The climate

In support of my thoughts on the seriousness of the climate change/global warming situation, I’m posting a link to a recent news report from the LA Times. I hope the link works for everyone. If not, Googling “Summer of disaster: Extreme weather wreaks havoc worldwide as climate change bears down” will likely turn it up.

The report links all the recent increasing extreme weather to global warming, and it gives the scientific explanations for how those things are connected. It’s a bit more in detail than my simple notion that heat powers everything, but it bears that core notion out pretty well, I think.

A seminal paragraph:

The scenes of desperation and devastation in Zhengzhou added to a portfolio of disasters this year that have raised the specter of irreversible climate change as never before and offered glimpses of what it means to live on a warming planet where human survival grows more fraught.

LA Times July 21

There are lots of similar reports out there, though your climate denier friends and Congressmen have likely not read any of it. Sorta like the mental blinders that the folks wear who want to claim Jan. 6 Capitol rioters were just a bunch of tourists…

The link:

https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2021-07-21/extreme-weather-worldwide-climate-change-disasters

Longleaf Dream (2000)

“Only the rarest of characters have genuine insight into the future or the past, and those seem crippled with grief at what they see.”

Barbara Kingsolver, 1992

I wake to moonlight and wind, old pines soughing in the night.

Three A.M. moon bright through my window, alive through the needles.

I sigh with the trees; I want to sleep but moon and pine song draw me out.

My dreams turn to memories of lost landscapes: the wiregrass prairie, Longleaf’s domain, stretching forever, covering coastal plain.

Like imagined lost lovers grieved for in the night, I grieve with the pines the loss of their mothers, fathers, lovers and friends, the loss of a world rampant with life, our birthright traded for a mess of porridge.

Tears slide slowly down my cheeks, and my chest aches with unreleased sobs.

What madness is this that comes in the night? How can I explain?

Who would believe?

:That I suffer the loss of the old growth forests like the loss of a child;

:That I feel the pain of what has been done like a blade in my chest;

:That sitting here in the moonlight, I feel the the attacks on the long-lost landscape as attacks on my body, as a deep abiding pain, an ache of heart and chest and head;

:That I am “crippled with grief” at what I see, immobilized by rage at what has been lost, at what cost… and at what gain.

How to explain?

Hobbling through life, heart bursting, lips frozen in a silent scream.

But the sweet moonlight pours over me yet like honeysuckle scent. Tears of crystal grief sparkle.

The pines’ sad songs are soft lullaby, and at length, I sleep.

In dreams, I walk along in moonlight down ancient corridors of pine!

(From a journal sometime around the year 2000.)

How’s the weather?

We who live in the sunny South don’t really worry a lot about the weather, unless we farm or garden.

An old Southern comic, Brother Dave Gardner, made a career out of saying, “Hot, ain’t it!” That’s probably the most common weather-related conversation and concern around here, because it does usually get pretty dang hot here in the summer! So far this year, though, we’ve had a fairly moderate summer here in Southeast Georgia. Of course, as I told my wife today, there’s still August to go. It’s been fairly consistently in the mid 70s overnight and hits 90 during the day, but none of that 97-and-hotter stuff that we often get in July. It has been a little humid, off and on, as we’ve had stretches of too much rain punctuated by stretches of not enough, as is often the case. But even the humidity–“It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity!” is another common weatherly observation–has not been unbearable yet.

All of which is making many of us Southerners wonder just what is going on. As well we might wonder, given the extremes of weather we’re seeing in lots of other places. I’m a bit of a weather geek, probably because I was a pilot for a few years (during my stint in the U.S. Air Force), and weather is one of the major things you learn about and worry about as a pilot. I took a class in climatology long ago during my preparation for teaching social studies, and that added an edge to my interest in what is one of the most engaging and complex aspects of life on the planet. So, I probably pay more attention to stories about weather, and the actual stuff going on in the atmosphere around me, than most folks.

Which brings me to the real subject here:

hat is going on?

While we’re sitting down here enjoying a fairly mild summer, the folks out in Oregon where I once lived are experiencing heat waves, drought and vicious, terrifying forest fires fueled by the drought and heat. All the northwest is suffering record heat, billions of organisms in the ocean along the northwest coast are dying, and forest fires are raging out of control.

The largest of the Oregon fires is said to be creating its own weather, the heat causing cloud formation and wind. Its smoke is traveling across the continent, polluting the air in New York City. Hundreds of fires are going on from California to near the Arctic Circle, and the firefighting infrastructure is overwhelmed. The consequences of all this seems guaranteed to be dire, thought we don’t yet have an idea of the extent of it.

