cautious people. If 10C is the actual rate of increase in the Arctic, not the 3-4C being currently projected, then we are fucked.

In short, we have created a Frankenstein's monster. In the 20th century we burned fossil fuels and built sprawl and disregarded not just the effect on our lived environment but also the long term consequences of our actions. We could claim ignorance until about 1970, but after that we knew exactly what we were doing; the social and economic and political costs of our dependence on pollution had become clear. By decade's end we had come to know we were changing the climate as well, and over the last 27 years we have merely filled in the details of this.

Meanwhile we began to delude ourselves that we could continue on as before, without claiming responsibility or admitting a need to change. As I argued last week, this was the Reagan Consensus - that Americans did not have to worry about the effects of their lifestyles and values. They could and should assert their privileges and damn the consequences.

Since 1980 we have dramatically racheted up our pollution of the globe. The results have been clear; as Gore pointed out the last 15 years have been the Earth's warmest on human record. Instead of pausing in the 1970s to fix our problems and find better ways of living, we instead threw caution to the wind in the 1980s. The price is now becoming clear.

And it can be easy for us to believe we will somehow survive unscathed this monster we unleashed. We created and used nuclear weapons, lived through 45 years of a knife-edge nuclear showdown, and told the tale. Nobody today worries about nuclear war any longer, even though more countries than ever before have them. As a species we have a remarkable ability to ignore the obvious and the threatening for as long as we possibly can.

But reality will, and is, smacking us upside the head. The time to change - to fundamentally change - has come. The time to reexamine virtually every single one of our assumptions about politics, society, economics, our interface with the natural world, has come.

THAT is the 21st Century Crisis of which I want to speak to you all over the course of this year. This diary is going to kick off a series, weekly I hope, outlining the massive crisis we now face, one that threatens our very survival and makes Bush look like a mere buzzing gnat. From health care to our food supply to our transportation systems to our political economy, we have reached a point where we cannot continue on as before, where we must instead recognize the need to change.

The 21st Century Crisis, then, is the realization that industrial society, the long 20th century, is over. To maintain its forms and assumptions is to continue to commit slow and sure suicide. It is the moment of profound Crisis that causes us who are decent, intelligent, and humanistic to find a sufficient response, before the forces of concentrated wealth and power impose one on us. We saw their solution, in New Orleans. It is a solution that must be avoided.

Dick Cheney memorably said "the American way of life is non negotiable." What he did not add is that our survival is. If we persist in believing that small cosmetic changes will save us, in the end we may not be much different than Cheney's insistence that no change is needed at all. We must make profound changes, in nearly every aspect of how we live. If these changes are to be inclusive and progressive, and not exclusive and regressive, it is up to us to lead.

Originally posted to eugene on Thu Apr 12, 2007 at 08:48 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Been kicking around this idea for a while (25+ / 0-)

    The 21st Century Crisis series, that is. I think it's time we started looking at these problems as being linked and interrelated, and began articulating the sort of much more radical and fundamental changes we will need to make to survive.

    We cannot continue on as we have been. We must change. It will be easier on us all if we figure out what that change must be, and especially if we do so sooner rather than later.

    I'm not part of a redneck agenda - Green Day

    by eugene on Thu Apr 12, 2007 at 08:44:31 AM PDT

    •  cool diary, eugene (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      eugene

      things are really heating up

      well done

      ````
      peace

    •  i think it's a great idea for a series (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      eugene, kate petersen

      honestly, half the people i know - and these are average people, too, not survivalists who've been hunkered down since Y2K - are trying to figure their way through this.

      the other half doesn't want to hear it and - well, so be it. because i do want to hear it.

    •  interconectedness is the key concept here (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      eugene

      both the problems we face and any potential solutions are necessarily interrelated and interconnected because the world is in fact one system, with networks inbcreasingly global in reach and consequence ( this concept is what vietnamese zen monk and nobel peace price nominee thich nhat hanh called interbeing).

      and as such, since the problems we face are a direct consequence of the patterns that sustain the status quo, we therefore cannot escape the conclusion that to escape or slve these peoblems, we must make a radical break ith the status quo, and build a new system not based on these patterns.

      now, more than ever, we need to look to radical solutions, and take seriously the ideas of radicals, despite - or more accurately, because of - their marginality to the status quo. we cannot reform it, we must completely reorder it, or risk perishing as a global civilization.

      surf putah, your friendly neighborhood central valley samizdat

      by wu ming on Thu Apr 12, 2007 at 01:40:57 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  What impact does this have (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    eugene, Pager, Runs With Scissors

    on the next Quarterly Profits report of my campaign contributors?

