Global Warming: Are We All Screwed?

Left: August 21, 1985. Right: August 29, 2011. The Caspian Sea is the world’s largest landlocked body of water, and it’s getting bigger. In the past couple of decades, heavy rains in the greater Volga Basin have greatly increased the incoming flow from the Volga River, the Caspian’s primary source of water. These images show a small portion of the shoreline. In the 2011 image, coastal settlements have been flooded, displacing inhabitants and shutting down industrial facilities.

The other night, as I lay in the darkness awaiting sleep’s arrival, R’s voice broke the quiet “Do you think we’re really all f*cked, Kat?”

I paused, wondering at the context of the statement.  My first thought, without any context to base it on, was  “Yes.  Yes, we’re all f*cked.”  But, I cautiously asked him what he meant.

“You know, with global warming.  Is it too late to change it?”

I rolled over to face him in the dark and sighed. “Probably.” I replied.

As we both let that fact sink in a bit, I felt uneasy.  The fact that global climate change, as it’s more properly called, has fallen out of the public consciousness isn’t news.  Recent research from the Pew Research Center shows a 13% decrease in those who consider climate change to be a top campaign priority.  It ranks at a dismal 22 in voter’s lists of policy issues they want addressed by the next president, below such nebulous topics as “moral breakdown” and “crime.”

I can’t really speculate as to the reasons for this decline, but Sara Peach, a professor at the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill has written that google trend data show that searches for “unemployment” have eclipsed “climate change” and “global warming”  since 2008.  This corresponds with the 2008 financial crisis and a subsequent re-ordering of priorities away from climate change and towards the ongoing recession.

Though we can see that the issue of climate change has fallen from the collective consciousness in recent years, I can’t help but observe the stirrings of a re-emergence of the issue here and there.  On January 13th, a pilot cap and trade program was announced for the Chinese cities of Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Chongqing and Shenzhen, and the provinces of Hubei and Guangdong.  This follows in the footsteps of similar programs in the European Union, and a voluntary cap and trade scheme  that operated in the U.S. from 2003-2010, called the Chicago Climate Exchange.  This appears to indicate that while Americans may not be thinking too hard about climate change, the Chinese are and they’re willing to experiment with some methods to combat it.

Yet, I sense that Americans, though they might not be talking about it, are sensing that things around them are changing.  Many parts of the United States have seen unseasonably warm temperatures this winter, which has had people raising the question of what exactly is going on?   While some suggest that this is an indication of global warming, a more likely cause is the increasing occurrence of extreme temperature events, a consequence of climate change that was predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as early 1990.

So, what is happening?  And are we all f*cked?  If we are, then do we need to be asking ourselves some serious moral questions about how to confront the challenges that climate change will present us?

Over the next few posts I want to explore some of my own thoughts on the matter, and would love to have feedback from people as to what other issues I should research and discuss.


The Essence

This had to be shared. Whoever put this together did a great job!  I wish they had more video from  the long and remote trips Manito-wish offers, but this really captures a good portion of why people love this place and keep coming back.

Watching it made me very nostalgic for my time at camp.  While this video focuses on the fun and learning that happens at camp, my personal take on it is that the real learning comes on trail.  I can remember my first year at camp, unaware that we even took a camping trip, let alone for three days (I was 11, so this was back in 1994 or something and it was a big deal to me.)  I was terrified.  I had never been camping outside of my backyard, and in my backyard I was scared of raccoons.  But before long I was packed, given a talk about how sometimes girls get their periods on trail for the first time, and pointed towards an orange canoe with some unknown, antiquated looking name on it.  Thankfully for me, my mom had taught me how to stern a canoe from an early age and though hardly anyone in our group could steer the boats, I could.  This made me a hit with my leaders, and even though we got in late, crashed a campsite somewhere on the Manito-wish River, and many girls were unhappy, I glowed inside.  THIS was cool.

The next year when I returned I did a 6-day trip.  I was in heaven.  I distinctly remember that it rained incessantly, but one morning we got out and it was mercifully only drizzling– there was a fog over the lake and we paddled out into the rising mists on glassy waters.  Again, I thought, now THIS is cool.  I get it.

