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Posts Tagged ‘Arctic’

doves of peaceful prosperity for a post-growth world

January 9, 2017 Leave a comment

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January 9th: got my daily constitutional walk in before the rain swept in to drive me indoors! Damp but mild day today, unlike what is happening in central and Eastern Europe at the moment, where extreme cold, with plenty of ice and snow, is causing havoc. It’s the kind of cold that should be in the Arctic, but isn’t because the Arctic is dominated by extremely mild weather, pushing the cold weather southwards over Siberia and Europe. Yet another aspect of the ‘global weirding’ going on as climate systems around the world become disrupted due to global warming.

Another type of global weirding is going on within the political world as political parties and leaders with, at best, a very tenuous grasp upon rational, evidence-based policy-making either take power or are on the threshold of taking power. The accession of Donald Trump as US President comes ever nearer, and with it a rising sense of dread and foreboding in the minds of many people, myself included. They say truth is stranger than fiction, and that’s never more true than now, as one novelist has discussed in an article I read today.

Events like these are likely to produce a rate of change over the next few years that is faster and more transformational than any change that I, or anybody else, will have seen in their lifetimes so far. Climate, politics, society, economics, and more, will all change radically over the next few years in ways so profound and unexpected that the resilience of all of us will be challenged to the utmost.

But what can help us maximise resilience, or at least to simply cope with all the change happening? Fortunately, there are people who have thought deeply about how to deal with the collapse of existing social and economic systems in the wake of climate change, peak oil, and financial disasters. One such person was the late David Fleming, who produced a magnus opus in his book Lean Logic, which is, in effect, a primer for thinking through how we might survive the future, and do so in a way which gives us prosperity and well-being despite lack of economic growth and without environmental destruction.  I can’t rate this book high enough: it is the most comprehensive, thorough, deeply researched, yet easily readable book on sustainability I’ve ever come across, full of practical suggestions and proposals for creating, right now, the lean society that can survive the difficult times ahead. Like the doves I saw today in the dovecote I walked past, peaceful thoughts of a thriving future fly through the mind after reading such a visionary book as this!

doves calmly sitting on a dovecote –

vision of a peaceful world  –

lightens my step on a dull winter’s day walk.

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yielding to the rising sea…

January 8, 2017 Leave a comment

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January 8th: yet another walk today, as part of my rehabilitation, around yet another part of my home village. This time around the church and into the Pevensey Levels, the fields that were painstakingly reclaimed over the centuries from the former tidal marsh as it became silted up and cut off from the sea by shingle drift along the English Channel. These fields – from where my photo today was taken, looking north towards Pevensey Castle – are rich grazing land now, much prized by farmers, but now extremely vulnerable to being reclaimed by the sea as climate change makes sea level rise rapidly. Estimates vary amongst climate scientists, but even conservative estimates suggest it could be up to 2 metres by 2050, which would easily overwhelm these fields I walked over today, plus much of the land for  miles inland, including much of the fast growing town of Eastbourne nearby.

It’s strange to walk over fields that look so permanent a feature of the landscape yet knowing that they were underwater once for thousands of years and will be underwater again before this century is out. If one thing is certain about climate change, it is that there will have to be a Great Retreat from the present coastline in many parts of the world. And certainly we are not ready for that here in terms of preparedness and contingency planning, which strikes me as so odd when I think of how much effort normally goes into planning for most other aspects of modern life. So we’re back to this disconnect I’ve talked about before, this inability to connect up the facts of climate change with the awesome and awful implications of those facts for the radical changes and political choices that will have to be made if those facts are truly faced up to.

And this disconnect persists despite the fact that we have, in effect, run out of time to think or argue about it. As I read today, an ice-free Arctic for at least part of each year is now imminent (that is, sometime within the next few years), and that will be a truly unprecedented event in human history, guaranteed to destabilise climate patterns we’ve been used to, and guaranteed to massively accelerate global warming because of the drastic reduction in the amount of solar energy reflected back into space and the drastic increase of heat energy absorbed by the ice-free Arctic ocean.

Yet I read today that, despite this, Trump will take a chain-saw to Obama’s climate legacy, starting on day one of taking office as US President:

Trump is said to be looking at ways to extricate the US from the Paris agreement while aggressively exploiting fossil fuels. He has said that on his first day in office, he will lift “the restrictions on the production of $50 trillion worth of job-producing American energy reserves, including shale, oil, natural gas and clean coal, and we will put our miners back to work”.

the turf I walk on, torn from a retreating sea,

but soon to be torn back by a rising sea,

yields to my tread, like a cushion,

yielding to me and all like me,

who in turn must yield to nature’s power

as the super-storms roll in with the incoming tides.