    •  Heh (4+ / 0-)

      Many of the Democratic candidates are pretty good on most issues, but they are all silent as the night on climate change.

      I'm not part of a redneck agenda - Green Day

      by eugene on Thu Apr 12, 2007 at 08:52:50 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yep (5+ / 0-)

        it's a very difficult political issue. Who wants to be the one to tell Americans that their lifestyle is unsustainable and absolutely must change? Who can stay in office (necessary, if any issue is going to get tackled, right?) after doing so?

        What's fascinating to me is the degree to which many Americans were willing to hand away pretty much all of their rights for safety in the wake of 9/11, but many throw an absolute fit if you tell them they should do things like, say, drive less if they can, turn down the air conditioning in their houses, conserve in whatever ways they can. A whole lot of marketing dollars go into teaching us, as Americans, to think of huge excess consumption as some sort of birthright -- it's a very effective message, one the corporations rely on and have been very successful in building in the American people.

        Can a politician get them to listen, without getting pilloried in the process of opening his/her mouth?

        I don't know. I really don't know.

        •  Great points (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Spit

          I like how you frame this - Americans happily gave up many of their core Constitutional rights, but cling with a death grip to obviously unsustainable and even suicidal lifestyle practices.

          There is room for this politically. I wrote a diary last fall explaining how politicians around the world have rallied their electoral fortunes by staking out a strong stance on climate change. Well, "strong" by our low standards.

          This is an area where I think the close identification of our main Democratic candidates (Edwards to a lesser extent than the others) with corporate America is a huge problem. Someone like Hillary Clinton is not of a mindset to see this as a huge problem requiring fundamental shifts in the way we live, consume, etc. So we're gonna have to try and provide that leadership ourselves.

          I'm not part of a redneck agenda - Green Day

          by eugene on Thu Apr 12, 2007 at 09:24:26 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  I think it can be done (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Spit

          and I don't think it requires telling Americans that their lifestyles are unsustainable.

          I think it can be done in an orderly, economy stimulating, market-based way, by simple enacting an economic framework in which the externalities (e.g. greenhouse gases) are factored into prices at every level.  That will convert what are currently undeserved subsidies for those who don't deserve it into a system in which poorer choices (e.g. a coal plant) subsidize better choices (e.g. a wind farm).

          And other than getting it started and doing some oversight, it needn't cost taxpayers much of anything!

          •  I agree (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            eugene, wu ming

            but disagree that that won't have a fairly direct impact on the American lifestyle as price increases are passed on to consumers. We're used to a lot of things being held artificially cheap, if you count environmental damage and its real effects into the price, and we have a pretty long way to go in technological development before we have really good answers for most of our needs. And we're dealing with a political environment in which the megaphone that can be used by companies to tell consumers that these crazy global warming conspirists are going to raise the cost of everything.

            I agree with you that in the net, this can be an economic positive, but it's going to require some real change on the parts of everyday people, too.

          •  I guess... (0+ / 0-)

            ...I don't have any faith that the market can provide this change. What is instead needed is a mass abandonment of the oil and gas based lifestyle of the 20th century, and I don't see how the market can really provide for that.

            I am also suspicious of claims that this can be done without much cost to taxpayers - I think the idea that we must prioritize the free market and low taxes is one big reason why we got here, and an attitude that will have to change.

            I'm not part of a redneck agenda - Green Day

            by eugene on Thu Apr 12, 2007 at 09:52:24 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Let me explain further then (0+ / 0-)

              Check out what I wrote here:

              Not Polluting Has Cash Value

              This can absolutely lead to the mass abandonment of the oil and gas based lifestyle.

              Consumers (at all levels, big and small) are primarily oriented around economic interest.  People basically will buy what gets the job done most cheaply.  That works against us now, because polluting doesn't affect the pocketbook.  It's just a matter of aligning interests.

              The reason why it needn't be costly to taxpayers is that the playing field is leveled by making poor (more polluting) choices more expensive (anti-subsidy) with those dollars going directly into the hands of those who made the better (cleaner) choice.

              Don't be so cynical about market forces!

