Foreboding times?

Something brooding in the air!

The smoke from the forest fires in Oregon and California has been thick in the air here in Merlin for days.

As can be seen in the photograph below. The photograph is as it was captured by the camera at 7:15 am yesterday morning. No changes by me made at all. The middle tree line is at the Eastern end of our property about a 1/4 mile away.

We are fed up with the smoke and the terrible air conditions.

But what drew me to grab the camera and take the photograph was that the image had some sort of, Oh, I don’t know, some sort of end of the world feeling about it.

It also seemed a most apt image to be an introduction to the latest essay from George Monbiot. It is republished here with Mr. Monbiot’s kind permission.

ooOOoo

Don’t Look Now

2nd September 2017

The media avoids the subject of climate breakdown – to do otherwise is to bring the entire infrastructure of thought crashing down

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 29 August 2017

It is not only Donald Trump’s government that censors the discussion of climate change; it is the entire body of polite opinion. This is why, though the links are clear and obvious, the majority of news reports on Hurricane Harvey have made no mention of the human contribution.

In 2016, the United States elected a president who believes that human-driven global warming is a hoax. It was the hottest year on record, in which the US was hammered by a series of climate-related disasters. Yet the total combined coverage for the entire year on the evening and Sunday news programmes on ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox News amounted to 50 minutes. Our greatest predicament, the issue that will define our lives, has been blotted from our minds.

This is not an accident. But nor (with the exception of Fox News) is it likely to be a matter of policy. It reflects a deeply ingrained and scarcely conscious self-censorship. Reporters and editors ignore the subject because they have an instinct for avoiding trouble. To talk about climate breakdown (which in my view is a better term than the curiously bland labels we attach to this crisis) is to question not only Donald Trump, not only current environmental policy, not only current economic policy, but the entire political and economic system.

It is to expose a programme that relies on robbing the future to fuel the present, that demands perpetual growth on a finite planet. It is to challenge the very basis of capitalism; to inform us that our lives are dominated by a system that cannot be sustained, a system that is destined, if it is not replaced, to destroy everything.

To claim that there is no link between climate breakdown and the severity of Hurricane Harvey is like claiming that there is no link between the warm summer we have experienced and the end of the last ice age. Every aspect of our weather is affected by the fact that global temperatures rose by around 4° between the ice age and the 19th Century. And every aspect of our weather is affected by the 1° of global warming caused by human activities. While no weather event can be blamed solely on human-driven warming, no weather event is unaffected by it.

We know that the severity and impact of hurricanes on coastal cities are exacerbated by at least two factors: higher sea levels, caused primarily by the thermal expansion of seawater, and greater storm intensity, caused by higher sea temperatures and the ability of warm air to hold more water than cold air.

Before it reached the Gulf of Mexico, Harvey had been demoted from a tropical storm to a tropical wave. But as it reached the Gulf, whose temperatures this month have been far above average, it was upgraded first to a tropical depression, then to a category 1 hurricane. It might have been expected to weaken as it approached the coast, as hurricanes churn the sea, bringing cooler waters to the surface. But the water it brought up from 100 metres and more was also unusually warm. By the time it reached land, Harvey had intensified to a category 4 hurricane.

We were warned about this. In June, for example, Robert Kopp, a professor of earth sciences, predicted that “In the absence of major efforts to reduce emissions and strengthen resilience, the Gulf Coast will take a massive hit. Its exposure to sea-level rise – made worse by potentially stronger hurricanes – poses a major risk to its communities.”

To raise this issue, I’ve been told on social media, is to politicise Hurricane Harvey. It is an insult to the victims and a distraction from their urgent need. The proper time to discuss it is when people have rebuilt their homes, and scientists have been able to conduct an analysis of just how great the contribution from climate breakdown might have been. In other words, talk about it only when it’s out of the news. When researchers determined, 9 years on, that human activity had made a significant contribution to Hurricane Katrina, the information scarcely registered.

I believe it is the silence that’s political. To report the storm as if it were a entirely natural phenomenon, like last week’s eclipse of the sun, is to take a position. By failing to make the obvious link and talk about climate breakdown, media organisations ensure that our greatest challenge goes unanswered. They help push the world towards catastrophe.

Hurricane Harvey offers a glimpse of a likely global future; a future whose average temperatures are as different from ours as ours are from those of the last ice age. It is a future in which emergency becomes the norm and no state has the capacity to respond. It is a future in which, as a paper in the journal Environmental Research Letters notes, disasters like Houston’s occur in some cities several times a year. It is a future that, for people in countries such as Bangladesh, has already arrived, almost unremarked by the rich world’s media. It is the act of not talking that makes this nightmare likely to materialise.

In Texas, the connection could scarcely be more apparent. The storm ripped through the oil fields, forcing rigs and refineries to shut down, including those owned by some of the 25 companies that have produced over half the greenhouse gas emissions humans have released since the start of the Industrial Revolution. Hurricane Harvey has devastated a place in which climate breakdown is generated, and in which the policies that prevent it from being addressed are formulated.

Like Donald Trump, who denies human-driven global warming, but who wants to build a wall around his golf resort in Ireland to protect it from the rising seas, these companies, some of which have spent millions sponsoring climate deniers, have progressively raised the height of their platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, in response to warnings about higher seas and stronger storms. They have grown from 40 feet above sea level in 1940, to 70ft in the 1990s, to 91ft today.

This is not, however, a story of mortal justice. In Houston, as everywhere else, it is generally the poorer communities, that are least responsible for the problem, who are hit first and hit worst. But the connection between cause and effect should appeal to even the slowest minds.

