Everything is connected, and everything is changing
By Kate Marvel on December 30, 2019
A state of emergency was declared on November 11, 2019 and residents in the Sydney area were warned of “catastrophic” fire danger as Australia prepared for a fresh wave of deadly bushfires that have ravaged the drought-stricken east of the country.
It rains in the Amazon because the trees want it to. There is plenty of moisture in the oceans that surround the continent, but there is also a hidden reservoir on the land feeding an invisible river that flows upward to the sky. The water held in the soil is lifted up by the bodies of the trees and lost through the surfaces of their leaves to the atmosphere. The local sky plumps with moisture, primed for the arrival of the seasonal rains driven by the annual back-and-forth march of the sun’s rays. As climate scientist Alex Hall puts it, the trees are co-conspiring with the sky to attract an earlier monsoon.
This is the decade we knew we were right. It began with the warmest year on record; it then broke that record at least five times. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached levels unprecedented since humans were hominins. There were droughts and floods and brutal heat waves. Coral reefs turned white and gave up. Australia is in drought. The Amazon is on fire.
Nothing is eternal and nothing is infinite. There were once forests in the Sahara—if not quite the Amazon, still lush and tropical, clustered around the largest freshwater lake on the planet. In geologic time, this was practically yesterday: less than ten thousand years ago. The lake is mostly gone now, vanished in the span of a few hundred years. In its place there is nothing but dust.
The changes now are different. We expected most of them, and they are occurring with a terrifying rapidity that is no more reassuring because it is easily understood. We have known that carbon dioxide traps heat for over a hundred years. We have known that we are changing the planet for decades now. There is no consolation in being right.
The climate always changes. It is dry in the Sahara because the planet wobbled slightly in its orbit, weakening the monsoon rains in the west of Africa. The plants sucked the moisture from the soil; it was not replaced. They died, and no more moisture entered the atmosphere: a vicious cycle of dying and drying that led to the dusty, depopulated desert we know today. This was climate change; it was likely not the fault of humans. But the existence of past climate change does not mean we are not responsible for it this time. There have always been gentle and natural deaths. This does not make murder impossible.
The decade began with lies and ended with evasions. Hackers, probably Russian, stole the emails of a few scientists and offered single sentences, taken wildly out of context, to an eager and credulous media. We heard both sides: the truth, and the not-truth, and were encouraged to draw our own conclusions. The temperature rose; physics was not watching the debate. We learned nothing from the experience.
The winds over the Sahara come from the East, dense, sinking forced sideways as the Earth rotates away underneath it. The dust is carried across the Atlantic, enlarging the beaches of the Caribbean, scattering low-angle sunlight into brilliant purple-orange sunsets, and landing gently on the forests of the Amazon. But the air over the Sahara has arrived from the tropics, rising and shedding its moisture on a journey toward the poles. When it can go no further, it cools and sinks. There are no deserts without the tropics.
Everything is connected. Children were murdered in their schools, and were angry about it. Children saw their futures bargained away for short-term profit, and were angry about it. Children saw the changing world, and were angry about it. The streets swelled with angry children and heartbroken parents, a chorus of hurt that would have echoed through the halls of power had they been able to hear. Nothing was done, and the anger grew louder. This was the decade we saw that history was renewable. We promised to make more of it.
If you want to see the future of the Amazon, you must use physics and assumptions and know that you are almost certainly wrong. All models are wrong, but all climate models strive to be useful, to show a plausible future that may still be avoidable. If the future atmosphere is larded with even more carbon dioxide, the plants of the Amazon will not need to open the pores on their leaves quite so much to take in the gases they need. They will expel less water from these shrunken pores into the atmosphere. The trees will lose their ability to summon the monsoon. There will be fire and drought. Where there was once forest will be only dust.
Here is one thing worth remembering in the dark days of the northern mid-latitude winter. The rainforest is so lush that it cannot fertilize itself. Every nutrient is seized by the greedy vegetation, locked up in the bodies of plants before it can leach into the soil. But the forest is fertilized, given life by the dead lake in the Sahara. There is phosphorus in the lakebed, turned into dust and swept across the Atlantic by the prevailing winds.