We ended up sharing a campsite that night with another trip group, which was good because our fire-making skills were not cutting it in the rain.  But the leader of the other group told us that the previous summer she had done a 5-week trip in Canada (we called the trip a “Canuck”) and she helped show us how to make a fire so we could all cook dinner.  She smiled out from under the hood of her raingear and she was genuinely happy to be outside, cooking dinner in the rain.  I was inspired.

Following those summers, I went on to do a 2-week paddling trip in Quetico Provincial Park with a group of girls that I still keep in touch with today.  We paddled hard, we portaged a ton, and we all giggled at each other and marveled at each other’s strengths.

The next summer, I did a Canuck as a 16-year old.  5-weeks of camping in remote Northern Saskatchewan with 4 other kick-ass girls and a leader who seriously changed the way I saw the world.  We were a good bunch who liked to challenge ourselves, work hard, and test our limits.  I learned how to cook creatively over a campfire, how to bushwack a portage with a compass and a map, to to raise a tarp and sail on a 100-mile long lake, and how to paddle whitewater, expeditionary style. I learned how to be quiet, to meditate over paddle strokes, and to ride the windswept rollers on turbulent lakes.  I came home from that summer tanned, lean, and different.  Stronger.  More self-assured.

The girls on that trip became some of the people who I most related to in the world.  We planned to do a Staff Instructor’s Course (S.I.C.) in 2-years time. We went back to Manito-wish as staff and spent a summer passing forward some of the skills and lessons we had been taught as campers.

In the time that passed between my Canuck and my S.I.C., some things changed in my life.  I applied to colleges and the process taught quite a bit.  I remember sitting in a dorm at Dartmouth with my host who told me ” I love it here, it makes the Friday nights that I stayed home to do schoolwork seem worth it.”

To me, this was a life-altering revelation. I had never stayed home on a Friday to do homework. I had always done well in school growing up and I never  learned good study habits as a result.  I was in the advanced track throughout school, placed at the top in standardized tests, won scholarships, but didn’t know how to simply do homework or study for a test.  I was a mess of unmet potential.  I had been resting on my laurels as an intelligent kid since elementary school, without putting in the time to really improve myself.

This realization led me down a strange path involving a lot of re-evaluating.  I imposed a grounding on myself, staying in for nearly six weeks instead of socializing.  I tried out for a play and got the lead.  I did my homework and did well.  I started bringing home the grades I should have been from the beginning.  In this quest for perfection, however, I stopped eating.  I got compliments and someone even suggested I consider modeling.  I lost sight of my priorities– big time.  I deferred from Macalester.  I took a year off to go figure out what was happening.

The following summer I headed out on my S.I.C., to spend 55-days paddling from Northern Saskatchewan to Arviat, a small Inuit village on Hudson’s Bay.  I hadn’t completely come to terms with some of the things that had happened in my life, but I knew that I always felt most like myself on trail.  I spent 7.5 weeks of that summer in the tundra and taiga.  I was challenged mentally and physically as I had never been before.  Worrying about my weight was an afterthought– I was worried about whether I could shoot a polar bear if I had to.   I was filleting Northern pike.  I was fending off the ever-present buzz of black flies.  I was portaging a canoe blown sideways by the unmitigated tundra wind.   I was reminded of my smallness and impermanence.  I was healing.

I came back to work at Manito-wish for 6-years.  I could have stayed longer.  Every year there I learned more about people, nature, and myself.  I never stopped growing.

Everyone has their own story about Manito-wish, but the uniting feature of those stories is that through Manito-wish people figure out who they are and what makes them tick.  They learn to appreciate the natural world and it’s intricacies.  They grow into good people.

Extraction Distraction

It’s 4:41 am, tomorrow, for most of my readers.  Yes, that’s right.  I’m coming to you from the future.  And let me say one thing about being in the future, it can get a little lonely at times.  Times like 4:41 am.

I woke up from a dream that I want to call a bad dream, but was really more of a confusing dream.  And then, well, I laid in bed for about 2 hours before getting up to read the New York Times.  Gail Collins has a way of making me feel connected to home – like she’s the practical, liberal family friend who shares a conspiratorial laugh with you when the dinner party gets a little too politically conservative and you’re not sure whether to put up a fight or go do the dishes. I love that about her.  Especially at 4:41 am on the other side of the planet.

