This week has been the best of a typical Norwegian spring: early sunrises, budding flowers, and snow showers.
New birds: 1, Journey to date: 65
Siland (Mergus serrator)
For our future
A dinner table conversation brought up the topic of air pollution. One of the boys fingered China as the main source. Despite the epically dirty air of eastern China, I had to correct him. We are the source.
His screwed up face demanded an explanation. I had to give a little lesson on other sources of pollution such as carbon dioxide. Trying to get an eight-year-old to comprehend an invisible gas as a source as pollution, global warming, was a heavy lift. It’s a heavy lift with adults too.
This was a big week in news. Earth Day was earlier this week. But the biggest news, the news that hopefully our children will study in future lessons, was the signing of the Paris Climate Accords. Sadly and predictably, the news cycle was dominated by stories that didn’t amount to a pebble in the mountain of significance of the Paris agreement.
There was a green spined book I kept in my personal collection at school. The students were welcome to browse, but no one picked that book. It was the environmental almanac of 1991. And while obscure, it was a treasure of wonder for me, a snapshot of what was, a reference for how things have changed.
The most humbling section of the book dealt with greenhouse gases. The authors noted the 1991 situation, trends, and predictions. They made strong claims that global warming was in progress and worsening but that slow yet steady adjustments could be made to life to forestall or even stop the catastrophe.
Twenty-five years later we are still gnashing our teeth. Two decades on, the predicted effects are visible and visceral. A generation hence, we can see we’ve done almost nothing. Imagine how easy it would have been to have made incremental change?
The Paris accords give me hope for a better world future. I don’t think climate change, global warming, or whatever you want to call it, are the right names. This is a people crisis. People in Dhaka, people in Miami, the folks in Chicago or Antwerp, people are at risk, all people. The climate will always be here, as will the earth. But will we? Will we and our civilizations perish from the earth?
I feel a great sense of responsibility for global warming. I should, I’m an American, we are the biggest CO2 contributors on the planet. But I also feel a great sense of opportunity to make a difference. That also makes me an American.
When my children are grown and having those suppertime conversations with their families, what will they say about our world, our civilization? Because of the Paris Climate Accords, I feel better about them having a thankful conversation about our present human community than I have in a long time.
Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.
The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 50: Who Blinked?
A week of ice and expectations. The ice was everywhere, the walking paths, entrances to buildings, roads and bridges. But, it’s Norway so you, read Y-O-U, need to deal with it. Wear cleats, buy running shoes with spikes, take your time…but don’t expect a load of salt to melt your path. That would be a luxury the taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to bear. I don’t mind, in fact it seems logical in application. Now if I could just give myself permission to buy some of those cool spiked winter running shoes.
New birds: 0
There was a new bird but I couldn’t identify it, story of my life. It was a dominant gray bird, looked like a duck, in the Gloma River at Elverum. Someone please remind me to pack my binoculars.
The 1991 Environmental Almanac has been a fixture on my bookself at school. I have been able to use and reuse its content. One nugget from the book is the discussion about manmade greenhouse gases and the predictability of global warming and catastrophic climate change. 1991!
Imagine if we had really taken seriously the scientifically-based and empirically validated finds in 1991 and acted. Even if we had acted slowly, dilberatlely, a plan to take 25 years to fully enact, imagine.
Twenty five years later we are wringing our hands and smiling with a bitten lip about the accomplishments of the Paris Climate Talks. Now, we are going to act, slowly and deliberately. I am thankful that the world has done something but the details of the agreement are still too much for me to digest: Who wins, who loses, at whose expense?
Global warming isn’t about middle-class midwesterners anxious about losing their tradition of cross-country skiing. Global warming is not a liberal conspiracy to reign in powerful corporations. Global warming is not a cause célèbre to be succeeded by new interests and passions.
Global warming is about ruining the lives of innocent people. The people of Bangladesh, for example, have committed no crimes other than living. With global warming, caused by you and me and our high-carbon lifestyles, has potentially doomed them to ruin. Global warming means sealevel rise, means Bangladesh floods, means 50 million + people loose their homes, just Bangladesh. What did they do to deserve it?
What did Florida do to deserve it? What did Denmark do to deserve it? What did Singapore do to deserve it? Shall I go on?
I do believe a united world community can stop and even reverse the trend of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. I aslo believe that the hydrocarbon industries, the most profitable and powerful business concerns on the planet, will not give away their futures (see Dodge v. Ford Motor Company, 1919).
Discussing the topic with a new friend I hit upon the analogy of slavery in America. I didn’t want to because I don’t like to link or compare America’s original sin with anything; it needs to stand alone and be exposed fully. But in this case I did insomuch as oil is such a dominant and seemingly immutable part of the American economy and identity that it can’t be challenged. Yet it can, but the costs to reset the social order are horrendous.
If, when, Bangladesh floods with saltwater to the point of inhabitability, then imagine the upheavel for the world? 50 million people trying to resettle. Such an event would destablize South East Asia and India. Which would destablize Pakistan and China. Which would…America.
We can bear those costs a little over time or be overwhelmed in an instance? I prefer the conservative and cautious approach.
I leave you with a quote from of one of my heros, Professor Howard Zinn. It is long but you deserve it in full. “TO BE HOPEFUL in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.
What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.
And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”
Looking ahead, looking up, and keeping my pencil sharp. -jlh