Tag Archive 'climate change'

Sep 08 2017

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Forces of Nature

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Well, it’s that time of year again. Hurricanes are brewing in the Atlantic and making their way towards the Americas. One recently devastated Texas. Another is wreaking havoc in the Caribbean and headed for Florida. More are on the way. Six years ago Hurricane Irene reached as far north as Vermont and did a lot of damage here, blowing out streams and rivers with ridiculous amounts of rainfall. Seems like there are more of great storms now, and they’re bigger and more powerful than ever before. But our climatological records only go back 150 year so it’s hard to say.

There are huge wildfires out West. Mexico was just hit by a big earthquake. Iceland is expecting one soon. Here in the North Country, we get our share of nature’s wrath in the form of winter blizzards. Tornados are common in the Midwest where I grew up. Nature flexes its muscles everywhere.

I was living in Oregon when the volcano Mount St. Helens blew. I heard it that day, even though I was hiking in the woods 200 miles away. The next day everything was covered with a blanket of light grey ash. In the 1800s the much bigger volcano Krakatoa erupted in Indonesia, creating a tsunami far worse than the one that ravaged that part of the world a few years ago. The planet is a dynamic system. Not nearly as intense as it was 4 billion years ago, but active all the same.

Some of the big natural events happening today are the same ones we’ve been dealing with for thousands of years. Others have more teeth. We all know why. It’s getting harder and harder to deny climate change, even though some folks believe they have a vested interest in keeping their heads in the sand. Then again, Homo sapiens isn’t quite as sapient as advertised. Not collectively, anyhow. Even as individuals, some of us do some really stupid things. I can’t help but wonder why anyone would buy oceanfront property in this day and age. As arctic ice sheets melt, sea level rise, making storm surge much more devastating. Can our engineers build any kind of barrier that can adequately deal with what lies ahead?

A hurricane is just a swirl of wind, but it’s big enough to be seen from the moon. And in the near future, they’re likely to get bigger. I’d take that bet, anyhow, if I could find anyone willing to bet otherwise.

Maybe someday we’ll get it – we’ll finally figure out that despite our cerebral prowess and very busy hands, we aren’t in the driver’s seat. The mind-blowing, dynamic system that we call Nature was here long before we came along, and will be here long after we’re gone. Yeah, maybe someday we’ll finally find our place in that system. But I’m not holding my breath. Human nature hasn’t changed noticeably during my lifetime.

 

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Dec 07 2015

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Reflections on Climate Change

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images-4I stepped outdoors a few minutes ago to clear my head after working all morning. I marveled at the unseasonable weather. Temps are well above freezing today, and there’s no snow in my back yard. Here in northern New England, this kind of warmth in December is rare indeed.

Weather fluctuates, of course, so what changes from one year to the next is no big deal. But when long term patterns develop, it’s time to pay attention.

Scientists tell us that 40% of the ice covering the Arctic Sea has melted away since the 1970s. Northern nations are scrambling to lay claim to oil deposits there, which are fast becoming accessible. What’s that tell you?

Skeptics insist that we don’t know enough about climate science to say for certain that the planet is warming up due to human activity. That may be true. But certainty in science takes an awful long time to establish.

Prophets of doom say we’d better do something before it’s too late. Two degrees Celsius is the magic number. Once the overall temperature of the planet rises that much, all hell will break loose. We are now halfway there.

Some people see the ongoing climate change as the end of nature as we know it. The key phrase here is “as we know it.” Nature will persist long after humankind is gone, even if we take millions of other species with us into extinction. The age and scale of the cosmos assures us of that.

So the real question is this: What happens to us in the interim, as the climate changes? More importantly, should I as an individual give a damn about anyone else living or not yet born?

Representatives from most of the nations in the world are currently meeting in Paris to draft a universal and binding agreement on climate change. Is that even possible?

What can we do? More to the point: What are we willing to do? Is it fair for rich nations to dictate policy to populous industrializing nations just now starting to obtain the kind of material well being that Westerners have enjoyed for well over a century?

These matters are too much for a woods wanderer like myself to wrap my brain around. I know my own nature, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I know human nature. And all rhetoric aside, that’s what our talk of addressing climate change is really about. What we can do will be determined by what we are.

 

 

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Dec 15 2014

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Snow-laden Boughs

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snowladentreesA Nor’easter struck New England last week, leaving over a foot of snow here in the Champlain Valley. The rest of Vermont got a whole lot more. For four days I shoveled and roof-raked it – when I wasn’t working, that is. Then yesterday I tramped through nearby fields, finally looking up to see the boughs of trees heavily laden with snow. A winter wonderland to be sure, and well before Christmas. This is the Vermont that skiers and sentimental songsters dream about.

Yeah, I can appreciate it, even though I’m more of a green forest kind of guy. Back in Ohio, where I grew up, my mother reports that the landscape is typically dreary. I remember it well: various shades of brown and endless grey skies. No, I don’t miss that. Though much longer and colder, Vermont winters are more aesthetically pleasing.

This much snow this early in the season is an ominous sign. Climate change has made recent winters rather erratic. A good, old-fashioned Vermont winter with blue skies and plenty of snow would be nice, but fluctuating temperatures could make a sloppy mess of things again. That’s what happened last winter, as well as in years past.