There’s been a lot happening recently.  Like, well, moving to Australia, finding a place to live, applying for jobs, and all that you would expect to go with that.  But there’s been more too.  I won’t go into all the details, but some recent events have gotten me into a reflective mood about what I want and who I am.  I think Australia may be a great opportunity for me to change direction in certain parts of my life – and I am pretty excited to begin.

I ran a 5k with R and his company yesterday.  It was insane.  There were so many people that you couldn’t exactly run, but you could shuffle.  So, I alternately shuffled and sprinted a 5k.  I don’t think I PR’d.

Anyway, the 5k was a bit different than in the states because so many companies in Brisbane supported teams to run it.  Huge teams.  People are so much more fitness oriented, and group-oriented.   There’s a very distinct pack mentality.  But, back to the running.  Here in Oz, they don’t give out t-shirts to identify all the members of a team.  Nope.  They give out singlets.  Ooh yeah.  Sexy singlets.   Sexy singlets with names like Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, Peabody, Hancock…

If you’re not aware of who these companies are, let me bring you up to speed.  Ever heard the song “Paradise” by John Prine?  Well, it laments the loss of a boy’s childhood paradise in Appalachia to coal mining.  Coal mining carried out by Peabody.

Or Rio Tinto? Well they’ve been associated with espionage in China and the company is named after a river in Spain that runs red from runoff of nearby copper and gold mines.   The Government of Norway officially divested from Rio Tinto saying the following:

Exclusion of a company from the Fund reflects our unwillingness to run an unacceptable risk of contributing to grossly unethical conduct. The Council on Ethics has concluded that Rio Tinto is directly involved, through its participation in the Grasberg mine in Indonesia, in the severe environmental damage caused by that mining operation.[66]

Kristin Halvorsen, Norweigan Minister of Finance (Wikipedia)

BHP Billiton?  Well, they have run into many of the same criticisms.  In South Australia, their Roxby Downs uranium mine gets it’s water for free from the Great Artesian Basin.  This is the driest state in Australia and has suffered from serious droughts in the last 5 years, so it seems questionable to give free water to a mining company, but it happens through the Roxby Downs Indenture Act, the same act which allows the company to override the South Australian Aboriginal Heritage Act.  The company is also involved in some extremely controversial water projects aimed at providing inland mining operations with a consistent water source.

But enough of this dredging up dirt (oh, for more on dredging check out this article on the Gladstone LNG Project), my point is that Brisbane, and Australia in general, is a superhub of natural resource extraction.  Based on my reading, this is both fueled by China and in many cases funded by China.  Of course, the companies I just mentioned aren’t Chinese.  They are British and Australian and have links to Canada.  They’re multinationals.  They are many headed hydra with obscene negotiating powers based on their size, their promises of economic boons to local communities, and their multinational status.

I thought about this as I ran this 5k yesterday.  Good people all around me were running for charity in their Rio Tinto singlets and I’m guessing based on how crowded it was, that a lot of money was raised.  That’s fantastic.  But what of the larger issues?  All these good people working for Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, Peabody – are they thinking critically about the environmental impacts of their work?  Is their work done with an eye to the precautionary principle?

There is much to learn here in Australia, both about the culture and about environmental ethics here, and I don’t want to make any snap judgments on the culture, but I find it worrisome being in such a pro-extraction milieu.   I hope I can find work that doesn’t compromise my environmental ethics.  I also don’t want to work in the relatively cavalier environment of extraction because there is significantly more racism and sexism there than elsewhere in Australia – already a fairly racist country. R relayed to me that when he was doing  driver training for work, his instructors entertained the class by sharing lewd and racist jokes throughout.  Incredibly offensive jokes that I won’t repeat.  So, it’s kind of a different world here and I am hoping I can find my place.

There is some good news on the horizon though – I found a yoga studio that will let me do cleaning around the studio in exchange for classes.  Score!!!

These are the things I think about at 4 am when I can’t sleep.