            •  i would go a step further (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              eugene

              and say that what needs to be abandoned is the resource-extraction-at-gunpoint and infinite linear economic growth that was ushered in with the spanish conquest of new spain.

              this is a deep structure we're threatened by, and thinking our way out of its assumptions is going to be as difficult as reordering the political and economic systems that grow out of those assumptions.

              linear growth is only possible with infinite resources. europe broke out of its natural limits by stealing others' resources (land and labor), and then adding to that the finite fossil energy produced by millions of years of geologic processes. now all of our frontiers have been closed, the former colonies are now in the same game, and we've got no New Worlds, above or below ground, to plunder to keep the growth going.

              we may have to look back, not forward, to how premodern empires coped with finite resources of land in their economic systems.

              surf putah, your friendly neighborhood central valley samizdat

              by wu ming on Thu Apr 12, 2007 at 01:48:24 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

      •  not silent, but not loud enough either (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        eugene

        Obama and Clinton, for example, are cosponsors of S. 280 to impose a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions. But no one is talking about this as a top priority for his/her first term that I've heard.

        "What is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?" - J. Madison

        by berith on Thu Apr 12, 2007 at 09:36:21 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  i don't know about others (0+ / 0-)

        but Edwards has laid out some policy planks on global warming.

        So he gets some credit on being vocal - its just his proposals are basically the same stuff the environmental community has been talking about for decades.  

        We need to see someone respond to the CRISIS that has been elucidated over the past 24 - 36 months.

    •  I hate to admit this... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      wu ming

      When I saw your post, I thought your question was going to be something like, "What impact does this have...on the numbers of circumcisions occurring annually?"

    •  hard to fundraise in NYC, hollywood, SF, miami (0+ / 0-)

      when they're underwater or flooded by hurricane-force storms.

      likewise, it's pretty hard to run a stock exchange under water.

      surf putah, your friendly neighborhood central valley samizdat

      by wu ming on Thu Apr 12, 2007 at 01:42:41 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  You seem to indicate that (0+ / 0-)

    it's too late to do anything. The process has started.

    Am I missing something? All the info you quote seems to indicate that we can't stop this.

    Might actually be an interesting diary in that. Is there anyone out there saying it's too late already?

    •  That's what the climatologist (3+ / 0-)

      In the Tyee article is saying, yes.

      More and more folks are saying that climate change is already happening, and that we need to not think of it as some future event.

      Which I then take as a sign that we must make much more significant changes to the way we live not just to forestall even worse changes down the road, but to survive the changes we have already set into motion.

      I'm not part of a redneck agenda - Green Day

      by eugene on Thu Apr 12, 2007 at 08:57:29 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Depends on what "doing something" means (5+ / 0-)

      In other words, is it a question of stopping/mitigating climate change, or adapting to the climate changes that are already happening?

      Or maybe some of both?

      I've got the fever for the flavour, the payback will be later, still I need a fix - Bran Van 3000

      by Linnaeus on Thu Apr 12, 2007 at 08:59:19 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Good point (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Runs With Scissors

        Mitigating and adapting, yes.

        I'm not part of a redneck agenda - Green Day

        by eugene on Thu Apr 12, 2007 at 08:59:56 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  It's a little of both (6+ / 0-)

        or a lot of both... unchecked, a 7 meter rise in sea levels will drown most of Manhattan. We're talking vast infrastructure projects along all our coasts to hold what we have while we figure out how to mitigate the climate trends.

        To think is easy. To act is difficult. To act as one thinks is the most difficult of all -Goethe

        by commonscribe on Thu Apr 12, 2007 at 09:07:44 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  But that's my question (0+ / 0-)

        Should we be focusing on adapting to it, or trying to stop/mitigate/limit it? Where should our effort and dollars be expended?

        It's an interesting question and one I've not heard asked before. I hear more and more people talk about the reality that it is here.

        Where do we get the most bang for our buck, so to speak. There has to be a diary in this...

        •  Yes, there is (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          wu ming

          Many diaries in it, in fact, and it's a dilemma we will need to address in such diaries - especially as we find ourselves lacking the money to pay for it all (another aspect of the 21st Century Crisis)...

          I'm not part of a redneck agenda - Green Day

          by eugene on Thu Apr 12, 2007 at 09:20:32 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Can't be one or the other (5+ / 0-)

          Adapting to the changes and continuing along the same path is madness -- because at some point, there will be no further way to adapt to the changing climate. There's a limit to how much we can simply adapt ourselves to a warmer world when our entire agricultural system falls apart, for example.

          Add to that that while we do have some ideas what broad changes we can look forward to, things like rising sea levels, when it comes to any local climate, there's no way to know what happens when the climate is thrown out of its historical balance. With little ability to see what might be coming for any particular area, and the changes happening so quickly, the adaptation is often going to be a step or two behind the change.

          And the more we "allow" the globe to heat up, the more quickly the heat is likely to build, BTW, as warmer oceans mean more potential for water in the atmosphere mean more greenhouse effect mean warmer oceans, just as an example. Is there a breaking point there? For the environment we rely on, certainly. Today it's the polar bears, but what if tomorrow it really is, say, the bees?