I try not to think about climate change, mostly because there isn’t much that I can do about it. Oh sure, we could in theory shift the global economy away from fossil fuels before things get way out of hand, but how realistic is that?  This morning I read that 196 nations signed an agreement to start setting limits by 2020. Hmm… I can’t help but think that it’s going to be too little too late, especially in countries where folks are just now moving out of abject poverty. Then there are those who still say that climate change is an elaborate hoax. No, it doesn’t do me any good to think about it at all.

And yet the boughs of trees are heavily laden with snow. It is both beautiful yet deeply concerning, especially since the temps are supposed to get well above freezing tomorrow. Did I say beautiful? Yes, let’s focus on that, and let the politicians deal with the rest of it, at least until someone comes up with a viable alternative to what passes for environmental concern in these days. It’s not good to be always focusing on the negative.

 

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Dec 07 2011

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A Mild Winter?

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During the balmy days of autumn, I stumbled upon a dozen or so woolly worms in various places, and studied them for some sign of the coming winter. The wider the brownish-red band, the milder the season or so the saying goes.

Well, it looks like it’s going to be a mild one this year.

I’m not a big one for folklore, and don’t really believe that tiger moth caterpillars can predict an entire season any better than our weather forecasters can. Yet I wonder what lies ahead. Right now, in the dismal light of December with a bone-chilling fog clinging to the barren, snowless landscape, the woolly worm prediction seems to be holding true. Will the trend continue?

Predicting the weather is difficult. Predicting an entire season even more so. Nature is chock full of omens but earth science is another matter altogether. The planet is a complex system. There is never enough information to say with absolute certainty what is going to happen in the near future. All we can do is make educated guesses. And climate change? There is always a need for more information when it comes to that. If we want to know all the facts before taking action, then we will be waiting indefinitely.

I don’t know to what extent human activity alters the climate. I don’t know how hard this winter is going to be. I don’t even know with absolute certainty what the weather is going to be like tomorrow. But I’ve noticed that such things aren’t quite as predicable as they used to be, woolly worms or no. So I wonder with with considerable apprehension what lies ahead.

 

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Oct 27 2011

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Hard Choices

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Critics here in Vermont say that the huge wind turbines atop our beloved Green Mountains are not just an eyesore, they kill birds and disrupt the forest ecology as well. Solar power is viable as long as the sun is shining, but it’s expensive, isn’t it? Biofuels threaten our food supply. Hydro power screws up our streams. Coal and oil are both dirty, of course. Natural gas is clean, as fossil fuels go, but fracking pollutes the ground water. Nuclear power is both clean and cheap… until the plants leak and it’s time to shut them down. Burning wood is great until you run out of trees. So what does that leave? Tidal power? Hydrogen? Cold fusion?

Have to get our power from somewhere. There are seven billion people on the planet and counting. The demand for power is growing much faster in industrializing countries like India and China than it is in the highly consumptive West. In the near future, humanity will need more power, not less. So where are we going to get it?

Climate change is the sword of Damocles hanging over us. The more we mess with Mother Nature, the more she messes with us. It’s just a matter of time before all hell breaks loose. Can we avoid global catastrophe? Collectively we seem to lack the political will to do so. Besides, denial runs strong and deep among those who immediately benefit from the status quo, and they cast just enough doubt on the subject to keep the rest of us complacent.  More to the point, it’s hard for the average person to think beyond what he or she is paying at the gas pump.

So what are we to do? Gnash our teeth and say we’re all doomed? Protest our least favorite energy source? Blame those whose economies are stronger than ours? Simply ignore the situation?

Clearly we have plenty of choices, there’s just no perfect solution. The big question is this: Do we have moral courage enough to make the best possible choices for our great grandchildren? I’ll leave that for you to ponder, dear reader, and keep my cynicism to myself.

 

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Apr 30 2010

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Mixed Messages

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I mowed my lawn last week, right before going back to Ohio to see my folks.  First time I’ve ever cut my grass in April, but it needed it.  The grass was already thick and high.  Spring has come early this year, or so it seemed until yesterday.

Back in Ohio, the spring season is in full swing.  The trees have leafed out, everything is green, and flowers are blooming everywhere.  I saw honeysuckle on the verge of opening – something that doesn’t happen in here in northern Vermont until late May.  It was like jumping ahead two or three weeks, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Three days ago, when I was still at my folks place, my wife called to tell me that a winter storm was raging in Vermont.  Judy said a foot of snow had accumulated.  I found that hard to believe.  But there was no denying the snow I saw on the summits of the Green Mountains as I drove back into the state.  By the time I reached home, there were several inches of it on the ground around me.  Melting fast, though.  After all, the air temperature was pushing 60 degrees.

This morning early, I went out to inspect the broken branch of our lilac bush and putter about the backyard looking for other storm damage.  I noticed red fragments of catkins – the flowers of our big, old maple tree – scattered across the remnant patches of snow.  Deep green grass framed the patches, sending mixed messages to my brain.  Happy grass, slowly filling in the barren spots.  How odd.

The other day I was reading a book about prehistoric man and how the climate stabilized about twelve thousand years ago, making it easy for our kind to resort to agriculture.  Before that, the climate changed radically from century to century, from year to year.  That made me wonder what kind of impact the weather would have on modern civilization if the climate suddenly destabilized. What would be able to grow?  All this is very hypothetical, of course.  The climate could never destabilize like that again, right?

Well, enough speculation already.  I have to go hang my laundry outside to dry.  After all, it’s a nice, warm day.  I think it’s warm enough to melt the brand new snow piles in my yard.  That would be good.  I need to cut my grass again.

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