Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Preparing for Climate Change

Climate change is here, and it is only going to get worse. The time has arrived to admit that not much is being done about it. Not by our leaders. Not by our government. Not by the corporations who are causing the majority of the emissions. And not by the citizens of the Global North, many of whom are still being duped by the deniers into believing that global warming is not real or manmade.

Yet, every day we receive an influx of information and data about the results of climate change that are already taking place around the world, from climate refugees to extinctions of other animals and plants. If you have done your reading on climate change to any proper extent, then I really should not need to convince you how unbelievably overwhelming the evidence is. On the other hand, if you have not already educated yourself about the issues of global warming, I urge you to take the time to do so – it is already the single most important issue of this century. All life is hanging in the balance and every person on this planet will be affected - even YOU…I promise.

In time, we will no longer recognize the world as we know it today. Despite this, most climate justice activists and scientists and people advocating “green solutions” put on a hopeful face. But the effects of the carbon dioxide already in the air have not yet taken effect. James Lovelock says that the “response time of the Earth to carbon dioxide change is one hundred years.” Lowering emissions today will not mitigate the future effects of the carbon dioxide already emitted. There is nothing we can do about that. We can only attempt to lower our emissions so that at some point in the future we may start to reach equilibrium again, but it is going to be a long and difficult road. Especially considering the fact that humans have done virtually nothing so far to reverse the problems they have created.

In the past year I have attempted to educate myself by reading many books, articles, essays, and papers that attempt to address the vast problem of climate change from various angles. There are endless solutions being proposed, though most experts agree that no single solution will be the silver bullet. There is the cap-and-trade plan, which is really no solution at all since market-based capitalist solutions are unsustainable and only serve to benefit the already wealthy. Then there is Maria Cantwell’s cap-and-dividend bill, which only offers a slightly better plan and also relies on the market. There is nuclear power, which is ridiculously costly and potentially dangerous. There is wind and solar power, neither of which will ever be able to provide the bulk of the energy we apparently need. There is the technique of carbon capture and storage, which has not been implemented yet. Even so, clean coal is an oxymoron. The devastating effects of mountaintop removal renders this “solution” totally unacceptable. Then there are the seemingly wacky geoengineering ideas such as creating manmade clouds or erecting a giant sunshade in space between the sun and us.

Even more solutions are floating around out there in the sea of “green ideas.” But even if we put any of the proposed ideas to the test today, the fact still remains that humans and all other animals will be required to learn to adapt to the changes that will inevitably happen. The sea level has already risen higher than (the IPCC) predicted. The Arctic sea ice is melting more rapidly than (the IPCC) predicted as well. This only illustrates how current predictions derived from climate models are not solid proof of what is to come and that they are only general indicators. The natural events that begin to unfold in reality will most likely be far worse than IPCC predictions. Though scientists cannot tell us precisely what to expect, there is an overwhelming amount of evidence that things are going to get pretty bad. I think it is no secret that Earth is in a precarious state. The question that remains is only how severe the outcome will be.

Climate change is posing exponential problems for animals around the world. Nonhumans animals suffer from heat, drought, famine, and other climate-related issues. Some human populations have had to leave their inundated homelands due to the rise in sea level. Indigenous peoples cannot grow viable crops due to rising temperatures. This is only the tip of the (melting) iceberg.

Meanwhile, despite the utter urgency needed to address these issues, I see absolutely nothing being done. I see callous leaders who are bought by the corporations. And I see everyday citizens who are convinced that global warming is a myth.

At this particular point in time there seems to be no visible hope to reverse the life-threatening problems of climate change before systems start breaking down on a larger scale. Unfortunately many climate change activists still pretend that we can turn things around reasonably. A handful of climate justice activists are giving it their admirable all, but they can only do so much when the fossil-fuel loving corporatocracy has the unlimited power to buy off our government officials and the masses do not care so long as they get their Monday Night Football and American Idol.

Those solutions that are proposed today may, in fact, one day be implemented when the people of the Global North finally deem it time to do so, but there is little likelihood that it will happen before the climate-change shit really hits the fan. So, armed with this depressing knowledge, what can we do?

