Thursday, March 13, 2008

can't see the forest for the pavement

At my daughter's gym class today, a woman said (with disgust), "Those environmentalists! We can't even use our natural resources thanks to them." I didn't have anything to say to that, but we needed to leave anyway to catch our bus. I assume she was referring to gas prices, which are about $3.45 a gallon here in the flat land of corn to be.

And to switch gears, I should warn you: spoilers ahead! I am still reading books by Kim Stanley Robinson, specifically the D.C. series. In the first book called Forty Signs of Rain, you meet the cast of characters, people in offices, in labs, in government, doing what they can to change laws to avert drastic climate change. This book was written in 2004, and I think it is supposed to take place in the near future. We get in touch with how frustrating it must be to be a scientist or a bureaucrat, and knowing what the future may bring, and unable to change it. I know how frustrating it is to be an average citizen, blissfully unaware of what I do not know. At the end of the book, Washington, D.C. is inundated with something like Hurricane Katrina--massive rain, high tides, hurricane moving up the coast. This book was written before Katrina happened, but he has a good synopsis of what could happen.

The second book of his trilogy is called Fifty Degrees Below. Oops, the gulf stream has stalled, and the president and his cronies are still denying global warming exists. People are still in committees, still trying to pass laws, and whaddyaknow, the winter turns out to be about 30 degrees below "normal" winter temps. Weather disasters abound. I'm still in the middle of this book, but I have been so pleased reading it. I feel like I'm in this weird time warp, because some of the ecological nightmares he imagines have happened since he wrote the book a few years ago. Some are yet to come. But, yeah, I can see, if the gulf stream ever stopped, the president would still be denying it, and life would go on as normal as it could, until...

There were a few parts in the book I specifically had to share, and the first is about economics: "The economists should be trying to invent an honest accounting system that doesn't keep exteriorizing costs. When you exteriorize costs onto future generations you can make any damn thing profitable, but it isn't really true. I warn you, this will be one of the hardest things we might try. Economics is incorrigible. They call it the dismal science but actually it's the happy religion." And if you've ever debated an economist, you have heard the objection of Externalities!!! But, really.

I'm a big fan of permaculture. I think permaculture just makes common sense. In the book, there's a Democrat running for president, and he's at the (ice free) north pole, and announces his candidacy, and says: "So we have to grow up. If we were to turn into just another imperial bully and idiot, the story of history would be ruined, its best hope dashed. We have to give up the bad, give back the good. FDR described what was needed from American very aptly, in a time just as dangerous as ours: he called for a course of 'bold and persistent experimentation.' That's what I plan to do also. No more empire, no more head in the sand pretending things are okay while a few rich guys wreck everything. It's time to join the effort to invent a global civilization that we can hand off to all the children and say, 'This will work, keep it going, make it better.' That's permaculture, as some people call it, and really now we have no choice; it's either permaculture or catastrophe. Let's choose the good fight, and work so that each generation can hand to the next one the livelihood we are given by this beautiful world." Yeah, well, if I ever heard a real candidate for president say something like this, I'd probably pass out! I see no major presidential candidate has said anything substantial about climate change, and no one has even promised to end the war in Iraq that has been waged for half my life (I watched the invasion 17 years ago on tv in the electronics department when I worked at Wal-Mart). Not that electing anyone will make a dent in solving any climate problems, but it was fun to read and imagine!

I'm not a fan of bureaucracy, so it was fun to read of a scientist collecting the names and ideas of any group working to mitigate climate change: "Anna had waved a whole sheaf of lists in her hand, not appalled or angry like Frank had been, more astonished than anything. 'There's so much information out there. And so many organizations!'
'What does it all mean?' Frank had said. 'Is it a form of paralysis, a way of pretending?'
Anna nodded. 'We know, but we can't act.'"

