Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Great Convulsion

"Before the Deluge" was of course written by Jackson Browne, but I like this Joan Baez version.  The lyrics are copied at the end, following some thoughts about denialism.  I'm not referring to those despicable advocates of unregulated pollution that has been altering the atmosphere with invisible gases for over a century - or contaminating the earth and water and medical patients with untested chemicals - or unfettered destruction of habitat through deforestation, mountaintop removal, deep water drilling, the tar sands, and fracking.  Nothing will change their minds as long as there is money to be made from peddling ruinous activities, no matter how unsustainable.  What alarms me is the denialism that leads some of the most knowledgeable among us to close their eyes to trends nothing short of disastrous that are clearly discernable, even in the models that don't include amplifying feedbacks like methane and the albedo effect.

Ocean acidification is often referred to as the "evil twin" of climate change, but I am starting to think it is  surreptitiously treated more like the "bastard child" by many climate scientists better versed in physics - because the existential threat it poses is generally as unacknowledged as it is inevitable.  Which is too bad, because it scares the hell out of the industry deniers, precisely because it is an indisputably and inevitably existential threat for any number of reasons, chief among them the loss of a major protein source for a large portion of humans (leading to famine, refugees and war), and loss of a primary source of oxygen, to breathe.  It's proven virtually impossible to get climate experts to give even a passing thought to the equally inevitable loss of forests, our other source of oxygen - not off in the future from temperature changes but very soon, within the lifetime of anyone reading this, from tropospheric ozone.

Almost as soon as I learnt about the imminent disasters of climate change and ecosystem collapse to be unleashed upon a largely unsuspecting and hoodwinked public, I was puzzled to notice a long-standing and fundamental rift dividing environmental activists, environmental poseurs, and scientists.  It's anecdotal to say so but lately it seems to me,  that rift is widening.  As news from the frontiers of climate chaos - of floods, and desertification, of tornados and food shortages - worsens for those who are paying attention, and it becomes ever more apparent that technological advances to fix the problem will be far too little and implemented far too late, arguments are erupting in comments on various self-designated Important and Serious websites between those who believe the future is so dangerous for survival that it is (past) time for action, and those who should know better but continue to caution against merely sounding "overly alarmist".

I suppose some people's motives might be less than altruistic, since there is money and prestige and entrenched ideology at stake for some individuals (they should know who they are but probably don't!) - but I think most are genuinely and sincerely trying to follow what they believe to be the most effective path to mitigate and adapt.  However, every human with a heart is susceptible to suffer from their own version of denial.  So personally I think it's tragic that people who almost all have the same fundamental concerns are wasting time and energy quibbling over tactics, such as whether climate science and models and discussions should focus solely on global warming from CO2, or include other emissions from burning fuel that also add to the greenhouse effect (never mind causing pollution that is killing trees and people - not to mention factoring in the feedback effects of demolished carbon sinks like forests).

Another deepening disconnect is on whether to explicitly link free-market capitalism (as it has run amuck in the developed nations, and trampled over the rights of developing countries) with the unavoidable steps necessary to reduce emissions significantly enough to make any sort of dent in, by way of examples, catastrophic ice melting and sea level rise.  The youth who carried signs at Copenhagen, "System Change Not Climate Change" understand that a vast cultural shift is critical, and bravely made the connection...but many of their more powerful elders prefer to ignore it.  Some members of the educated elite also prefer to relegate issues of social and generational justice to the fringes of discourse, and frantically denounce any mention of the exponential and cataclysmic overpopulation of the human species.

All this squabbling over the scraps just plays into the hands of professional deniers and their corporate puppet masters who are profiting every minute that the rest of us dawdle, some paralyzed by fear - or hope, as the case may be.

