Tag Archives: global climate change

The year in review

There was good news and bad news in 2008.

First, lots of bad news:

The economy: From my perspective, it was already going downhill last January. I knew something was up when the minister’s discretionary fund at church was out of money, more people were asking me for money, and no one could afford to donate any more money. In September, Wall Street and the media finally woke up to the fact that our economy has been driven by predatory lending and Ponzi schemes for the past decade, and suddenly we were in a “global financial crisis.” The Dow Jones industrial average fell 34% in 2008, the biggest one-year drop since 1931.

War: The war in Iraq went nowhere. The much-vaunted surge didn’t seem to change anything except that the federal government was spending even more money over there, and the few people who were willing to be soldiers were going over for their fourth or fifth deployment. No improvement, just a slow ongoing decline. Blessed would the peacemakers be, if we had any peacemakers.

Climate: Summer was hot, hotter than ever. Yeah, I know that global warming is “just a theory” and “not really based on facts.” Even if it is true (and it is indeed a well-proven theory), we’re supposed to be calling it global climate change. Well, the result of global climate change here in New England is that it was hot last summer, and it is freakishly warm this winter.

But also quite a bit of good news:

Green technology: “On October 3, President Bush signed into law the Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 that included the hoped-for 8-year extention of the solar investment tax credit. The act also lifted the $2,000 cap on the tax credit for residential systems, granting both commercial and residential systems eligibility for a 30% tax credit…. The law will encourage rapid growth for the solar industry….” (Distributed Energy: The Journal of Energy Efficiency and Reliability, November/December, 2008, p. 50.) The lousy economy is driving us to become more energy-efficient, and to develop renewable energy sources.

Green religion: One of the more interesting things to come out of the presidential campaign was that about half the Christian evangelicals are now promoting what they call “Creation care.” It’s a little weird that they can’t bring themselves to say “ecotheology” or “environmentalism,” but at least they’re headed in the right direction, and are starting to catch up with liberal and moderate religious groups.

Personal: This marked year 19 with Carol, which is better than I can express. I have wonderful extended family, great friends, and a job that I love. I know 2008 was a tough year for many people, but from my selfish point of view it was a great year.

The president: Obama is no saint, by world standards he is pretty conservative, he has far too many ties to the corporate puppet-masters, but — he is Not-George-Bush. And as for George Bush, the shoe incident sums it up for me:

Yup. At great personal cost, Muntadar al-Zaidi became an instant folk-hero by summing up what many people around the world think about George Bush. (Image courtesy Dependable Renegade.)


Yesterday, it felt like winter. The temperature was down in the teens, there was a biting wind, snow on the ground, early sunset.

Today, it no longer feels like winter. The temperature got up over fifty, fitful breezes barely ruffled the water of the harbor, the snow disappeared. The only thing to keep me from thinking that it was springtime was the early sunset.

This appears to be the new pattern for winter here — wild variations in weather, springlike days mixed in with bitter winter days. Global climate change is an ongoing process, so we will have to see how this new pattern will evolve and change.

Autumn watch

This morning when I got to the office, we all complained about our allergies.

“I’m getting these headaches here [pointing to sinuses in forehead] and here [pointing to ears],” said Claudette.

“I wake up in the morning and my eyes are all itchy,” said Linda, pointing to her slightly reddened eyes.

“I can’t breathe today,” I said, coughing.

We compared the benefits of Sudafed (I don’t like the way it makes me feel) and Claritin (it makes Linda drowsy), and talked about eye drops (Claudette said you shouldn’t use them more than three or four times a week).

“I just want a good cold snap,” I said. “Then I’ll be able to breathe again.”

“It’s all these rotting leaves on the ground,” said Linda.

This is the downside to global climate change. Warm autumns mean much worse allergies.

Send off

For the past few days, I’ve had a cold that keeps getting worse. Now it’s down deep in my lungs, and so I decided that rather than risk bronchitis, I better hadn’t go to New Hampshire today.

You see, a whole bus-load of people from New Bedford are heading up to New Hampshire to team up with the Carbon Coalition/ New Hampshire Citizens for a Responsible Energy Policy. They’ll meet up at the Climate Action Center in Manchester this afternoon, and then head over to Saint Anselm College in Manchester to be present outside the site where the televised candidates’ debates will take place. (For the record, the Carbon Coalition is working with the League of Conservation Voters.) Two weeks ago, someone suggested that a bunch of New Bedfordites head up to join the Carbon Coalition. In just two short weeks, organizers Annie Hayes and John Magnan got more than thirty people to sign up.