And lastly, I liked that one of the characters (a middle-aged man) had read the Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and declared it the best book ever. Of course, living through a winter of temperatures thirty degrees below normal might make you appreciate something like that.
An aside to explain climate change, and sorry if this is old news to some of you. I had the fortune of attending a talk by a climate expert for our local museum, who explained it very clearly. There is a river in the ocean that circulates cool and warm water mostly in the Atlantic and Indian oceans called the gulf stream. It brings warm water up from the Caribbean, and goes up to northern Europe, where it sinks to the bottom of the ocean and becomes cold, and then circulates around Africa, almost to the Pacific, where it warms, and then rises and then comes back to the Caribbean. This gulf stream keeps northern Europe warmer than it should be, given its latitude.

So, now we're in the age of global warming, and what does that have to do with anything? The ice caps at the poles reflects light and heat, but as the world is warming, the ice is melting and calving, and more heat is absorbed, and more ice melts. This cold fresh water is pouring down into the north Atlantic ocean, where it is presumed that one day there will be enough cold unsalty water to shut down the gulf stream. This has happened many times before, resulting in an ice age. If the gulf stream gets shut down, northern Europe and north America will be colder, allowing the water that now makes up the great lakes to freeze, allowing our general climate to be cold, allowing glaciers to grow, and voila, ice age! As you can imagine, it might cause quite a consternation if suddenly rich white people were flocking to poor warm countries in an effort to stay alive. You might also imagine how hard it will be to feed 6.something billion people when we don't have nearly the land mass to grow food. Add to that a population that is still growing, and a grain production that has plateaued.

And this is all terribly depressing, right? Depressing for us if it happens in our lifetimes, awful to think of our children and grandchildren living through it. But really, the future depends on us, which makes it not depressing at all. If we want to mitigate climate change, we need to examine our own choices, be responsible for our own waste and consumption. It is relevant. We can also chuck those anti-depressants that don't do anything anyway except enrich pharmaceutical companies, and go on our own vision quests, have fellowship with our communities. It's up to each of us, and I don't think of that as depressing at all, but terribly, awfully exciting!!! Way more exciting and relevant than voting.

love to all my friends far away,


donald423 said...

Global population cannot grow after global food production has plateaued. People are made of food.

donald423 said...

"can't see the forest for the pavement" ... yes, there IS an edible savanna waiting to grow, wherever there are trees and lawns!

Anonymous said...

And add using grain and other foodstuffs for fuel, while a population seeking to grow is dealing with plateaued food production. That will be an interesting quagmire we Americans have gotten ourselves into. Especially considering the sinking of the value of the dollar. We may find ourselves cursing the Chicago businessmen who ship the grain from our fertile river valleys down the Mighty Mizip all the way to China, because they can afford it and we can't. Oh, well! We made our bed now we lie in it; we get our comeuppance; we live in the reality we've created. And I hope to be eating 100% from my yard and my friends' yards by that time, cuz I know how to share.


shadowcrrew said...

I wish someone could tell me for sure if/when the gulf stream is going to die, and how far down the glaciers would come onto Turtle Island. If we knew that we could move now instead of waiting. And talk about poll shifts, same deal. How does catastrophe fit into our permaculture plan? It should have a place- I'm not afraid of death but I want to LIVE. If these are real threats to our generation, mustn't we prepare for them? With pollshifts, underground bunkers growing mushrooms would be a start. As far as glaciers, well... all I can say is, we need to put billions of dollars/kilocalories of our energy now into Permaculture projects that will have the capacity to see us through collectively. An example would be like with Gaviotas or the Land Institute, though w/ LI not having useful results coming up as their process moves forward I don't know if that's a good example. From a grassroots perspective, I guess in an urban setting that means neighborhood solidarity, with e'rybody getting on board to supply food and the other necessities of life.

How do we respond to plateaued grain production? We should kick the grain addiction, train ourselves to replace non-organic wheat with real food. Super foods, wild foods, fermented foods, raw foods, organic foods- I'm going for it with all I've got! What you decide to make happen yourself, do intensely, in a fashion that's regenerative to the land and admirable to a point where other people want to do what you're doing. People seeing what you're up to and thinking "Wow, that's what I'd like happening in my yard", or basement or roof. Also, start really making the land you live on happier with love, leaving it alone, and giving it thoughtful applications of biomass, rituals and biodynamic preps.