From “The Book of Dust and Hope”

The following poem is from “The Book of Dust and Hope,” an “in progress” book of poems, observations, brief essays, images, and perennial questions on the theme of hope.

 What is Hope

what is hope but land
without water, fingers
without rings, claw-marks
in blue snow

what is hope but speech
without words, language
without fire, wistful
dreams and dust

what is hope but mind
without thoughts, thoughts
without songs, untrammeled
roads in a rich gray fog

what is hope but love
without masks, acceptance
without fear, daily heeding
a sad and tender heart

Rick Visser, May 10, 2019

The sudden collapse of thawing soils in the Arctic might double the warming from greenhouse gases

Climate News Network:

“We are watching this sleeping giant wake up right in front of our eyes,” said Merritt Turetsky, an ecologist at the University of Guelph. “We work in areas where permafrost contains a lot of ice, and our field sites are being destroyed by abrupt collapse of this ice, not gradually over decades, but very quickly over months to years.”

“One-fourth of all the land in the northern half of the globe is defined as permafrost. This long-frozen soil is home to the detritus of life over many thousands of years: the remains of plants, animals and microbes. The permanently frozen soils of the region hold, so far in a harmless state, 1,600 billion tonnes of carbon: twice as much as exists in the atmosphere.”

“And as the Arctic warms, this could release ever-greater volumes of a potent greenhouse gas, to accelerate global warming still further, and the consequent collapse of the soil, the flooding and the landslides could change not just the habitat but even the contours of the high latitudes.” Read more . . .

Read the researcher’s article published in Nature (International Journal of Science) April 30, 2019 HERE. It is well worth the time. The first image of the Batagaika crater in eastern Russia is stunning. Look closely at the trees to get a feel for its size and character.

Abrupt thawing of permafrost is dramatic to watch. Returning to field sites in Alaska, for example, we often find that lands that were forested a year ago are now covered with lakes. Rivers that once ran clear are thick with sediment. Hillsides can liquefy, sometimes taking sensitive scientific equipment with them.

The Second Shoe Has Dropped: the IPBES Global Assessment Report

This was a particularly difficult day for me because the second shoe has hit the floor very, very hard. The first shoe dropped last fall when the 1.5C report was published by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, indicating that we have only 12 years left to address climate change. The other shoe dropped to the floor today when the United Nations Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) published its unusually stark Global Assessment Report, the most thorough planetary health check ever undertaken.

Let me state it right up front: the report is devastating. It was conducted by more than 450 scientists and diplomats, and was three years in the making. As well, it drew on over 15,000 reference materials and runs out to over 1800 pages. A shorter 40 page summary for policymakers is also available.

“The overwhelming evidence of the IPBES Global Assessment, from a wide range of different fields of knowledge, presents an ominous picture,” said IPBES Chair, Sir Robert Watson. “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

The Report finds that around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, more than ever before in human history.

The average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%, mostly since 1900. More than 40% of amphibian species, almost 33% of reef forming corals and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened. The picture is less clear for insect species, but available evidence supports a tentative estimate of 10% being threatened. At least 680 vertebrate species had been driven to extinction since the 16th century and more than 9% of all domesticated breeds of mammals used for food and agriculture had become extinct by 2016, with at least 1,000 more breeds still threatened.

“Ecosystems, species, wild populations, local varieties and breeds of domesticated plants and animals are shrinking, deteriorating or vanishing. The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed,” said Prof. Settele. “This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world.”

Let us be clear, both the IPCC report and this IPBES assure us that it is not too late, but ONLY if we engage NOW with transformative change: “fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”

Question: How good are we at transformative change? Who exactly is going to steer us away from “the current limited paradigm of economic growth?”

I highly recommend reading the two press stories HERE (Guardian) and HERE (BBC) and, if you are so inclined, download and read the summary for policymakers.

We shall never find our way home

A few days ago I began reading Climate Matters: ethics in a warming world, by John Broome, an economist and moral philosopher. Chapters One and Two are very good, as he introduces the book and lays out the science of climate change in a clear and succinct way. But as soon as I got into chapters 2, 3, 4, 5, I began to feel uncomfortable: something seemed wrong.

When I picked it up again today, I skipped a few chapters and went directly to Chapter 10 on population. It was while reading this chapter that I realized the problem: He never addresses the issue of human suffering. He never addresses the suffering of those who remain alive but who will suffer greatly from day to day, perhaps for their entire lives, in ways that are unimaginable to those of us who live in the industrialized West.

Checking the index, I see that there is only one reference to human suffering in the entire book and that is on page 180 where he describes features of climate catastrophe that will be genuinely bad. He lists three such features. It is the first of his three features that mentions suffering: “First, global-warming catastrophe will cause suffering and death to a great many people. There will be starvation. There will be wars over water and other resources. There will be deaths from diseases and floods, and from many other causes.”

This is the only time he mentions human suffering. He does address the ethical ramifications of deaths by climate change, but he does not address the massive suffering of those who remain alive. This is striking to me. How can this be? Is suffering not quantifiable?Is it not something that can be put in economic terms?

I must lay this book down. I do this because my ‘cost/benefit analysis’ prevents me from reading more at this time. Perhaps I will return to it in the future.

In all of this, I cannot help but think of the words of Pope Francis: “Our goal is not to amass information or to satisfy curiosity, but rather to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it (from Laudato Si).”

If we do not reach beyond complicated theoretical arguments, and open ourselves to the suffering of others in a very direct and personal way, we shall never find our way home.

Hope: Danger’s Comforter

In the next few weeks, I will focus on hope as it pertains to the present climate disruption. This first meditation is from Thucydides. I offer it without comment, and suggest that the good reader to meditate on the text for an hour or so and try to express the ideas that come to mind. The portion I’ve selected is from the famous Melian Dialogue. This is the discussion in which the Athenians articulate the bald facts of perennial power-politics when they say to the Melians: “since you know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must (lines 87-89).” Here are the remarks that bear upon the question of hope:

Melians: “It were surely great baseness and cowardice in us who are still free not to try everything that can be tried . . . to submit is to give ourselves over to despair, while action still preserves for us a hope that we may stand erect.

Athenians: “Hope, danger’s comforter, may be indulged in by those who have abundant resources, if not without loss at all events without ruin; but its nature is to be extravagant, and those who go so far as to put their all upon the venture see it in its true colors only when they are ruined; but so long as the discovery would enable them to guard against it, it is never found wanting. Let not this be the case with you, who are weak and hang on a single turn of the scale; nor be like the vulgar, who, abandoning such security as human means may still afford, when visible hopes fail them in extremity, turn to invisible, to prophecies and oracles, and other such inventions that delude men with hopes to their destruction.

UK Parliament declares climate change emergency – less than a week after XR thrashes London

This from the BBC: “MPs have approved a motion to declare an environment and climate emergency.”

“This proposal, which demonstrates the will of the Commons on the issue but does not legally compel the government to act, was approved without a vote.”

“Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who tabled the motion, said it was “a huge step forward.”. . .

Addressing climate protesters from the top of a fire engine in Parliament Square earlier, Mr Corbyn said: “This can set off a wave of action from parliaments and governments around the globe.

“We pledge to work as closely as possible with countries that are serious about ending the climate catastrophe and make clear to US President Donald Trump that he cannot ignore international agreements and action on the climate crisis.”

“. Read more HERE (BBC) and HERE (Guardian) . . .