Even though the two of us couldn’t go, Carol and I made sure we were present at the gathering place to give everyone else a big send-off. By 11:35, people started gathering. As you’d expect, there were a good number of students, from UMass Dartmouth, Bristol Community College, and out-of-town colleges. But the majority of those going were older people: businessmen and businesswomen, people who work in the non-profit world, retired people, and even a reporter for the New Bedford Standard-Times.

Someone from WBSM, one of our local radio stations, showed up to do interviews. From Carol, who used to be a reporter and is still a freelance writer, I have learned that media people appreciate it if you introduce them to good interviewees. So I introduced the pleasant fellow from WBSM to Annie Hayes, since she was one of the key organizers; and to some of the students I know (I saw him interviewing Elise and Dani and some others); and to John Bullard, a long-time environmental activist, whom I knew could give an articulate and cogent overview of why these people were going to New Hampshire.

The bus showed up right on time. Appropriately, the logo of the bus company was a waving American flag –what could be more American than keeping America beautiful for coming generations? –what could be more American than participating in the democratic process? The cargo compartment of the bus got loaded up with signs and chairs and blankets and banners. Everyone filed on and found a place to sit. A few late-comers hurried aboard.

The man from WBSM wondered if he could get a recording of everyone chanting, so since I have a big loud voice I got everyone’s attention and passed on his request. Someone on the bus started chanting something like “Clean air, green jobs!” (Being from New Bedford, with its high unemployment rate, we are all in support of jobs creation and we know that green technology has the potential of creating lots of jobs for cities like ours.) Then someone started chanting, “What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like!”

This indeed is what democracy looks like: a busload of ordinary citizens going to tell the politicians what issues are of greatest importance. We can only hope that the politicians listen to us ordinary citizens, and not to the lobbyists from the oil and automobile industries.

John Magnan, one of the organizers, was the last person on the bus. He politely thanked me for seeing them off. “Maybe you should give us a blessing before we go,” John said. “Oh wait, you’re a Unitarian Universalist minister, I guess you don’t do blessings.” We both laughed. For my part, I figure the only blessing they needed was having some people see them off and wish them well: if you can’t engage in direct political action yourself, the least you can do is support those who can.

If you’re one of the ones who went on the bus, leave a comment and tell us all how it went!

So much for winter

The latest news is that some scientists now believe the Arctic ice cap could be completely gone by 2013 (link). And the tropical disease chikungunya has appeared in Europe for the first time ever (link). Seems that in spite of the denials and unscientific pontifications of people like Rush Limbaugh and Georgie Bush, global climate change is real, and it’s happening all around us.

Today in New Bedford, after some snow and seasonal temperatures, the warm weather returned, with temperatures hitting 52 degrees F (11 C). A heavy rain squall has washed away most of the snow. Predictions are that high temperatures will range between 40 and 50 during the week ahead. All this matches the predictions for global warming in this region: snow during the “shoulder seasons” in early December and late spring, while the rest of the winter stays mild.

Right now, it’s 50 degrees and warm rain is pounding on my skylight. This is not the New England I grew up in. It’s kind of depressing.

I’m dreaming of a wet Christmas
‘Cause global warming’s put an end to snow….

Just want to claw my eyes out….

In the church office today, Linda, the church secretary, mentioned that her allergies are bad.

“Mine too,” I said. “My eyes are itchy.”

“I know,” she said. “My eyes are really bad.”

“I just want to claw my eyes out,” I said. Which will sound disgusting, unless you too suffer from allergies in which case you’ll fully understand why I said that.

“Yup,” said Linda, “claw them out, put ’em in a glass of water, and rinse ’em off. That would be great. I’m using my eye drops all the time. I wonder what’s causing it, though. Usually when we get the first snow, that’s the end of allergies. But not this year.”

“Maybe mold?” I said. Mold is a huge problem in old buildings in New Bedford, because the climate is so damp. “Except that we live in a brand new building with no mold at all, and my eyes have been itching at home, too.”

“Well, I noticed a lot of the trees still have leaves on them,” said Linda.

“Leaf mold?” I said.

“I’ll bet that’s it,” she said.

“You know,” I said, “I thought I’ve had some kind of lingering cold for the past month, but I’ll bet it’s allergies. Itchy eyes, congestion,…”

“…Headaches, tired all the time, fuzzy thinking. Yup, sounds like allergies, doesn’t it?” Linda said. “We need a good cold snap to put an end to this.”

I’ve never had allergies in the winter before. This may be a small but unpleasant side effect of global climate change:– perhaps allergy sufferers will no longer be able to count on respite from allergies in the winter.

