If these are the early stages...

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DSC02607"Climate change has stopped being hypothetical. It’s already part of our lived experience.  If these are the early stages, I shudder to think what's on the path ahead,” says author Andrew Bard Schmookler. "If the climate scientists are right, we ain’t seen nothing yet. ... One would think that faced with a challenge this profound, we Americans would be responding with an all-out quest for ways of solving, or at least ameliorating the problem." And yet...

The following is a guest post by Andy Schmookler, award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, and recently the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia’s 6th District. His books include Debating the Good Society: A Quest to Bridge America’s Moral Divide, and The Parable of the Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution. His website is at www.NoneSoBlind.org.

If These are the Early Stages

“If these are the early stages, I shudder to think what's on the path ahead.”

Two things brought that thought to mind.

One is my own aging. Aches and pains, stiffer muscles, presbyopia, diminished energy. As I approach my 67th birthday, I can imagine the kind of hard experience that led Bette Davis to say that old age isn’t for sissies. It’s no small challenge to come to terms with the ancient truth that the uphill part of life’s cycle is followed by the downhill.

As a way of coming to terms with personal deterioration, we can always take the larger view in which we see ourselves as part of the circle of life. We have children; we have grandchildren; life renews itself. Although as individuals we may come and go, we are part of something bigger than ourselves that carries forward the stream of life.

But now that larger view of life has also become disturbing. That same alarming thought --If these are the early stages, what the heck is on the path ahead? — has come to mind in relation to another reality: the early stages of climate change.

Like what happened last June, when an unpredicted enormous wind swept across the Midwest and the Mid-Atlantic, knocking down trees for hundreds of miles, including some right around our house in the Shenandoah Valley. Just a few months later, Hurricane Sandy -- whose eye never approached within hundreds of miles of us -— attacked our area with 24 hours of hard-driving rain that found its way onto our wood floors and into the homes of our neighbors. Sandy's winds took down still more trees.

Extreme weather has become far more frequent, just as scientists predicted.

Another weather development scared me even more.

All through March, I was pining for spring and looking at the extended forecast to see when warmer weather would be coming. The average high temperature for March in my area of year is the mid-50s, but we had less than a handful of days that have reached that average. Most days were a good 15 degrees colder than that.

Then I read this in the Guardian (UK):

"Climate scientists have linked the massive snowstorms and bitter spring weather now being experienced across Britain and large parts of Europe and North America to the dramatic loss of Arctic sea ice.”

Even this frustratingly prolonged winter appears to be part of the larger picture called “climate change.”

Global warming has diminished the sea ice in the Arctic to levels unprecedented in recorded history, and this altered the course of the jet stream in a way that allowed cold Arctic air to descend to lower latitudes than is normal.

This, climate scientists warn, is just the beginning. The momentum of these changes is gathering, some vicious cycles have been triggered, and the ultimate effect of our generations-long spewing of greenhouse gases into Earth’s atmosphere will be far greater than anything we’ve yet seen.

It’s scary. What powers of this planet are we unleashing? What will life be like for our children and grandchildren?

How well will living systems around us survive? Apparently not so well. For a couple of years, I’ve been worrying about all the dead wood in the forest surrounding our house. A few weeks ago I read in USA Today:

''Years of drought and high temperatures are thinning forests in the upper Great Lakes and the eastern United States, NASA satellites show. Nearly 40% of the Mid-Atlantic's forests lost tree canopy cover, ranging from 10% to 15% between 2000 and 2010, according to a NASA study released this week.''

Climate change has stopped being hypothetical. It’s already part of our lived experience. It’s visible. It’s palpable. These early stages are rough enough. But if the climate scientists are right, we ain’t seen nothing yet. We and our kind are in for a bumpy ride.

One would think that faced with a challenge this profound, we Americans would be responding with an all-out quest for ways of solving, or at least ameliorating the problem. That’s how we responded to World War II, when fascism threatened us. That’s how we responded to Sputnik, when the Soviets seemed to be overtaking us.

And yet, despite these real and ever-more-visible dangers, one of our two major political parties has made it dogma that there’s nothing happening in our climate that we as a nation are obliged to address. What gets done? Not nearly enough.

This is dangerous.

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3 Responses to If these are the early stages...

  1. Tony O'Brien says:

    We have doomed our western industrialised civilization. The first to go will be our industrialised agriculture, nature goes for multiple redundancies, we go for monocultures. Those monocultures rely upon very well behaved weather. Our financial system is a house of cards that requires continued growth, we are running into the extreme limits of growth.

    We now risk the existence of man. We have overshot the human carrying capacity of the planet as it is now. Worse, big chunks of the biospheric system that we rely upon look to be unable to cope with the rate of change that we have locked in.

    No dominant species has ever survived a mass extinction event and we are unleashing the biggest ever. Two hundred years of industrialisation and look at how very much has gone already, this is just the start.

    No this is not dangerous, it is far beyond that.

  2. ted rees says:

    150 km (93 mile) methane blooms in the arctic! This CO2 buildup from 300ppm to 400ppm, 100ppm over the maximum over the last 100,000 years, is way out of hand. Think ice age in reverse from now on.
    The ice at the poles has acted as a brake on global warming, because it takes roughly a cup of boiling water just to melt a cup of ice, and get two cups of freezing water. With the arctic ice just a year or two from disappearing, and the methane (100 times more warming than CO2) being released, we are at the threshold of a rapid increase in global warming. We need urgent world wide corrective action now. It might even be too late to do anything but kiss our sorry a...s goodby.

  3. Brandon says:

    There is no doubt that we are quickly altering our Earth's environments. As populations sore throughout the world, we are greatly devastating our environment. Global warming is causing our ice sheets and glaciers to melt, causing sea level to rise, which ultimately threatens a great percentage of humans.
    It seems like we are very slow at responding to take action, and are doing a lot more harm now a days then good. I believe, that climate change will continue to get worse, and we will see more severe and longer lasting climate changes. It can very well be to late to fix a lot of the damages created by man, but we can always limit the affects we are causing to the environment.

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