Christmas approaches, with its joys of children and grandchildren. In the Guardian, Rebecca Solnit argues that “we are on the brink,” a brink that requires moving beyond what she calls an “adolescence” of humankind to a new maturity, “What is striking,” she writes with her characteristic clarity and eloquence, “is that such maturity is largely the property of the young.” As she also puts it, “they are the people who have never experienced a below-average temperature on Earth…”
I agree and have for years. “We see the children are mature and too many old people are juvenile…” My generation must be removed.
In a recent Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists article, three experts blast the fossil fuel companies’ attempts to gloss over their continued disregard for the climate emergency. The writers point out that in ExxonMobil’s September Outlook for Energy, it includes a formal projection of global energy-related submissions out to 2040 and guess what? Not only are such emissions not almost eliminated by then, as science dictates, they’ve not begun to decline at all! I’ve clipped the salient chart from page 38 of that report. So … even as the machinists of emitting say soothing words, never forget: they are the enemy. We are nonviolent but they are the enemy.
The Kumano Kodo pilgrimage walk in Japan, near Osaka, is beautiful on the eye but the pilgrimage narrative dished out is incomprehensible. It’s hard to pay attention to a shrine when its role in the pilgrimage or indeed in Japan’s general history is obscure. So I almost missed the side wall of an almost hidden little shrine on our third day, back in November.
Amazement! Next to a stylised bent tree, a Red-crowned Crane elegantly props, about to peck, its stately wings partly unfurled. What an evocative sight! I’ve kept reading that this crane is almost a holy bird in Japan, but it’s not easy to find evidence of it. Here is the kind of anecdotal proof that can convince me.
A standout book this year was Jon Gertner’s brilliant “The Ice at the End of the World: An Epic Journey Into Greenland’s Buried Past and Our Perilous Future.” Read my review to see why I rate it as 10/10.
No sooner than I’ve absorbed Gertner, Chris Mooney chimes in with a Washington Post article reporting that 89 scientists now find concordance between 26 different satellite measurement data sets and conclude that the ice shelves of Greenland are melting down at astonishing rates. What used to be an extreme melting scenario (and was taken presumably into IPCC projections) is now the mid-range projection.
Gertner’s book had my heart pounding. What am I to make of this new data? I sit and try to meditate.
My project examines cranes and their prospects in the Anthropocene era. But the world of cranes, a world requiring careful scrutiny, also informs our perspective on climate change. A Reuters article on a drought-caused drop in Zambesi River levels, and also the output of Victoria Falls, includes an observation by the head of the ICF, the wondrous organization taking responsibility for all fifteen species, reported as follows:
Richard Beilfuss, head of the International Crane Foundation, who has studied the Zambezi for the past three decades, thinks climate change is delaying the monsoon, “concentrating rain in bigger events which are then much harder to store, and a much longer, excruciating dry season”.
While it’s refreshing to see newspapers and channels begin to address the big issues pertinently (Murdoch, Fox, etc. still abstaining), I’m feeling bludgeoned by the words of doom: “unprecedented,” “record high,” “once in a hundred years,” “apocalyptic,” and so on and so on. Even the basic adjectives – hot, cold, stormy, wet, drought, melting, windy, etc. – have a tired ring, needing always to be resized to reflect a new Anthropocene era. I wonder – do we need new words to reflect new realities? What, for example, is a new adjective to describe ambient heat hotter than humankind is accustomed to? Do we need a fresh shorthand with which to christen 2020?
A prestigious, wise group of climate scientists just scared the shit out of me. “Climate tipping points – Too risk to bet against” came out in Nature on November 27. Tipping points, “large-scale discontinuities,” were traditionally shoved off into the future, the future of +5C, but over the last couple of years, scientists have begun to see evidence of them as possibilities over +1C or +2C. The West and East Antarctic ice sheets are perilously close to going into irreversible melting and the Greenland ice sheet could be “doomed” at +1.5C. At +2C, the Arctic has a 10-35% chance of going ice-free in summer. 99% of coral reefs could die at +2C, triggering onward effects. The Amazon might tip into irreversible drying out sooner than expected. Throw in forest fires, permafrost thawing, and a slowdown in Atlantic circulation, and these sages see nine tipping points flaring in complex, reinforcing combinations. Their conclusion?:
Some scientists counter that the possibility of global tipping remains highly speculative. It is our position that, given its huge impact and irreversible nature, any serious risk assessment must consider the evidence, however limited our understanding might still be. To err on the side of danger is not a responsible option. If damaging tipping cascades can occur and a global tipping point cannot be ruled out, then this is an existential threat to civilization. … In our view, the evidence from tipping points alone suggests that we are in a state of planetary emergency: both the risk and urgency of the situation are acute.
What a jolt. A funding appeal received yesterday from Birdlife Australia features a horrific modern scene of five Brolgas in their grassland habitat, their horizon in flames, indistinct black birds wheeling desperately away. What, I’m pondering, will the fate of the world’s fifteen crane species be in the Anthropocene era? Is this photo a portent? No, it must not be so.