From the old comes the new, a fragile phoenix borne upward from the tropics on the rising updrafts of thick convective cloud. The Amazon exists because the Sahara does, the desert is there because the tropics are here. None of this was ever going to stand alone.Scientific American Blog Network @ https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/hot-planet/this-was-the-decade-we-knew-we-were-right/
In 2003 the Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht coined the term solastalgia to mean a “form of psychic or existential distress caused by environmental change”. Albrecht was studying the effects of long-term drought and large-scale mining activity on communities in New South Wales, when he realised that no word existed to describe the unhappiness of people whose landscapes were being transformed about them by forces beyond their control. He proposed his new term to describe this distinctive kind of homesickness. Where the pain of nostalgia arises from moving away, the pain of solastalgia arises from staying put. Where the pain of nostalgia can be mitigated by return, the pain of solastalgia tends to be irreversible. Solastalgia is not a malady specific to the present – we might think of John Clare as a solastalgic poet, witnessing his native Northamptonshire countryside disrupted by enclosure in the 1810s – but it has flourished recently. “A worldwide increase in ecosystem distress syndromes,” wrote Albrecht, is “matched by a corresponding increase in human distress syndromes”. Solastalgia speaks of a modern uncanny, in which a familiar place is rendered unrecognisable by climate change or corporate action: the home become suddenly unhomely around its inhabitants. Albrecht’s coinage is part of an emerging lexis for what we are increasingly calling the “Anthropocene”: the new epoch of geological time in which human activity is considered such a powerful influence on the environment, climate and ecology of the planet that it will leave a long-term signature in the strata record. And what a signature it will be. We have bored 50m kilometres of holes in our search for oil. We remove mountain tops to get at the coal they contain. The oceans dance with billions of tiny plastic beads. Weaponry tests have dispersed artificial radionuclides globally. The burning of rainforests for monoculture production sends out killing smog-palls that settle into the sediment across entire countries. We have become titanic geological agents, our legacy legible for millennia to come. Facebook Twitter Pinterest Rainforest burning in Brazil, 1989. Photograph: Sipa Press / Rex Features The idea of the Anthropocene asks hard questions of us. Temporally, it requires that we imagine ourselves inhabitants not just of a human lifetime or generation, but also of “deep time” – the dizzyingly profound eras of Earth history that extend both behind and ahead of the present. Politically, it lays bare some of the complex cross-weaves of vulnerability and culpability that exist between us and other species, as well as between humans now and humans to come. Conceptually, it warrants us to consider once again whether – in Fredric Jameson’s phrase – “the modernisation process is complete, and nature is gone for good”, leaving nothing but us. There are good reasons to be sceptical of the epitaphic impulse to declare “the end of nature”. There are also good reasons to be sceptical of the Anthropocene’s absolutism, the political presumptions it encodes, and the specific histories of power and violence that it masks. But the Anthropocene is a massively forceful concept, and as such it bears detailed thinking through. Though it has its origin in the Earth sciences and advanced computational technologies, its consequences have rippled across global culture during the last 15 years. Read more…
Is it possible to hold all the grief in the world and not get crushed by it? I ask this question because our failure to deal with the collective and individual pain generated as a result of our destructive economic system is blocking us from reaching out for the solutions that can help us to find another direction. Our decision to value above all else comfort, convenience and a superficial view of happiness, has led to feelings of disassociation and numbness and as a result we bury our grief deep within our subconscious. The consequence is not only a compulsion to consume even more in an attempt to hide our guilt but also a projection of our hidden pain onto the world around us and at the deepest level, the Earth itself.
looking forward to reading this..
Interesting new title from Harvard University Press can be found here:
Nature no longer exists apart from humanity. Henceforth, the world we will inhabit is the one we have made. Geologists have called this new planetary epoch the Anthropocene, the Age of Humans. The geological strata we are now creating record industrial emissions, industrial-scale crop pollens, and the disappearance of species driven to extinction. Climate change is planetary engineering without design. These facts of the Anthropocene are scientific, but its shape and meaning are questions for politics—a politics that does not yet exist. After Nature develops a politics for this post-natural world.
Jedediah Purdy begins with a history of how Americans have shaped their landscapes. He explores the competing traditions that still infuse environmental law and culture—a frontier vision of settlement and development, a wilderness-seeking Romanticism, a utilitarian attitude that tries to…
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“Ah, this dear old planet! All is clear now. We know ourselves; we now know of what we are capable.” —Albert Camus, The Fall
“It is the worst of times and the best of times; the end of the world and the beginning of the world. The tipping points between creation and extinction, between apocalypse and revelation, are everywhere you look. Like the fabled kingdom of God, the tipping points are inside you and all around you.
It’s easy to get lost in the information age, and a vague foreboding sense of doom sprinkled with distractions isn’t the best path to peace and justice through the turbulent times ahead. Edward Gibbon, writing about the decline and fall of empire, wrote that, “The winds and waves are always on the side of the ablest navigators.” So we must learn to navigate. A survey of the tipping points that define our precarious calendars and geographies may help – to understand our world, to understand ourselves and to guide both into better harbors.
As Camus said, all is clear now – we know we are capable of both dreadful and beautiful deeds. We need only to look at the world, and then look into the mirror, and decide if we will fulfill or betray the mission history has put before us; we who live at the tipping points; we who are the tipping points. … ”
see more of this important essay at…
The postmodern greens aim to reorient conservation’s primary focus away from establishing protected areas intended to help prevent human-caused extinctions and to sustain large-scale natural ecosystems. Instead, they advocate sustainable management of the biosphere to support human aspirations, particularly for a growing global economy. If some species go extinct that may be regrettable, goes their thinking, but the bottom line is that nature is resilient. As long as “working landscapes” (places we manipulate to produce commodities) are managed well enough to sustain “ecosystem services” (things like water filtration, soil health, and crop pollination), human welfare can be supported without lots of new protected areas (habitat for other species) getting in the way of economic growth.
Some of the most prominent of these new conservationists have warned against critiquing the techno-industrial growth economy that is everywhere gobbling up wild nature. “Instead of scolding capitalism,” they write, “conservationists should partner with corporations in a science-based effort to integrate the value of nature’s benefits into their operations and cultures.”
“Today, humanity faces our greatest challenge, and our most precious opportunity. Our activity as a species has put the Earth in jeopardy. We can directly observe that our use of resources must change. We are threatening the ability of the biosphere to support our continuity, and the future of all complex forms of life. We appear to have reached one of those rare, extraordinary junctures in human history when a thorough transformation of society, culture, and consciousness is necessary. Climate change is the most urgent of many impending threats. As individuals, we must understand and accept the critical nature of our time. For the sake of future generations, we can become part of a wave of awakening and of action, that grows exponentially.
Under this extreme time pressure, there is great potential to quickly develop and distribute a new social model based on an ethos of global citizenship and planetary stewardship. For this to happen, humanity must act upon our unique capacities for self-awareness and foresight. We must fully activate the prefrontal cortex – the brain structure that makes us uniquely human, which developed in the last forty thousand years. We must envision a new model for planetary civilization, then design and manifest it.”