By Jeanie Johnson
July and August 2013 in Minneapolis, where I now reside, rolled out a couple intense heat waves that were mighty challenging. In our small one-bedroom apartment, the drone of the two small air conditioning units and numerous fans was all that kept us from seeking a cooling shelter. We felt alternately fortunate and dismayed at the need to remain indoors as the heat indices rose to 110 degrees on more than a few days. As a punctuation to the lengthy and excessive heat, we found that our bedroom mini-blinds had melted.
The end of November, December and January into February as I write, have delivered what has now become a commonly heard coffee house statement – “Another Polar Vortex?” These were all preceded by a Canadian clipper system that blew in 3”- 5” of snow before the plunge to temps with wind chills in the -45 to -60 degree ranges. A couple times in January the thermometer catapulted out of the local Arctic to 34 degrees and once to 38 degrees for less than eight hours then dove at a 75% angle back to the sub-basement. Lifelong residents here have shared with me that they have been somewhat alarmed. Not at the wicked cold temperatures but at the odd, unbelievably high bounces the temps made. As of the time of submission, we stand with a bit over 15” of snow on the ground and today’s temperature of -17 degrees below zero.
During our heat-induced hibernation and our 20-minute winter clothing routines, I thought about the temperatures, what they signify, what friends in other parts of the country and the world have been living through this past summer, early fall and winter, and what else I have begun to understand about that somewhat contentious and misleading term “global warming”.
I know a person who gets red-faced when the topic of climate change comes up. I happen to know it is because he doesn’t believe that humans could have an effect of such magnitude on the earth’s climate systems. More succinctly, I believe he feels it is sinful to think humans have more control over things than does the Christian God. My response? Balderdash. We have plenty of resource extraction and driving and mountaintop removal and burning and mining and fracking and pollution to bollox things up quite badly. Which we have done. We can’t blame it on the beleaguered poster animals, the whales and polar bears, or the disappearing frogs, bees, and the mounting host of other non-human species leaving for the Void. The person I know with the red face leans heavily on his religious fervor, meaning I think, according to his understanding of the earth’s timeline, in the past 5,000 to 6,000 years earth has been here, things like warming and cooling have always been in the playbook.
My face gets a shade of red, too, when I hear this kind of talk. But, what does the actual science tell us is happening? Even though my red-faced friend would vehemently disagree, without equivocation the vast majority of climate scientists worldwide tell us that not only is a massive arc in worsening climate disruption beginning and here to stay for further into the future than we can see, it is a direct result of human activity. And it is accelerating faster than anticipated and is far worse than first thought. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has published its new forecast. They have strengthened their statements that human activity is the overwhelming cause of the climate change we are now living in and will continue to live in, however well or poor, for centuries to come. Yes, the earth’s climate has warmed and cooled over its long history but the rapidity with which the current heat-up is taking place is due to humans and our carbon-intensive activities.
There may never be a way to conclusively determine whether Climate Change, (a term meant to give voice to a building and overwhelming local-to-global collection of data showing significant changes in ecosystems and their interactions) can be directly applied to any single weather event. The term was not meant to address each and every day of weather in Minneapolis or Boulder or San Francisco. It is meant to provide a structure into which measurements, studies, observations, and reports can be placed to gain a larger perspective on changes occurring from pole to pole. The gathered data is about more than one flood or one species. It takes the whole and seeks to understand shifts and apply scientific consensus. Long years of careful study and number-crunching is offering us an emerging picture that is shocking.
Instead of quibbling over the age of the earth or whether God is in charge of The Weather so that we can avoid responsibility, could we not extend our capacity to work together to mitigate as much suffering as we can as the storms gather strength? We need sustainable local communities prepared to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing environment. Our awareness of being global citizens doesn’t need to go away, indeed now is the time to truly feel our global interconnectedness. But we must find renewed interest in building up the connections in our own communities as well that will provide support and aid as the heat waves, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and winter storms test our lives. We need more CSA ventures, more neighborhood gardens, more people standing up against habitat destruction and for the cleaning up of rivers, creeks, marsh lands, and estuaries. We need much better mass transit of all kinds so that all of us will drive much less. We need a change of thinking in construction allowing for materials that help to reflect the sun’s heat on our homes and buildings. We need to contact our legislators frequently and share with them our strong support for renewable forms of energy. We need to challenge ourselves to more dialog in any and all of the places where we gather on what it means to encounter a time none of us have ever seen. We need less mindless entertainment and more face-to-face conversation about our shared future. We must not allow our red faces or our often overwhelming daily lives to keep us from acting because we are the people who must begin to prepare the way for future generations. We can’t know what that will be, but we can accept the consequences of what we have participated in and embrace change. Our relatively short time on earth should tell us that our descendants will need every shred of creativity we can muster to leave them a basis for continued human civilization.
I believe that humans have, most especially since the Industrial Revolution and its innovations and technologies, which have gained considerable speed during my lifetime, caused a terrible chain of complex events that are now changing the face of the planet, the lifeforms that have accompanied us on our journey, and the potential survival of all life.
To explore further, read on climate denial, get a bigger picture than one area’s local weather, here’s a list of resources:
Storms Of My Grandchildren by James Hansen
http://tiny.cc/4k0q2w – Greenpeace writing on Koch Industries fueling of climate denial
The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring On the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World by Paul Gilding