Friday, May 04, 2007


The Fearsome Wave Revisited: Is there Still a Strawberry at the End of the World?

At the zenith of human history, half the oil extracted from her bowels, the victory is the earth's. "Sustainable development" we cried! James Lovelock, who brought Gaia back into our vocabulary and systems theory to its most elegant earthly summit with his theory that the Earth is one self-regulating organism, says in his testament that the words are an oxymoron. On an earth unable since 1985 to replenish herself, what we need is not more development but a "dignified retreat" if we still can pull it off. The kairos cries out for it. Lovelock calls it The Revengeof Gaia.

Never mind the ten-year-olds, what do we do at such a moment? The core of these moments is that nothing you could do would really matter. The sun is setting. That is Lovelock's position, as he points to a future in a mere hundred years of "isolated breeding pairs" at the still-habitable poles, the remnants of humanity ruled by warlords. But, unlike Kenneth Deffeyes, Lovelock is trusting his intuition, reading the graphs idiosyncratically, following his hunches - which made him a genius of a theorist, conceiving Gaia as more than metaphor. Yet if we stick with the cold probabilities, regularly recomputed with ever more elegant climate models, we may be on the brink, asymptotic to the moment. It is not inevitable, ony highly probable. Unlike peak oil, it is not a plateau, because even the Kyoto signatories are emitting more, not less CO2. And then there's the US, China, and India, the fossil-guzzling Three Tipping Tipplers. The expectant noise in the halls of Congress and in the iconic Step It Up sites is that our represetatives might pass a tough law mandating 80% reductions by 2050. James Hansen, the climate scientist I take my cues from, gives us until 2015 to acheive a global 10% reduction of CO2 emissions - or there won't be any second chances.

Mittelpunkt III
Analysts like to talk about the stock market's moving average. What about the moving average of species diversity, as we lose 30 a day? The middle of today's heat, near-record for April 30. It is now 80. I duck my gardening, turning off the hose tied to my lifeline as a gardener, the deep artesian well with 2.5 gallons/minute flow (when last we checked). A renter, an avid gardener, once drained it dry by watering heavily, and we had to pull the submersible pump and replace it. We are again having semi-drought. But out West, they are entering their sixth or seventh year in some cases. The aquifers are being drained and there's no recharge available. Some climate scientists think that the American Southwest is no longer in drought, but has simply changed to a desert climate. Look at a geological map and, thinking like the earth, experience how little it would take for this to occur. Ignore the vast cities, multiplying like vigorous cancers. For the earth will ignore them as she realizes her changed geology. Remember the mighty Colorado River? So does the earth, but her preferences in these matters are less predjudiced than ours.

Right in the middle of this afternoon's heat is the power that gave rise to all of this, and that can take it all away, riding the moving average. Midpoint of the Lord: the Sun.

The birds chirp drily. I write in shorts, ready for a hot run with the dog, avid as ever for the fray. Good thing he's not a polar bear, bless 'em. The moving average is going to carry them in a few short decades to the brutal teen-boy world of toast, dead meat. Meanwhile, conservation agencies ask me for $25,000 to do my part in moving them to Siberia, where they might have a chance to avoid extinction a little longer. Siberia? The tundra is melting, not yet recorded in the methane tables for this year, where we are told that atmospheric methane is on the rise .03%. Bullshit. Read the gauges thrust into the permafrost and the satellite data, compute, and then think again. The moving average, the midpoint of this quickly turning world, needs to be published daily. But everybody, including me and the sunnysmug Amory Lovins - needs to check their figures. Never say my antinuke physician colleagues with "scientific training." I understand where they're coming from, but let me submit this. The Hippocratic oath needs to be revised to pay attention to greenhouse gases, otherwise it is suddenly quaintly irrelevant

At such a moment the perfect action is to string the tanpura. Yes, the shaman's act, like Orpheus tuning his lyre, then raising his plectrum on Mount Parnassos in mid-winter, Helios' rays passing through the atmosphere his model for tonal perfection. Or maybe change your life! That would mean extending the fleeting moment of non-doing, converting our greedy global civilization person by person to carbon neutrality. Paying attention, mindfully suspending the moment asymptotic to Peak Oil, Peak Human, Peak Interglacial.

Doing this we would become more responsible farmers, honoring subsistence and local and regional self-sufficiency. We would become a "one-child world" - or less. (One author, a sardonic environmental humorist, calls for having no sex for a hundred years, a "Shaker Final Solution" that would improbably restore the biosphere.) We would have to watch people die - no life-support systems or quintuple bypass surgeries - starving as the industrial farming machine withered for lack of oil and we prayerfully gave over vast reaches of earth to desert as we preserved nigh-drained aquifers for careful farming. The Israelis could send drip-agriculture consultants out to join Castro's 100,000 doctors who would move into the vaccum left by the collapsing US healthcare system and its bloated predators. Two homes in a world where 4000 square feet is considered a "small house," up to your neck in stuff and still dissatisfied?

Let's talk about air travel, one of the most insidious and entrapping forms of desire, making even our nomadic youths with virtually no possessions into atmospheric players who consume multiple earths. We live between moments, precariously close to giving way to the next one, in which we'll helplessly watch the towering Wave, the tsunami of climate change, hovering above us until we tumble into it. How do you choose to live this moment, brothers and sisters? The outcome of our biggest battle, the moral equivalent of war, is nigh.

Next Post:Flying the Guilt-Free Skies: Paying to Absolve the Sin of Emissions


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