Paul Gilding has been writing about the "Great Disruption", which he predicts will be followed in time by a better social construct.  I think it's far more likely at the rate we are (not) going that we will have something more akin to a "Great Convulsion" from which there will be little if any life extant.  So, in homage to all of us who care, and despair...Here are the lyrics to

Before the Deluge

Some of them were dreamers
And some of them were fools
Who were making plans and thinking of the future
With the energy of the innocent
They were gathering the tools
They would need to make their journey back to nature
While the sand slipped through the opening
And their hands reached for the golden ring
With their hearts they turned to each other's heart for refuge
In the troubled years that came before the deluge

Some of them knew pleasure
And some of them knew pain
And for some of them it was only the moment that mattered
And on the brave and crazy wings of youth
They went flying around in the rain
And their feathers, once so fine, grew torn and tattered
And in the end they traded their tired wings
For the resignation that living brings
And exchanged love's bright and fragile glow
For the glitter and the rouge
And in the moment they were swept before the deluge

Let the music keep our spirits high
Let the buildings keep our children dry
Let creation reveal its secrets by and by
By and by--
When the light that's lost within us reaches the sky

Some of them were angry
At the way the earth was abused
By the men who learned how to forge her beauty into power
And they struggled to protect her from them
Only to be confused
By the magnitude of her fury in the final hour
And when the sand was gone and the time arrived
In the naked dawn only a few survived
And in attempts to understand a thing so simple and so huge
Believed that they were meant to live after the deluge

Let the music keep our spirits high
Let the buildings keep our children dry
Let creation reveal its secrets by and by
By and by--
When the light that's lost within us reaches the sky


  1. Every movement needs an anthem.

    Am forwarding your link... thanks so much.

  2. I just discovered your blog, Gail. I agree with you; it is time to stop worrying about sounding "overly alarmist". It is time to be as alarmist as possible, and even more, if possible. I am going to cite this post and others in my blog. Thanks for what you are doing!

  3. That's a new song for me. I love those lyrics, Gail. We were pounded with rain yesterday in south Jersey as you probably were too. Deluge is the word I'd use to best describe the event. I've never witnessed flooding like it here before. Which begs the question, 'what's next?'

  4. Thank you and welcome, Ugo! It's very exciting to have an internet connection to someone in Florence. I have been so lucky to visit there twice in my lifetime and like everyone else who has ever been to Italy I suppose, I fell forever in love with the scenery, the art, the ancient architecture and the food. Did you ever read A Venetian Affair? It is probably a bit obscure, wonderful escape to another less hazardous time in history.

    Dion, it did not rain quite as badly here in the northern part. We are all dodging bullets in terms of violent weather now, I fear. Watch out for those jellyfish at the beach!

    RPauli, I don't know if it qualifies as an anthem. But I thought it captures the blindness and dashed hopes that are prevailing in private discourse that really should emerge and become public...

    I volunteered at my local county radio non-profit station, which is in need of free program hosting, to do a call-in show - maybe title it "Diva of Doom...the most depressing show on the air!" and people could share their secret inklings of all things FUBAR, and I could play songs like that occasionally. Hmmm. Somehow I doubt they'll take me up on it, but you never know, it could strike a chord - look at all the media hoopla around May 21st!

  5. Earth Fail Warnings
    200 songs/videos from the past 100 years warning mankind to straighten up our act or face the consequences

    More earth fail warnings
    149 songs/videos predicting our man-made doom

  6. Perfect Catman! I was trying to locate your song list on Youtube yesterday and I couldn't find it! Now, I'm prepared for a new career...

  7. Well, nice to hear that you have been to Florence, Gail. I do remember having been to New Jersey, long ago. It was a horribly hot summer and I shiver at the thought of how it must be, now.

    But your blog has been a real discovery, you know, an epiphany as they say. I had been noticing that trees are not well all around me, but I couldn't connect the dots. Now that you did that for me, I can see what's happening. Two days ago, I took a trip of about 300 km from Florence to a place near the Alps, in Norther Italy. And I kept looking at the trees flanking the highway (I was driving, yes, I know I shouldn't have been - but all trains were full). It was shocking. There are so many dead and dying trees. Maybe the trees near the highway are a special case, but it is bad enough that it makes one wonder.