Mr. Crankypants takes on Al Gore

Mr. Crankypants is so pleased that Al Gore has won the Nobel Peace Prize. What self-respecting liberal isn’t? All the conservative pundits are foaming at the mouth, rabidly furious at the thought that some crazy Swedes (who are probably Commies anyway) dared to give any kind of public recognition to Evil Al, the Climate Change Kid. Mr. Crankypants just loves the thought of conservative pundits foaming rabidly at the mouth.

However. While Mr. Crankypants is amused at his effect on conservative pundits, Mr. C. thinks Al Gore has missed a key point. The world doesn’t really need carbon offsets. The world doesn’t really need that Kyoto treaty they all talk about. The world doesn’t even really need hybrid automobiles. What the world really needs is about five and a half billion fewer human beings.

Stanley Schmidt makes this point in the November, 2007, issue of the magazine Analog: Science Fiction and Fact: “If population continues to increase, it will overwhelm any per capita decrease we make in any of the problematic variables associated with it, like resource use, increase in greenhouse gases, and other forms of pollution.” Elementary arithmetic will show you that this is a true statement. Schmidt goes on to make this statement: “All places will need to think about controlling population growth. It will be controlled, sooner or later, whether because of voluntary restraint, government-imposed limits, or catastrophic collapse because a stability limit has been passed.”

Three options: (a) voluntary restraint, (b) government-imposed limits, or (c) catastrophic collapse. Which one of these do you think is the most politically palatable option? Which option do you think Al Gore would choose? Remember that Al Gore has not publicly advocated for either voluntary population restraint, or for government controls on population growth. Therefore, if you chose (c), catastrophic collapse, as the preferred political option for controlling population growth, you are correct! Your prize will be ocean-front property in the state of Arkansas.

And which of those three options do you think is the most religiously palatable option for most of the world? A few religious liberals would vote for option (a), voluntary restraint of population growth — indeed, some religious liberals deliberately limit their offspring to one, or adopt children rather than procreate themselves, or have no children at all, as a matter of religious principle. But most of the world’s religions seem to prefer option (c), catastrophic collapse — presumably under the untested theory that their deity/deities, or other supernatural power, will come to rescue them.

Mr. Crankypants doesn’t want this to be completely depressing. So he will point out some more good news — after the sea level rises, Arizona might just have oceanfront property as well!


Thirty years ago this weekend, when I was sixteen, I climbed my first four thousand foot mountain in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The Whites were a very different place then. For one thing, you could drink the water from any mountain spring without needing any kind of purification; by 1978, giardia first started showing up in the Whites; and today you have to purify any water you drink, or risk giardiasis. For another thing, there were a lot fewer people on the trails back then; when my friend Will and I went hiking in the Whites in the late 1970’s, you could go a whole day without seeing another person, whereas today you’re lucky to go an hour without seeing another hiker. And for another thing, when you were up on a mountain top, you could generally see a lot farther then than you can today, because increasing pollution has cut visibility dramatically throughout New England.

It’s easy to lament, and wax nostalgic. But if you’re going to lament about what has been lost in the White Mountains since the 1970’s, why not go back further in time and lament the loss of the old-growth forests during the 19th century? Lamentation is all very fine, but it makes more sense to enjoy what we’ve got now, while we still have it, for as global climate change progresses, we’re going to lose all the rare arctic tundra plants that grow above the 5,000 foot line in the Whites; acid rain will continue to despoil the mountain tarns and streams; invasive insect species will decimate the forests even more than they have already. In this time of ecological crisis, lamentation seems like a luxury we can’t really afford.

One good thing about global climate change is that the warm-weather hiking season in the White Mountains has been extended by some weeks; it used to be that the winter hiking season began the weekend after Columbus Day. Maybe I’ll make a trip up there sometime soon, and enjoy the mountains before the weather changes.

Just an observation

Today has been decreed to be “Step It Up” day:

April 14, 2007 — National Day of Climate Action

On this historic day, Americans called on their leaders to act immediately to stop global warming. In all 50 states, at more than 1400 iconic places across the nation, we have united around a common call to action: “Step It Up Congress: Cut Carbon 80% by 2050.” Your move, Congress.

One of those 1,400 iconic places was the Whaling Museum here in New Bedford, right across the street from our apartment. I was doing my taxes, but Carol went over and heard the excellent keynote talk by John Bullard, former mayor of New Bedford (and, as it happens, a Unitarian Universalist).

When I needed a break from my taxes, I looked out the window and counted exactly three bicycles. But there were cars parked in every parking place I could see from the window. I’m sure a few people besides Carol walked to the event, but the reality is that many of the people who attended the New Bedford “Step It Up” day live too far away to walk or bike; and for others, their busy schedule required them to drive.

Three bicycles. Fifty or more cars.

Just an observation about how hard it really is for us to change the habits and rhythms that release tons of CO2, yet which have become fundamental to the way our society works.