          We can't let this be an either/or, is my point. We've got to slow (hopefully stop) adding to the damage, and we've also got to make sure that the parts that are already in motion are things we help people get through.

        •  Early mitigation has to take priority (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Spit, eugene

          because, as the second part of the recently released IPCC report puts it,

          Although many early impacts of climate change can be effectively addressed through adaptation, the options for successful adaptation diminish and the associated costs increase with increasing climate change.

          "What is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?" - J. Madison

          by berith on Thu Apr 12, 2007 at 09:46:28 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  well, even if we can't stop this (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      eugene

      we can still move heaven and earth to adapt to what's coming down the pike.

      surf putah, your friendly neighborhood central valley samizdat

      by wu ming on Thu Apr 12, 2007 at 01:49:20 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  This is all too probable (6+ / 0-)

    England believes that most scientists have, out of a natural caution, underestimated the global dangers ahead.

    So the scientists carefully "tone down" the worst of their predictions. Then some government apointee comes along and "tones it down" even further. Then the media reports give it a lick and a promise. And pretty soon there isn't much of an issue after all. Keep driving, keep shopping, keep on keepin' on everybody.

    Revolutionary words start revolutions

    by Catte Nappe on Thu Apr 12, 2007 at 09:06:20 AM PDT

  •  there are none so blind ... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    eugene, theboz, House, lapolitichick

    ... is my new attitude toward the global warming deniers.

    things are happening so quickly and right before our very eyes, and to deny it is - well, at this point, it strikes me as nothing more than willfulness, purposeful obtuseness. and I just don't have time for that anymore.

    besides, here in reality, half the people i know are trying to figure their way through this, trying to figure out how to go in terms of alt energy and housing and where to avoid and how to lessen impacts and and and and and ...

    hopefully a mess of other people will wake up from the trance and start trying to figure it out, too. but i'm not holding out hope - there's too much at stake in maintaining the illusion that it's not really happening - and we certainly don't want to cut into anyone's profits.

    •  Exactly (2+ / 0-)

      And even without global warming we see a need to, for example, go the alt energy and organic, locally-grown food route. Climate change just makes those things even more imperative.

      We have to wake up the nation to the need to make dramatic and uncomfortable changes.

      I'm not part of a redneck agenda - Green Day

      by eugene on Thu Apr 12, 2007 at 09:25:48 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Less talk (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    eugene

    The best cure for our dismay and depression is to act.

    Use one less light bulb in your house.  Drive 10 less miles a week.  Don't drive at all if you don't have to.  Don't leave your electronics on "hibernate/standby" - shut them down completely at night or when you aren't using them.

    There are countless things we could all do... imagine if everyone around the globe did these little things?

    I'm in despair all the time.  Can't bear to think of dying seals and polar bears... all of that.  So I know about the panic and the depression, but we have to TRY.

    Little things... start with little things.

    •  Start with little things (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Taunger

      I think that is an excellent place to begin. Ultimately, though, I think we will need to start planning how to change the big things. The little things are useful as a way to socialize people into the practice and habit of changing their lifestyle, while we figure out what the huge changes are going to have to be and how best to implement them.

      I'm not part of a redneck agenda - Green Day

      by eugene on Thu Apr 12, 2007 at 09:53:56 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  yup (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        eugene

        that's the hard news that gore didn't even really touch in an inconvenient truth. that once we tinker aroun the edges and start to accept the reality of what we face, we're going to have some hard questions to deal with that won't be solved by driving priuses or "green" consumer items or wearing ribbons, but fundamental change in the nature of civilization itself.

        surf putah, your friendly neighborhood central valley samizdat

        by wu ming on Thu Apr 12, 2007 at 01:52:01 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  All this heating up will turn us into a Mars (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    eugene

    Is this what  happened to Mars? I have thought so for a long time.

  •  Water Music (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    eugene, wu ming

    (Robert Fripp / Peter Gabriel - intro to "Here Comes The Flood")

    ...and we're beginning to have natural disasters, from the scientists' study it seems likely that we should soon begin to have these great changes in the earth's climate so people will not be able to live where they have, and the oceans will rise, and many cities will be flooded, like London, and Calcutta, and so on. These things, they say, will happen, according to scientific theory, in about forty years at the most, but maybe even quicker.

  •  We will evolve (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    eugene

    or die trying not to. Our present path is not sustainable. Excellent diary.

    "It's the planet, stupid."

    by FishOutofWater on Thu Apr 12, 2007 at 05:37:17 PM PDT

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