At the same time, floods are ravaging populations in Asia and other areas of the world, as well as in the U.S. The warming water all around the world (most alarmingly to me right here in the Gulf of Mexico) are giving rise to surges of nasty bacteria that eat humans. (Maybe related, maybe not, but yet another alarming development surfacing as we begin to learn to cope with the COVID pandemic, is a number of strains of resistant fungi in hospital and nursing home environments.)

How can all these diverse and seemingly contradictory phenomena be explained? One of the basic things that I learned about weather is that all the various weather phenomena are powered by heat. It creates the airflow that moves everything around and carries water up into the atmosphere to fall down again as precipitation, and it interacts with the earth’s rotation to create the destructive storms that seem to also be on the increase in recent years. Heat is literally the engine powering everything that happens in the atmosphere.

And, of course, all the data shows that the earth and its atmosphere are heating up. So as there is more heat, even an amount of heat that creates a few degrees of increase in average temperature, all the extremes are pushed further and further. This is the simple, easily understood fact at the basis of the climate science behind global warming as a threat to the stability of our climate. There’s a lot more to the science than that, I’m pretty sure, but that much of it I can understand without being an expert.

That is why even the cold-weather storms and record cold temperatures don’t prove that global warming isn’t happening. They are the result of the extremes of up and down increasing. It’s a simple formula: more heat produces more extreme weather.

Maybe, as the climate-change deniers would say, we don’t have enough data or understanding of the complexities to know what the root causes of this heating up are, and certainly there are a lot of forces interacting there, including the likelihood that we’re still coming out of the last ice age. But we do understand that some things that we are doing are making the situation worse. We need to stop doing those things as expeditiously as possible. Maybe we can’t change the course of this overall process, but, if we can slow it, maybe we’ll have time to prepare to deal with the worst consequences of it.

As a father and grandfather, I reel at the prospects of a degraded natural environment for my progeny, indeed for the human race as a whole. As the natural world suffers, so do we. Our quality of life, the quality of our health and well-being, the quality of our relationships, even the quality of our spiritual lives is directly and materially affected by the conditions of the rest of the world.

We must begin to make choices that reflect these realities. We neglect and deny them at our own peril.

Baldwin speaks

That summer, in any case, all the fears with which I had grown up, and which were now a part of me and control my vision of the world, rose up like a wall between the world and me…

–James Baldwin

[This is a repost of something from a few years ago that seems more relevant now than ever… the full post on Baldwin is on my War Journal blog.]

Reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me sent me back to reread James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, which I had not read since 1999. And there, on page 27, is the quote above with its unattributed reference to the same line from Richard Wright which gave Coates his title.

Wright’s poem of the same name (Between the World and Me), from White Man Listen! (1957), says:

“And one morning while in the woods I stumbled suddenly upon the thing,/

Stumbled upon it in a grassy clearing guarded by scaly oaks and elms/

And the sooty details of the scene rose, thrusting themselves between the world and me….”

These lines have drawn me in to the many points of similarity in the two writers, and especially reminded me of how much power and depth there is in James Baldwin.

Coates has drawn much inspiration from Baldwin, and seems poised to fill Baldwin’s role as a leading intellectual and articulate voice for the inchoate rage now welling up among Black Americans and their friends. Coates and Baldwin both reject the church, the street, the schools, and all other forms of escape and denial as beneath us, distractions from the worthy goals of freedom and dignity.

Both maintain that the same forces that have driven black people into slavery have created the degraded forms of life now ruling the ghettos and the suburbs alike, and promise to destroy all that is lovable in human life as well as threaten the very biosphere – at least the parts of it that we depend on. Baldwin sees our only salvation in “transcendence of the realities of color, of nations, and of altars.” [p. 81]

In The Fire Next Time, Baldwin lays down the philosophical basis that informs much of Coates work, the idea that white people – or people who “think they are white” as he says in the essay “On Being White… And Other Lies” – are harmed as much by racism as are black people, and that it is in order to maintain their very grasp on reality, their sense of themselves, that white people today cling to racism so tenaciously.

“White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this – which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never – the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.” [p. 21]

Baldwin is profound in his understanding of the realities of life, and warns against retribution: “I am also concerned for their dignity, for the health of their souls, and must oppose any attempt that Negroes may make to do to others what has been done to them. I think I know – we see it around us every day – the spiritual wasteland to which that road leads. It is so simple a fact and one that is so hard, apparently, to grasp: Whoever debases others is debasing himself.”

His deep spiritual understanding of life is reflected also in these incredibly beautiful, perceptive and sensitive lines:

“Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death – ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible to life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return. One must negotiate this passage as nobly as possible, for the sake of those who are coming after us.” [p. 90-91]

He doesn’t shrink from the horrors of the American system or the cruelty of the situation, but he finds, as does Coates, some light of hope for our future. He says, ”…the white man himself is in sore need of new standards, which will release him from his confusion and place him once again in fruitful communion with the depths of his own being. And I repeat: The price of the liberation of the white people is the liberation of the blacks – the total liberation, in the cities, in the towns, before the law, and in the mind. … In short, we, the black and the white, deeply need each other here if we are really to become a nation – if we are really, that is, to achieve our identity, our maturity, as men and women.”