The problem is not confined to the United States. Across the world, the issue that hangs over every aspect of our lives is marginalised, except on the rare occasions on which world leaders gather to discuss it in sombre tones (then sombrely agree to do almost nothing), whereupon the instinct to follow the machinations of power overrides the instinct to avoid a troubling subject. When they do cover the issue, they tend to mangle it. In the UK, the BBC distinguished itself in customary fashion this month, by yet again inviting the climate change denier Lord Lawson onto the Today programme, in the mistaken belief that impartiality requires a balance between correct facts and false ones. They seldom make such a mess of other topics, because they take them more seriously.

When Trump’s enforcers instruct officials and scientists to purge any mention of climate change from their publications, we are scandalised. But when the media does it, without the need for a memo, we let it pass. This censorship is invisible even to the perpetrators, woven into the fabric of organisations that are constitutionally destined to leave the major questions of our times unasked. To acknowledge this issue is to challenge everything. To challenge everything is to become an outcast.

www.monbiot.com

ooOOoo

Dear people, I sat staring at the screen for 10 minutes and then went off when Jeannie called lunchtime. Returned to the screen a little after 2pm yesterday and still couldn’t come up with a closing thought that merited being shared with you all.

See you tomorrow!

19 thoughts on “Foreboding times?

  1. The increase in forest fires is also because we refuse to efficiently manage our forests. Native Americans would’ve cut down brush and trees to prevent mass fires like this. Combined with a raise in temperatures, this sort of mismanagement could be fatal.

    I love the fact that the place you live is called Merlin. I’ve got to write a book about all the wonderfully named places in America.

    Take care out there!

    1. Harry, how lovely to read your response and how right you are. A very warm welcome to this place. I thought that about our place name as well. Rather fun! But if you think American place names are interesting, and they are, try the names of people out here! Anyway, this Brit named Handover hopes to see you again. (Oh, been across to your blog and liked it!)

  2. That’s a great article from the Guardian Paul. It is so distressing to face the bigger truth. We will not survive in a capitalist society … unless some people can find a way to make a lot of money out of climate change.
    May the smoke clear soon!

    1. Dear Val, you know I am not in principle against a capitalist society for I think it’s a good foundation for innovation of all types: scientific; cultural; economic. But when that same society operates in a framework that results in the levels of inequality that we see around us today then ….. then something is very wrong. Easy for me to write; much less easy for me to be clear about the answers!

      Which is why I enjoy reading, and republishing, George Monbiot’s essays. He seems to offer great insight into current affairs.

      Many thanks, Val.

  3. Had the same image last night 1000 miles away but without all the spectacular evergreen trees. The west is on fire, hurricanes are becoming more intense, but Nero still fiddles in Rome. *Ugh* I don’t understand why people don’t understand the finger prints of man all over weather patterns.

    1. It’s way too corny a saying but I still use it: Question: “Why is it that we haven’t been visited by aliens?” Answer: “Because they have seen no signs of intelligent life!”

      I’ll crawl back into my hole.

  4. There is no answer or statement that can clarify Monbiot’s piece any better. Sadly a lot of people are going to face climate caused destruction as predicted for years. There are lots of places not even mentioned in the news. The worst floods and rain fall in South East Asia (not just Bangladesh) have wiped out farmers and their rice harvests.
    Never mentioned in the news media, floods, droughts and fires in unusual places will have a big knock on effect on food production (in all sorts of ways).
    Everyone laughs at the predictions of Guy McPherson. This evolutionary biologist and climate researcher (now involuntarily retired because of his climate views), has predicted that humans will start going extinct in as little as ten years. While that seems outlandish, he says that we have passed the point of no return to change the heat sink that is now operating the climate… He predicts with the recent governmental reversals on the Paris Accord Treaty, that temperatures will be as much as 6°C higher in ten years. He says that makes life untenable for us. 😢

    1. Oh Colette, your erudite response creates two reactions inside of me. The first being that everything inside of me tells me that you are correct. The second is one of great fear as to what the next few years will be like.

      I will share something that I have long held onto. Namely, that I was born six months to the day, in London, before the end of WWII. On May 8th, 1945 my mother looked down at her six-month old baby boy, her first child, and said: “You are going to live.” I know that to be a fact that she said that.

      In other words, the chaos and uncertainty of the German bombing campaign meant that my mother could only live her life (she was 25 when I was born) a day at a time until the war in Europe was over in that May of 1945.

      My fear, albeit a tad irrational perhaps, is that the last six months of my life likewise will be during a period of chaos and uncertainty.

      Your reply to today’s post does nothing to lessen that fear of mine. (But I still loved you writing it!!)

      1. Let’s hope that you, and a few other of us humans, will be unscathed by the disasters, but rather meet our ends in a more timely and comfortable measure. 😊 I am 12 years your junior and even I don’t think I will live out my lifespan, although I try to make everyday count now. It is a time for kindness, love, community and human spirit to connect with nature. Anything else is pure folly and wasted energy.
        Although the outlook is gloomy with world leaders pointing their weaponry at each other, I refuse to be fearful or frightened by threats. What will be, will be. (And yes, I did see the apocalyptic image in your photo, just as I have seen many other biblical signs). I am not a religious person, but at the same time I am aware that Christianity (and other religions) have prophesied this terrible time that is close. We must all help each other as we are motivated. Life will not end for all. Only some!

      2. Jean and I are atheists, or secular humanists as we prefer to describe it, for we believe that some of the worst aspects of human tribalism are inspired by religion.

        But while there are those who write “It is a time for kindness, love, community and human spirit to connect with nature.” then there is room for hope.

        Thank you, again!

  5. Sorry for the smoke 😞 As for global warming, the signs have been there for anyone who wanted to see them since the 80’s at least. Can’t believe we’re still here, honestly. Aloha, Paul.

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