Sunday, January 17, 2010

Mayhem

This blog is mostly an investigation into why trees are dying. So, here's a house I went by a couple of days ago. Cutting down a tree that size probably cost more than several month's mortgage payment. This is going to become a more and more expensive proposition.
Every now and then I do think about something other than trees and like many others I have been watching the situation in Haiti with horror.

Mayhem was the word used in this morning's headline to describe the aftermath of the earthquake. I actually heard an intelligent thought come out of David Brooks' mouth on the radio, when he said something like, it's not the earthquake, it's the poverty. Yes - it's the dangerously shoddy construction, the lack of medical care, and too many people crowded into ramshackle slums. (update: I stand corrected. In my own defense, I only heard a snippit on the radio, I hope had I heard his whole shpeal I would have recognized the mewling cravenness typical of his philosophy, as so ably depicted by Matt Tabbai.)

Most prominent economic forecasters missed the imminence of the bursting financial bubble in their eagerness to prop up the giant ponzi scheme - no doubt they had money invested in it themselves. You'd think after that, if they had any integrity whatsoever, they might challenge the core belief system of capitalism rather than cling to the fantasy that someday our economy will "recover" and we can continue to grow and grow and grow, and that the USA can somehow restore lost hegemony - but of course, they are still complicit.

What they should be examining but never bother to, is a cost analysis - not of what converting to clean energy will cost in terms of taxes or lost jobs - but comparing the cost of a transition to renewable energy to that of adapting and mitigating to a changing climate...especially cataclysmic climate chaos from unchecked emissions under the business as usual scenario.

What might those costs entail? Surely, the economic losses from droughts, water shortages, famine, wildfires, and floods from extreme weather events - not to mention the health care costs from toxic emissions - must dwarf the cost of any effort or sacrifice we make for green energy!

Of course no individual earthquake can be attributed to climate change any more than a particular hurricane. However, it would behoove us to take note, we can expect more of both. And as usual, those least prepared, without a strong infrastructure and emergency resources, will suffer first, and most - like Haiti, where young men roam the streets with machetes - and yesterday an angry crowd beat an accused looter, set him on fire, and watched him burn to death.

And no, more earthquakes is not wild speculation, there is sturdy science behind this prospect, which can be found here. Melting ice sheets will cause rapid deflection of earth's crust, resulting in increased seismic activity - that would be earthquakes, and volcanos, and not just in poor, powerless countries.

In the same way the real costs of business as usual, which have been hidden and pushed off to the future, will eventually move beyond the displaced Mau Forest settlers in Kenya, the indigenous people of the Arctic who are losing their sources of food, and drought-stricken farms from Argentina to Australia. These places are already suffering terribly from the effects of climate change, their plight largely ignored by the self-satisfied citizens of the wealthy developed nations. But, those effects will ultimately engulf human civilization everywhere, when even the most privileged among us will be unable to escape.

This is of course a horrible prospect, for everybody, and devastatingly painful to contemplate (which is why few people do).

This week I heard a segment on NPR in remembrance of Miep Gies, who died January 11 at the age of 100. Miep Gies risked her life to shelter the Frank family from the Nazis, and it was she who rescued the scattered pages of Anne Frank's diary from the floor of their hideaway after it was ransacked, and the Frank family taken to the concentration camps.

After the war, she gave Anne's Dagboek - day book, in Dutch - to Anne's father Otto, the only member of the family to survive, without ever having even read it herself. "Here is your daughter's legacy," she said to him.

In explaining her reluctance to be regarded as heroic for her actions, Miep Gies said that "if people are allowed to think it takes remarkable qualities to act boldly on behalf of others, few will attempt it." Tears sting my eyes to think on this. I first read Anne Frank's diary well over 40 years ago and the grief is still fresh. If only, I wish, while our familiar world falls to pieces around us, we can emulate Miep Gies.

Even more poignant to me when I contemplate my certain failure to protect my children and assure them a stable climate in the future is her answer to the question, "Was it worth the effort?" to which she replied, "It is true that to my greatest sorrow we were unable to save Anne but the helpers did succeed to extend her life with two years and in that period she has written the Diary with her message of tolerance and understanding."

Remember in spite of the darkest predictions, even just two precious years are worth the effort.

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