For me, the implications, the social and political messages, in the work of both Coates and Baldwin are very clear, even stark.

Baldwin lays it out: “Now, there is simply no possibility of a real change in the Negro’s situation without the most radical and far-reaching changes in the American political and social structure.”

Coates’ characterization of “The Dream” as the deathbed of us all should make it clear enough that the “American Dream” – right down to the white picket fences – must die. Which, in light of all the Confederate flag rallies in the wake of Charleston, may mean that a cultural revolution of sorts is necessary.

What that revolution is and how it proceeds is hard to say. As Coates says, we Dreamers must learn to struggle with the same dignity and “great spiritual resilience” with which those we have oppressed for so long struggle.

And it seems to me that this is beginning. Many are beginning to realize that the oppression of black people, of indigenous, of women, of GLBT – of all America’s “Others” – is of a piece. Identifying ourselves with that oppression is not so hard, really, if one just opens one’s eyes and looks around. As Colin Farrell’s character “Ray” (in the “True Detectives” series) says in response to his partner’s complaint that he doesn’t know how to be out in the world, “Hey, look out that window, look at me, nobody does.”

It’s a world that’s not making a place for most of us, and slowly, slowly, people are beginning to realize this must change. Coates cites the need for a “new story” – an idea advanced also by high-profile writers and speakers like Charles Eisenstein, Russell Brand and others which is gaining traction among a wide variety of groups in our society. People are understanding that nothing less than re-invention of society at its fundamental levels is going to make any difference. To change anything, we must change everything. Of course, the corollary to that is: To change everything, we must change something. Beginning with how we view the world.

I think both Coates and Baldwin would agree with that assessment. And the gift they have for the world is an open-eyed, fearless willingness to see the world as it is. Baldwin says, “That man who is forced each day to snatch his manhood, his identity, out of the fire of human cruelty that rages to destroy it knows… something about himself and human life that no school on earth – and indeed, no church – can teach. He achieves his own authority, and that is unshakeable. This is because, in order to save his life, he is forced to look beneath appearances, to take nothing for granted, to hear the meaning behind the words.”

This perspective is what these black writers bring to us. Maybe, if we can see how their experience is our own experience, we can be as strong, as durable, as brilliant as they and do our part in bringing about the changes that this world must see for whatever time we humans have left on the planet to be a time of love and dignity.

 

The link to the essay on Collective Liberation:

https://collectiveliberation.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Baldwin_On_Being_White.pdf

A Threat to Global Democracy: How Facebook & Surveillance Capitalism Empower Authoritarianism | Democracy Now!

A Threat to Global Democracy: How Facebook & Surveillance Capitalism Empower Authoritarianism | Democracy Now!

This is chilling. I’m deleting my account.
— Read on www.democracynow.org/2018/8/1/a_threat_to_global_democracy_how

“So the very act of arguing against the crazy amplifies the crazy. It’s one of the reasons that Facebook is a terrible place to deliberate about the world.”

“If we really want to limit the damage that Facebook has done, we have to invest our time and our money in institutions that help us think, that help us think clearly, that can certify truth, that can host debate—right?—institutions like journalism, institutions like universities, public libraries, schools, other forms of public forums, town halls. We need to put our time and our energy into face-to-face politics, so we can look our opponents in the eye and recognize them as humans, and perhaps achieve some sort of rapprochement or mutual understanding and respect. Without that, we have no hope. If we’re engaging with people only through the smallest of screens, we have no ability to recognize the humanity in each other and no ability to think clearly. We cannot think collectively. We cannot think truthfully. We can’t think. We need to build—rebuild, if we ever had it, our ability to think.”

– from the interview.

 

Loneliness is the common ground of terror and extremism | Aeon Essays

As Hannah Arendt argued, there is one common thread which connects individuals drawn to all kinds of extremist ideologies — This essay provides a deep look into the personal aspects of totalitarianism. Drawn from Arendt’s writing on the origins of totalitarianism, it makes the case that a profound loneliness– a disconnection from our common humanity– is what draws people to support these desperate philosophies.

She says the inability to countenance internal dialogue and see things from more than one point of view characterizes the true believers of this ilk. Longing for one single total answer to all of life’s dualities and struggles leads these people to seize upon a totalitarian system.

It’s a long but rewarding essay!

— Read on aeon.co/essays/loneliness-is-the-common-ground-of-terror-and-extremism