A New Climate Reality


The world is changing so fast, it's often difficult to see it in context. We watch it from a mathematical point of view, points on a graph, comparative analyses, blips on radar from sensors slapped on the bows of ships, dry bits of brain matter fighting the brain freeze caused by information overload of drought on the Southwest U.S., typhoon caused floods in Bangladesh, tornadoes in the U.S. and where is all that snow coming from?

It begins to look horrifyingly familiar: one person's agony is another's data.

Once in a while, however, we do try to step back and take empathetic stock.

First and foremost with the actual climate events: storm, drought, wind, fire, flood.

There are the forces (forcings) behind those events: The increase in greenhouse gases, the loss of glaciers and sea ice, the inability of the Southern Ocean to function as a carbon sink (in case you were wondering why things seemed to be changing so quickly), the greater wind speeds due to the increased temperature differential between the Northern and Southern Hemisphere, pollution, of course; the C02 released into the atmosphere from the recent fires in Southern California and in Greece last summer and don't get me started on whether the Methane once trapped in the tundra, now no more, is over-hype or horror...

Then there is the impact upon so many species, fully one-third of which the new IPCC report warns may be lost due to climate change. Polar bears are the most obvious indicator, but there are also the diminishing pollinators we depend upon, which could be climate change or misuse of colonies, or disease, or all of the above; the coral in the Great Barrier Reef, the wolves that are about to be removed from the endangered list, so hunters can shoot them and put them back on again...

One might begin to understand why we gravitate toward cold data over warming empathy.

Then there was a curious incident in Northern Ireland recently. Don't know if you heard about it, but a ten-mile wide migration of billions of Mauve Stinger Jellyfish swam, as one, all the way to the Northern Irish Sea and killed every Salmon within their reach (est. 100,000).

The fishermen who desperately tried to reach the trapped fish (there were wide nets placed a mile offshore to create a near-wild farm environment) stopped and stared in shock as they faced a solid block of glowing red jellyfish to the horizon, and then in horror when they realised they could not get through to their prized and beloved stock, the salmon that had been so revered, it had been served at the Queen's table for her 80th birthday. The salmon died.

What makes this alarming, aside from the fact that billions of glowing red jellyfish killed 100,000 salmon, was that they traveled from the warm waters of the Mediterranean to (what are supposed to be) the cold waters of the North Irish Sea to do it.

Scientists have attributed it to global warming. We have not seen their data, but we doubt we've seen the last of this type of bizarre event.

Which is our way saying that, no matter what the outcome of the Bali Conference, no matter who signs onto the resultant climate accord or to its predecessor, Kyoto, as they should have done years ago (thank you, Kevin Rudd), no matter how much time Al Gore spends with George W in the Oval Office showing him his Nobel medal, while the Bush administration insists they can make
a better climate deal than Kyoto...

Without mentioning the deals behind the scenes being worked out between Bush and Putin and Beijing to emasculate the binding portions of the upcoming Bali Accord...

It is time for everyone to adjust to a new reality.

That reality includes the need for increased humanitarian commitment, as evidenced by the US Naval vassels that recently arrived in Bangladesh to provide aid. It includes following Australia's lead and voting in a greener US leader. That's an interesting feature to the Bali Conference, by the way -- the way everyone's talking about how we just need to wait out George Bush -- while not wanting to hear a tall, skinny ex-patriot Scot who tries to remind his colleagues that there's still Putin and the Chinese and the Sudenese and the Burmese (I will not dignify that regime with the name they chose), and the (fill in blank)...

The time is now, not a bit over a year from now, to change policy.

Which has become a written commitment from diverse and, in some cases, unlikely sources. Are you aware that Rupert Murdoch's NewsCorp is among the big business signatories calling for binding carbon targets to come out of Bali? As
this post points out, when even Fox News calls for policy change on global warming, it's time to deny the deniers a voice.

And then there was
this report from the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College warning that climate change will lead to political instability and, potentially, to global war.

Our empathy meter is now pinned with fear.

In the long run, the solution, of course, includes weaning everyone off oil. It includes everyone reducing their carbon footprint. But those are big ideas and far removed from most peoples' consciousness and everyday life.

But, perhaps, not for long. The question of the new reality is how everyone will learn to live in an increasingly unstable climate, where droughts last months instead of weeks, and then years instead of months. Where storms speed up as they approach land (Cyclone Sidr). Where floods happen so fast they defy forecast. Where food becomes less tasty, less nutritious, less interesting, as we lose more pollinators. Where the loss of species becomes a psychic wound upon the planet's soul because we can feel that loss, even if we can't identify the empty hole in both our planet's and our own souls as they go.

We all must do what we can to reverse climate change. No one should give up because we've let it go too far. But it's a new reality that the loss of the carbon sink in the Southern Ocean has sped up the timetable for change and we now have to adjust to that new reality while we work to reverse that change. That includes facing the pain that empathy brings when we peer out from under our numbers and realize that there are millions who will be leading a very different life. It also means facing the many enemies we'll have created as the deprivation of drought and flood topples unstable governments, providing new footholds for extremism where none existed before.

It's been a hell of a fossil fuel party we've been enjoying for the last century or so. It's time to clean up, do the dishes, recycle the garbage, polish the windows, and walk (don't drive) outside.