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thinking today about the day after tomorrow…

January 6, 2017 Leave a comment

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January 6th: the first day of my body feeling better gives me real hope that my illness is coming to a gradual end. That buoyed me up for yet another local walk, once again circling around the local church here in Westham, a 1,000 year old church still mostly surrounded by local lanes and open fields that presumably are little changed from centuries past.

What I find fascinating is the huge disconnect between what climate science tells us about climate change and its potential impacts, and the state of political discourse about what to do about climate change. On one side climate scientists, and campaigners advocating action on climate change, are united in their assessment of the urgency and scale of the challenge of slowing down global warming, whilst on the other side, the reactions of political establishments across most of the industrialised world is to either deny climate change outright (as a Trump administration will apparently do) through to a weak, slow acceptance of climate change as a problem to be dealt with, but in good time and in a way that should not be allowed to impact upon existing business models that are deemed essential to maximising economic  growth. The disconnect is so stark, so widespread, and so entrenched, that it takes me some while to get my head around how impressive this disconnect is. I’ve heard of psychological states like ‘denial’ and ‘cognitive dissonance’ – indeed, I studied them at university and in my psychiatric nursing career – but to see such disconnect on a societal, indeed, global, scale is just awesome, and makes me think that maybe Freud was right when he postulated a new urge within the human psyche: thanatos, the ‘death drive’.

Today I read about how this climate disconnect is likely to play out as clashes between various environmental campaigners and the Trump administration in the first few months after Trump’s administration.

Meanwhile, I also read today that the Gulf Stream Drift that gives us in the UK a relatively mild climate system for our northerly latitude, has slowed down very significantly in the last century and is likely, as climate change progresses, to slow down much more to a point where it might stop altogether if a ‘critical desalination point’ is reached. This phrase was used in the Hollywood movie, The Day After Tomorrow, which I often think about because it’s one of the few movies that show very realistically how dramatic the disconnect between climate science and the political establishment can be, and how that disconnect can lead to not only a profound denial of the ‘fierce urgency of now’ with respect to climate change, but also lead to a lack of effort in building up the resilience and adaptation measures that can help society deal with climate change impacts.  Those impacts will apparently lead to strong storms hitting the UK with greater frequency and intensity, leading, for example, to the sort of catastrophic, widespread, record-breaking flooding events we’ve seen in the UK in quite a few winters since 2000.

That will lead to great changes in the area I live; indeed, some of the places shown in the photos I’ve posted on this blog over the last few days will be either under water or on the edge of the sea, if big enough storms destroy the fragile sea defences on the south coast of England, only a couple of kilometres from where I live. That adds both a piquancy and poignancy to my local walks, as I can’t avoid thinking about how inherently transient are the landscapes I pass through. That’s both a spur to appreciate them more for what they are right now, through a deeper application of mindfulness and a deeper sensory engagement with the landscape, but also a stirring of a bittersweet cocktail of present joy and anticipatory sadness at future loss. That emotional cocktail is both full of creative potential and a psychological challenge to be handled with as much care and skill as I am, hopefully, capable of. Game on…

As ice-shelves calve and ice-sheets melt,

Far away in the polar regions,

Here, now, plebeian struggles to melt icebergs of climate indifference

Amongst the senates and forums of this world

Race towards a dramatic climax before the curtain falls.

 

 

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Ruins of history – or history in ruins?

January 5, 2017 Leave a comment

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January 5th: a day of glorious sunshine for me to stagger into on my rocky road to rehabilitation from my present illness. Lucky me has thousands of year of heritage to walk past on one of my local walks, and today’s photo shows off the impressive ruins of the Norman fort within the ancient Roman walls of Pevensey Castle. Always a great reminder of the rise and fall of empires, and within my own lifetime the British Empire has come to an end. Now the world apparently has superpowers, although what the difference is between ‘superpowers’ and ’empires’, I’m not sure! But of course, a superpower, no matter how strong, does not have the power to stop the natural world changing dramatically as a result of global warming, not even a superpower led by a reality TV superstar like Donald Trump.

But, it’s not just Trump who doesn’t understand climate change. A huge slice of the US population also doesn’t, including a large number of powerful politicians, who not only openly deny the findings of climate science but also launch attacks upon the integrity of climate scientists themselves, making all sorts of accusations about them without any evidence and even trying to withhold funding from essential climate research programmes. The attacks continue even though the latest research corroborates even more strongly the data climate scientists have accumulated over the last few decades, data which shows that global warming continues apace.

