I am deeply concerned about the most pressing crisis of our time: anthropomorphic (man made) climate change. The most prominent activist in this regard is Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org. He has been instrumental in organizing mass demonstrations aimed at creating greater awareness of this problem. The point of focus for his efforts has been a call to President Obama urging him to block the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada through America's heartland down to the Gulf Coast.
On last Sunday, a 350.org rally in Washington, D.C. drew over 40,000 people to the shadow of the Washington Monument. Leading up to the massive rally was a demonstration the previous Wednesday where McKibben, prominent activists and others were arrested. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and civil rights leader Julian Bond, were arrested Wednesday after tying themselves to the White House gate to protest the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada. Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune also was arrested — the first time in the group’s 120-year history that a club leader was arrested in an act of civil disobedience.
Now McKibben will "chill out" in Hayward, Wisconsin, the home of America's largest cross country ski race, the American Birkebeiner. Prior to the race he will speak at the little town's Park Theater on Thursday night, Feb. 21. Then on Saturday the 23rd Bill will ski the 55 kilometer marathon from the nearby town of Cable through northwest Wisconsin's snowy woods south to downtown Hayward.
The following is a Namekagon Notebook blog post from Nov. 23, 2011 in which I presented a review of McKibben's latest book, eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. I also tie in information external to the book, but very important to the cause of fighting off the fossil fuel industry. If you won't take time to read this seminal book, at least read this review and follow the links presented therein.
Namekagon Notebook --
The fundamental principle that he espouses in this book is that our idea of geologic climate change is based on a flawed assumption. It is commonly believed that it takes millions of years for changes to occur to our planet's climate and the ecosystem that depends on it. In this, his latest book, he makes the case that mankind's activities can indeed alter earth's climate, and that in fact we already have altered it profoundly in a very short time.
McKibben is the founder of the organization 350.org. The number “350” refers to parts-per-million of carbon dioxide (CO2) in Earth's atmosphere, the number which we must not go above. This goal is nothing less than the saving of human civilization. Saving it from what, you ask? From being ravaged by the consequences of global warming. So what? A couple of degrees warmer. Big deal.
Yes, it is a big deal. A very big deal. In the first half of eaarth the case made by McKibben is based on hard science by unbiased, top ranked organizations such as NASA , the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Summary of findings: Through analysis of rock and ice samples we know that since human civilization began, atmospheric levels of CO2 have averaged about 275 parts per million (ppm). This is the status quo that we have always been used to. It is this level at which the conditions of the last 2,000 years have allowed for the stable climate, the backdrop against which we have built everything we know.
Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution when we began burning large amounts of coal and petroleum, we've been adding about 2 ppm to the atmosphere per year. We now are at 390 ppm of CO2.
Already the worlds oceans are warming up and getting more acidic. Glaciers are melting, adding large volumes of non-saline water into the oceans. We are on the brink of altering our climate irreversibly. And that is just the tip of the iceberg (pardon the pun).
Lurking just around the corner is a sneaky devil called methane, a potent greenhouse gas 20 times more powerful than CO2. There are vast amounts of it locked up in arctic permafrost and the ocean depths.The following quote is not from McKibben's book. I've called it into play in order to augment the points that I wish to make in conjunction with this review. It is excerpted from the website Think Global Green (see link).
“Many climate scientists think that the frozen Arctic tundra is a ticking time bomb in terms of global warming, because it holds vast amounts of methane. Over thousands of years the methane has accumulated under the ground at northern latitudes all around the world, and has effectively been taken out of circulation by the permafrost acting as an impermeable lid. But as the permafrost begins to melt in rising temperatures, the lid may open with potentially catastrophic results.” http://www.thinkglobalgreen.org/...
During the early Cenozoic Era, when atmospheric CO2 was at 450 ppm, ocean levels were 200 feet higher than they are now. That is because the atmospheric carbon kept the planet sufficiently warm that there were no polar ice caps or glaciers. We face this reality as a possibility during the lifetime of our children.
