New York, October 15, 2011. R ecall the events of the past summer and Hurricane Irene: Remember how it became the 24/7 total focus of everything?
The entire east coast of the United States was taken in fear by the approaching mega-storm. The news reminded us, relentlessly, of the unmatched power of Mother Nature.
What strikes me now, however, is the complete apathy we display towards the bigger picture regarding our weather. Significant changes in the chemistry of our climate, and key ecosystems, have been established: The NY Times reported in July that some 30% of the global coral reef network is now dead. Reports proliferate: the oceans are increasingly acidic; forests are drying up; the arctic is melting. Mother Nature is telling us something.
Yet we are not listening.
While the newscasters repeated, with adolescent incessancy, the obvious message that "HURRICANES ARE DANGEROUS", not a whisper was uttered about the bigger picture -- the real news: Climate change has arrived. New and extreme conditions are "normal' and we"are just watching passively.
Noted environmental writer Julia Whitty has documented the dramatic weather patterns well in Mother Jones ("The New Normal: Billion Dollar Disasters" -- click here). Citing data from the National Climatic Center (NCDC), Whitty states that "the U.S. has racked up more mega-expensive natural disasters in 2011 than ever before."
This year alone, we witnessed hundreds of tornadoes in the Midwest and Southeast, record wildfires and massive drought in Texas, massive flooding on the Mississippi River. Record-setting extremes -- heatwaves, tsunamis, floods (not to mention the continuing melting arctic) were reported all over the globe.
At the same time, the scientific community has agreed that greenhouse gasses contribute to global warming and the erratic nature of climate change we are seeing today.
The key factor is the level of carbon in our atmosphere and how it reacts with the myriad of other gasses and conditions which influence climate. Most scientists agree that we are now close to the maximum threshold of carbon "particles per million' in the atmosphere -- meaning that any substantial new carbon emissions beyond the current levels will likely exacerbate relatively sudden, if unpredictable, changes in atmospheric behavior. It's not politics -- it's chemistry and physics. (http://www.350.org has excellent, accessible scientific references to this complex issue).
It is nothing short of absurd, then, to imagine that President Obama is currently considering approval of a massive new fossil-fuel project: The proposed Alberta Tar Sands Keystone XL Pipeline. The project will open up the world's largest pool of underground oil in the world outside of Saudi Arabia, maintain the United States reliance on fossil fuels, and introduce massive new amounts of carbon into our atmosphere.
It is called "the most destructive project on Earth" by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
(Alberta Tar Sands Keystone Pipeline Project, image courtesy of Google)
This project would build a 2,000 mile pipeline stretching from Alberta, Canada, across the entire north-south plane of the U.S., to refineries in Texas.