So it’s no surprise that the Arctic, that “giant refrigerator that helps make our world a viable place to live”, continues to show a record low amount of ice for this time of year, and that the Greenland ice sheet is continuing to melt at an ever faster rate. The loss of Arctic sea ice is now so great that the recently knighted sailor, David Hempleman-Adams, and his team, completed a sailing trip around the Arctic in about 3 months, a trip that would have taken up to 3 years some decades ago! And what does Trump now want to do in the Arctic? Team up with Russia’s Vladimir Putin to drill for oil in the Arctic, thereby exacerbating the very climate change that is leading to the destruction of the Arctic ecosystem in the first place, as well as leading to global catastrophic climate change if the Arctic oil drilling goes ahead unrestrained!

Walking past peaceful ruins – thinking of present ruins

Of ecosystems, climate systems, ocean systems –

Past blends with present and future concerns.

Everything passes away, even empires,

But now even history may pass away –

Strange, the urge to record the end of history endures…

 

 

‘Reality TV’ Trump versus reality of climate change: who wins?

January 4, 2017 Leave a comment

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January 4th: My illness rumbles on, restricting me once again to a short walk along the lanes of my village, lanes which take me past farms and small-holdings where willow trees glow golden in the winter sunlight and bare trees stand out starkly against the dark clouds rolling over the field slopes. All this natural splendour is precious, of course, keeping my spirits up despite my body feeling rotten, and gives me inner strength to think about what is otherwise very hard to think upon: climate change.

Not that Donald Trump thinks hard about climate change. His mind is apparently so against treating it as a serious subject that he’s contemplating slashing federal funding for climate research by agencies such as NASA. It’s quite mind-numbing to see the extent not just of Trump’s climate denial but the bizarre extent to which he goes to trash climate change as a valid area of concern for scientists to investigate. Yet Trump will have to deal with the reality of climate change impacts upon the United States, as there is a very high probability of several extremely damaging weather events hitting the US during his term as President. Obama had to deal with several such events, some of which went a long way to increasing awareness amongst US citizens about the growing impacts of climate change. Climate change is just nature responding in dynamic ways to what humans are doing to nature. So it will be fascinating to see how Trump handles the inevitable clash between his ‘reality TV show’ view of the world and the reality of the natural world itself as human-induced global warming plays itself out. There’ll be plenty of denialist spin from Trump, of course, but whether this will be enough to prevent demands within the US for more positive responses to climate change remains to be seen. The fate of the whole world partly depends on how this clash works out!

Meanwhile, right now in the Arctic, sea ice extent is the lowest it’s ever been for this time of year. The Arctic death spiral continues. The reason? Why, climate change of course! Evidence? It’s right here. And the consequences for us here in the UK and Europe? Lots more extreme weather events.

The USS President sails on sublimely towards the iceberg of climate disaster

Supremely confident that the ship is unsinkable, the captain dreams of

New walls, new deals, new ways of making the ship even greater than now,

And the band will play on as the dreams dissolve into the cold, uncaring ocean…

 

 

 

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New Year’s Day mutterings on the gathering storms…

January 1, 2017 Leave a comment

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On this New Year’s Day, I contemplate with bemusement the fact that Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States in 20 days time. So cometh a climate denier who has appointed a cabinet full of climate deniers, all committed to the unrestricted exploitation of fossil fuel reserves despite the fact that the world needs to get off fossil fuels as quickly as possible in order to avoid catastrophic climate change.

All this against a backdrop of climate change impacts worsening by the month, highlighted by the record low sea ice extent in the Arctic at this very moment (as I explored today by reading Paul Beckwith’s latest blog post on the subject). The Arctic death spiral accelerated significantly in 2016 and is continuing into 2017, making the prospect of an ice-free Arctic in summer within the next few years a very real possibility, with massive consequences for the stability of climate systems across the world whilst certainly accelerating the overall rate of global warming .

If I were a novelist, I couldn’t have made this scenario up: a climate denier becoming the most powerful man on Earth at the very moment that the world’s climate system has passed so many tipping points and is hurtling towards a rate of climate change impossible for humanity to control, or adapt to fast enough. So instead of writing a novel, I’ll just record, in diary-like fashion, each day of this wild ride that we’re all embarking on. Just being an unflinching witness and archivist to this awesome, momentous change in human affairs is a challenge in itself as indeed  – as W.B.Yeats would say – a “terrible beauty is born”.