McKibben's premise in eaarth is that we are already at the point of no return, where some amount of these climactic changes is a certainty. It will be hard enough to adapt to living on a planet like nothing humans have ever lived on. But, we have no choice. It is a fait accompli, a done deal. The new planet he has dubbed eaarth is spelled with an extra “a”.
Global warming is a stark reality that has been brought about by the activities of man. I don't merely believe this, I know it because the reliable information on the subject is so overwhelming as to constitute proof beyond a shadow of a doubt.
These are just a few of the hundreds of published reports on the matter:
“NASA Study Links Severe Storm Increases, Global Warming”, Pasadena Star News, Jan. 23, 2009
"Arctic Treasure, Global Assets Melting Away" Eban Goodstein resource economist at Bard College in New York state
Mason Inman, “Arctic Ice in 'Death Spiral',” National Geographic News, Sept. 17, 2008
Mike Stark, “Climate Change, Drought to Strain Colorado River”, Associated Press, Dec. 5, 2008
Solomon et al. 2007, Stott et al. 2010, and Min et al. 2011
American Meteorological Society statement on climate change Feb. 1, 2007 [link http://ametsoc.org/...]
Extreme weather events fill our news reports. The tornado outbreaks, drought, dust storms, and wildfires of 2011 come to mind, as do the hurricane that hit the from New Jersey to New England, the Halloween snowstorm in that same area, and the recent “snowicane” in Alaska
The United Nations International Panel on Climate Change is so concerned that it just released a first-ever Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation. The key words in that lengthy title are “managing”, “risks” and “adaptation”.
The SREX report was divided into two sections: how human-caused climate change has already affected extreme weather events, and predictions on how these events will change during the rest of the century.
In the second half of eaarth McKibben says that adaptation is now the name of the game. We must adapt, he says, to the new reality that our planet is rapidly becoming a foreign body. We have landed on a different planet than that of our origin. Our adaptation needs to take two forms.
1. We must change our manner of living in order to hold the line at 350 ppm of CO2 in order to limit the damage we have already done, damage that cannot be undone. The CO2 in the atmosphere, along with the methane, nitrous oxide from fertilizers, and our deforestation of vast stretches of continents will continue to roll along for hundreds of years even if we completely disappeared as a species. There is no going back. The warming will itself increase the greenhouse effect as methane is released. Population will continue to escalate, causing further burning of fossil fuels.
2. How we conduct our affairs will change whether we like it or not. We'll have to find ways to adapt to drought/desertification in some places, and excess precipitation and flooding in others. Agriculture will be disrupted, the cost of recovery from cataclysmic weather events will eat up financial resources that should have gone to infrastructure repair and construction, and political interactions will get increasingly hostile as factions fight for survival.
At this point McKibben's writing becomes somewhat hopeful. Our reckless, hurried spending of this planet's fossil fuel capital will of necessity be throttled back, and as that occurs, he foresees societal changes leading to a healthier, more sane manner of living for humankind. Local production of food and hard goods. A slower pace of life. Community building. Sustainable practices. Independence from centralized control. These changes, he states, will be fostered by the information revolution and result in the growth of democracy.
I urge Namekagon Notebook readers to get the book eaarth:Making a Life on a Tough New Planet by Bill McKibben and read it through, including the 25 pages of footnotes. It is the latter that underpins the truthfulness of the whole book
In the final analysis, there is hope that mankind will come through this rather lengthy rough patch better for the experience. We will be forced to become more local in our food and energy production. Many of the societal structures we've come to perceive as the only possible realities will be blown away. Eyes will be opened. I like to say that we must form islands of sanity and sustainability.
In historic terms, if humankind survives the upcoming turmoil, it could be the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. But I think it will take a while, perhaps seven generations, to be realized.
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"The laws of physics are eternal and cannot be changed with additional research, venture capital or majority votes." Ulf Bossel, Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at the University of California, Santa BarbaraTHE PLAN: Even if we manage to hold CO2 down to the 350 ppm level, we will need to convert from fossil fuels over to a more advanced hydrogen infrastructure. Here is the plan for getting from here to there. READ MORE