Hero: Ed Hawkins

Ed Hawkins tweet

A climate scientist at the University of Reading, Ed Hawkins is an IPCC AR6 Lead Author. He tweeted a couple of days ago:

Months of work by 15 authors with 56 contributing authors, writing 60,000 words (+ 885 references) = 1 finished draft of a single @IPCC_CH Assessment Report chapter. Now over to the hundreds of reviewers. Then we start to edit it all over again…

It stirs my blood to hear about such work. The concerted IPCC work over decades must surely dwarf the feted Manhattan Project in terms of scientific firepower and global criticality. As always, heroes labour hard, extremely hard.

Where are the 15 Crane species?

Location maps of Brolga and Sarus Crane

How lucky can a neophyte be? I had expected to have to dig through books, new and old, and websites, and to then master map making to come up with simple motivational location maps. Maps impel. Maps document. Maps communicate.

Well, it turns out that the International Crane Foundation, in putting together its astonishing Crane Conservation Strategy, released less than three months ago, also commissioned fifteen maps that suit my purposes exactly. You can find the maps here.

From the composite image above, I note that only the Brolga is Australia-specific. A larger, wide-ranging population can be found in northern and northeastern Australia. A small, locally endangered population (listed as threatened by both Victorian and NSW authorities) lives in pockets in the bottom south of NSW (and into Victoria’s north) and in Victoria’s west (into South Australia, also, apparently). By contrast, the Sarus Crane’s only Australian range is the Gulf of Carpentaria up to “the tip” (Cape York). A distinct population mostly lives in India/Pakistan.

So … 2020 is the year to head west from Melbourne in April to attempt to see flocking or breeding Brolgas. In June we’ll do an exciting road trip up the red centre to Darwin and then in July make our way east, with some chance of seeing breeding Sarus Crane couples on the way, ending up in the Atherton Tablelands, where a sizable Sarus Crane cohort flocks together in the dry season.

James Bradley reflects on Australia in a 1° world

Yesterday’s keynote Guardian article “Terror, hope, anger, kindness: the complexity of life as we face the new normal” is a vivid exploration of what James Bradley calls the “new normal” arising from the bushfires (which, of course, are ongoing and will continue to be so for the best part of the next three months). His journey is the existential and emotional journey we all need to undertake in wrestling with the Anthropocene, the galloping emergence of a new geologic era, the only such juncture point we’ll ever face. You’ll note that I use the word “wrestle.” You don’t “master” the Anthropocene. The scale of the coming changes is too great. Your mind and heart lurch in loops similar to Bradley’s “terror, hope, anger, and kindness.”

Bradley is one of Australia’s finest authors and and this article is compulsory reading. Honest, nuanced, and wise. “We should be angry, of course. Incandescently angry. Because where we are is not an accident. … Faced with this reality we can sink into depression and despair. Or we can go further, admit the old world has gone, and begin to fight to make things better. … if we are to find a way forward we will need kindness as well as anger, empathy as well as rage, humility as well as righteousness.” I believe Extinction Rebellion hears this message. United, we non-violently disrupt our failing political order. One of our most potent messages, a greeting really, is “with love and rage,” exactly what Bradley seeks.

Lev saw some Cranes

Eurasian Crane by Lev Parikian

British orchestral conductor Lev Parikian penned one of 2018’s outstanding books. “Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear? 200 birds, 12 months, 1 lapsed birdwatcher” entranced me. A few months ago, I wrote to him about my project of bearing witness to the fifteen Crane species. England wiped out the Eurasian Crane (or Common Crane) from its territory, but now has a tiny, reintroduced population, and I asked Lev if it was one of the bird species he saw, among his end tally of 200, during the quest covered by his book.

Sure enough, he did spot the Eurasian Crane, two birds, at the RSPB Slimbridge reserve, and has graciously let me show his photos above. His shots exhibit the stunning beauty of these elegant grey birds graced with black and red and white on their heads, showing a vivid wingtip black in flight.

I’m sure that you will feel as enriched as I am when viewing Lev’s action photos. If you’re a birder, buy his book for a treat of a read. If you’re not yet a birder, his book might well tip you over the edge!

Rebecca Solnit: the young are our only hope

Rebecca Solnit article

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.

Enemy = fossil fuel company

Exerpt from ExxonMobil report

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.

Hidden crane drawing on forest shrine

Red-crowned crane painting on shrine wall

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.

Greenland melts

Chris Mooney article

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.

Cranes’ observers also observe the Anthropocene

Reuters article on Victoria Falls

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”.

Does the Anthropocene impel new language?

Climate change words

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?