Meanwhile, life goes on, and one ironic side-effect of my growing interest in climate change and its impacts is a renewed interest in nature and all its works, as well as a greater desire to immerse myself emotionally and spiritually within it and to express my feelings about it. So I shall endeavour to post one photo a day, taken on that day, of my interaction with nature and to write something creative about it. Today’s photo is of a scene along one of the lanes in my home village that I often walk along, looking across the hedge to the Pevensey Levels beyond.

Walking under dull, dour skies on this New Year’s Day,

I contemplate the destiny of the coming year, the world, and myself.

No clarity, no comfort comes, but I walk on anyway,

Lulled  and soothed by my rhythmic strides into the sodden dusk

Drizzling with thoughts of the comforts of home and hearth,

And shelter from the gathering storms…

 

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keening for the world…

November 30, 2015 Leave a comment

I don’t usually bump into reindeer herders. I don’t expect to. But I did bump into them last weekend at a Fossil Free UK workshop just before the Climate March in London on November 29th, a march of people that was over 70,000 strong. You couldn’t miss them. There they were, representatives of the Sami people, gloriously resplendent in their traditional folk dress. They looked young -the two women looked radiantly beautiful, and the two men stunningly handsome – making it hard to believe they came from such a remote and physically demanding corner of the world as the wilderness that is the Scandinavian Arctic.

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Not only did they talk movingly about how the Arctic climate has changed so much over the last few years that both reindeer and people are struggling to cope with the increasingly frequent extremes of weather and the flip-flopping from one extreme to another. They talked, for example, of both reindeer and their experienced hunters now drowning in lakes whose ice-cover is much thinner than it should be at the times of the year when the reindeer migrate to their new feeding grounds. They showed us a short film about how they live in the Arctic, a film that showed not only the harshness of living in the Arctic but also the inexpressible beauty of nature and wildlife in the unspoilt tundra and the natural rhythms and communal solidarity of the Sami way of life that has existed for thousands of years, long before the nations states of Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Russia carved out their absurdly artificial borders across the reindeer migration routes.

Then they began singing. Oh how they sang! This was singing like I’ve never heard before. A singing that was part ululation, part chanting, but wholly authentic, wholly emanating from the heart’s deep core. It sang of the Sami love of nature, a love so deep that it cannot be expressed through normal speech. Which is why singing is central to the Sami way of life. I was lucky enough to talk personally with one of the Sami guys, who explained that he was taught to sing when just a toddler, like all Sami toddlers are. And he’s been singing ever since. The Sami love of Mother Earth made me sing inwardly of my own love for the wonders of the Sussex countryside that I have come to appreciate, and images appeared in my mind’s eye of the South Downs I can see from my front window and the ancient sunken lanes in my village that I walk along most days – all part of a landscape threatened imminently by rampant infrastructure developments, and industrial projects like fracking, that the obsession with climate-damaging economic growth keeps stoking.

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I saw the Sami folk singers again at the end of the Climate March, outside Parliament. There they were again, in their folk dress, singing their hearts out and patting their chests with their palms to the rhythm of the heartbeat that both guides their singing and expresses the link we all have to the rhythm of Mother Earth, the rhythm of life itself. But this time the singing sounded, to my unmusical ears, too much like keening for Mother Earth, a keening for both the terrible loss of nature and the loss of future climate stability for all humanity. The keening didn’t come from the Sami but from deep inside me, a keening that wells up from the sadness I feel for the tragedy that is befalling humanity as catastrophic climate change gathers pace.

That is not to say that I have no optimism that the catastrophe can be limited in scope if we make the right calls now, if the UN climate talks taking place in Paris right now makes the urgent decisions needed to reduce carbon emissions as quickly as possible. But that optimism, reinforced by the rapidity of the global clean energy transition away from fossil fuels, co-exists with my inner knowing of what we have already lost, and are losing, day by day. The singing of the Sami resonates too closely with the sorrowful keening in my heart, creating a curiously harmonious discordance that is both awesome and awful, an awesome nightfall, a terrible beauty that echoes through my brain as I ruminate the dry pronouncements and technical analyses emanating from the COP21 talks in Paris. The bureaucrats and the diplomats, the politicians and the pundits, may prattle away, but for now all I hear is the plangent pathos of the plain singing of the Sami reindeer herders of the high Arctic, and all I see is the windswept wildness of the white, frozen tundra in all its stark, awe-inspiring, and fragile beauty.

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