    Another effect of climate change, I guess. If, as you say, ocean acidification is the bastard twin of global warming, then dying trees is another forgotten brother - this one a deformed creature that has been kept locked in a damp basement for many years but now he escaped and is coming back....

  8. Another effect of climate change, I guess.

    Ugo, with all due respect, Gail's hypothesis is not that the dying trees are due to climate change, but rather climate change and dying trees are due to the same process. The dying trees are due to ozone and climate change is due to an imbalance of CO2. We must always keep in mind that CO2 is not a pollutant. An imbalance of it is the issue, not merely the presence of it. I say this because Al Gore in his most recent article about climate change has referred to CO2, indirectly, as Global Warming pollution. CO2 is not a pollutant. It is a necessary part of our biosphere. Ozone, a REAL pollutant, is not CO2....even though it originates from the same man-made processses that produce the excess CO2 the Biosphere is unable to sequester. That is part of what attracts me to Gail's that she makes that most important distinction and doesn't allow it to get usurped by the Elephant that has become climate change. It's about the Environment, and there are many more things affecting the Environment than just climate change from an imbalance of CO2.

  9. You are right, Morocco. I should not have used the term "effect" implying causation. These are all correlated phenomena; ozone, CO2, acid rain, etc.... So there is no single causative chain, except for the human intervention which is forcing the system.

    You are perfectly right in saying that we should be worried about the environment in general, not becoming fixated to a particular element of it. Climatologists tend to use the term "climate disruption" but we might expand the concept and use the term "Ecological disruption" which includes climate change, but not just that (better still, Anthropogenic Ecological Disruption, AED)

    Just as a note, however, the definition of "pollutant" depends on concentration. Say, some vitamin D is essential for humans but too much is a poison the body. The same is true for CO2. It is essential for the ecosystem in the right amount but, if it is too much, it can directly damage the human metabolism, and - more in general - it does fit the definition of "pollutant." IMHO.

  10. Congratulations, Ugo! You are now the unlucky member of a very exclusive club. There are probably no more than a dozen people on the planet who really understand that trees of all varieties, ages, and locations are being suffocated by pollution.

    It's not surprising that most people avoid knowledge that is what I call soul-crushing. Anticipating the loss of one of the most magnificent species on earth makes for a difficult existence, at least for me - call it pre-traumatic stress syndrome.

    Once you recognize the symptoms of terminal decline however, the evidence becomes unavoidable. I keep hoping that sooner rather than later, it will become better known and the choice to discontinue our rampant pollution - especially so much of which is unnecessarily, gluttonously wasteful - will become simple since plants are, after all, our primary source of oxygen and food. I haven't managed to convince very many! But perhaps one by one, the word will spread, while there is still time to rescue the trees, and ourselves.

  11. Ugo, yes, I have considered the concept of pollution that you have mentioned, but what bothers me about it is that most laymen will not see it that way, and instead, to the unwitting, CO2 becomes a dirty word, and their perception is clouded and their otherwise positive intentions misdirected.

    Yes, of course, many things which are a necessary part of life can be toxic at excessive levels, but what differentiates Ozone from these excessive naturally occurring substances is that Ozone is not naturally occurring, and when it's produced in the massive quantities in which it's being produced, life is not given the opportunity to adapt to the new and unique chemical composition, if adaptation to it is even possible. With the definition you proffer, Ozone and CO2 get lumped into the same category, pollution, and those not paying close enough attention don't grasp the very important distinction.

    Thank you for understanding. It is refreshing to know that there are others like us who see the terminal decline....that we're not alone...that there are others who are not only cognizant of the destruction, but who also actually have a conscience.

    Gail is the Tree Whisperer.

  12. If we can't rescue the trees, we can't rescue ourselves.

    We primates can't live for long in a world that won't support trees.