I think we would do well to prepare and learn how to adapt. By that, I do not mean retreating into the mountains wearing a loincloth to live off berries and nuts (though I would not condemn it, should one choose to take that approach). Perhaps it is time to begin to get to know the land where we live, and research what changes we should expect in our respective locations.

Do you live in the southern U.S.? Do you know what to expect of the droughts that are predicted to happen there? Are you prepared for it? Do you live near or in the woods? Do you know what might happen to the trees once the temperature starts rising? Do you live near a river? Do you live in the mountains? Do live in a coastal city?

Generally speaking, the particular outcome of climate change you will experience will depend on your region. Some of you may have already experienced changes. Maybe you have noticed subtle changes in your area, such as the disappearance of once regular wildlife or certain plants that are growing sooner than usual. Or perhaps you have experienced changes on a larger scale. I myself dealt with two floods last winter (one was record breaking). Floods will be larger and more frequent west of the Cascades here in Washington state.

You have no doubt heard the phrase “Think globally, act locally.” I agree that it has become a rather tired mantra, but there is some truth in the words. How you treat the land where you live will affect the world all over. Many of the dilemmas that other countries are facing today are happening because of what we do here in our own towns and cities. The trees we clearcut, the soil we deplete, the “livestock” we breed – the effects of our careless actions have produced dire consequences for lives on the other side of the planet. We are truly all interconnected. You may have read about the climate refugees of Bangladesh and Papua New Guinea who were forced to migrate from their island homelands due to the rising sea level: they have us from the Global North to thank for it. As the sea level rises, coastal regions around the world are going to see mass migrations of both humans and other animals, and though we may want to assist them all it will not be possible or practical to travel to these places (it is already ecologically unsound to fly given the carbon footprint of traveling by plane). And while it is commendable to send our donations to the people suffering in other countries, we can take it one step better by making change where we live. There seems to be a trend among bloggers and tweeters to post link after link of articles describing the suffering of humans and other animals around the planet, as if just knowing about it is going to help in some way. Everyone can do something to help by treating the land where they live with respect. It is time to look around. As Derrick Jensen wrote recently in an article, let us start listening to the land.

I realize that it may seem as if I am saying two different things. Firstly, terrible changes will happen due to global warming, and that we cannot stop the initial stages regardless of how much we lower our emissions from here on out. Secondly, we can mitigate climate change disasters elsewhere in the world by learning about our land and treating it in sustainable ways.

These are not mutually exclusive ideas. Many of the actions needed to avert the worst outcomes of climate change are the same actions needed to prepare for the worst of climate change. In other words, either way you look at it, the actions are valuable. Those actions you would take should you still have some hope left of reversing climate change are also valuable actions for preparing for possible future disasters. For example, learning how to grow a veganic garden is an eco-friendly practice that will help avert the worst of climate change (both in your region and those locations on the other side of the world). But it will also help you to prepare for some of the economic problems that you may face if the system breaks down and the price of food rises. Planting more native plants in your backyard (or around your region) or going vegan are other good practices that fit both bills.

In order to start preparing, however, extra steps need to be taken. For example, I live in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. I have learned what to expect in this region as the temperature rises. For starters, summers are going to become very dry, and wildfires are expected to happen frequently in the wooded areas of the mountains. I must ask myself, am I prepared should such an event occur? Is my neighborhood prepared? Is the town?

Another growing concern is how wild animals will manage to migrate away from the problems caused by climate change. I ask myself, if a wildfire occurred on the mountain behind this house, how will the animals escape? The town lies at the bottom of the mountain – the endless succession of houses and fences serves as a barrier. The animals need natural corridors to move away from the area of danger. And the same worry applies to what may happen when the temperature begins to rise and the animals are no longer able to survive in the hot climate. Their survival in that case will also be dependent on their means to migrate to a more viable location. How will they do this if they encounter concrete jungles or massive highways blocking their passage?

I am gradually learning about the predicted consequences of global warming where I live. I have grown so very fond of this amazingly beautiful and intriguing land. It is devastating to me to think the landscape may change so drastically and the wildlife will suffer such unthinkable consequences. But it is already happening. The salmon are dying. The glaciers are melting. The snowpack is dwindling. And all this is happening without even taking into account the human impact of the encroaching population. It makes the heart hurt.

Coming up: Climate Change in the Cascades