Monthly Archives: July 2006

Concerns of the New America

Jonathan over at Irregular Times wonders: George W. Bush is Big Brother, But Does America Care?

In the first 24 hours of the work week after it was revealed that George W. Bush has been engaging in yet another secret program to spy against American citizens that even the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee thinks is illegal, what were people thinking about the most?

They weren’t thinking about their liberty. They were thinking about Zinedine Zidane, a soccer player who gave a headbutt to another soccer player, Marco Materazzi. 5 out of the top 8 searches on Technorati in the last day have related to the incident at the World Cup.

It was a dramatic act of crude violence, to be sure, but in the end, how much does it matter to people’s lives? If the entire French team gave head butts to the entire Italian team, would it change the lives of any Americans in any significant way? Well, actually it would. It would give them something to talk about for a week instead of paying attention to the steady attacks on their constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms.

Was the news of the newly revealed government program to spy against Americans anywhere on Technorati’s top eight list? Nope. But Clay Aiken was there. News that a video blog site called Rocketboom had chosen a new host, and subsequently went offline, was number two on the list. Potc was right behind at number three.

Yeah, welcome to the New America. This is an America in which citizens have allowed multinational corporations to redefined them as consumers. Thinking about democracy and freedom as well as the struggle involved in maintaining those things, well that’s just too much work. Much easier to tune into the latest TV distraction or movie blockbuster.

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Where have all the butterflies gone?

I was starting to think maybe I was crazy. But no, my perception seems to be pretty accurate. This spring and summer I have seen almost no butterflies. Practically zero. In fact, I would say less than 20. By this time last year and the previous year and most years before, I would see that many in week depending on my location. In fact, since being back in Missouri and spending lots of time in the garden, seeing 10 – 20 a day is not uncommon with 3-5 species represented in that count. Of course it’s hard to say if one is seeing the same butterfly more than once but it’s still very possible to get an idea if you’re paying attention. Not only are we not seeing the butterflies but also zero caterpillars.

A few seconds of google turned up a whole slew of articles that verify my perception. Here’s the first, Where have all the butterflies gone?:

Wild fluctuations in California’s winter and spring weather have hurt fragile butterfly populations, causing numbers to fall to the lowest in more than three decades and increasing the concerns of scientists about long-term declines linked to climate change and habitat loss.

Shapiro, an entomologist and professor of evolution and ecology, monitors 10 locations from Suisun Marsh to the Sierra Nevada and maintains one of the two largest butterfly databases in the world. The other is the British Butterfly Monitoring Scheme.

At most of the study sites, he has seen half or less than half the number of species typically present at this time in an average year. Near Vacaville at Gates Canyon in April 2005, he found 21 species and 378 individual butterflies. But last month he counted 10 species and 43 individual butterflies.

Many species already appear to be suffering from a serious long-term decline because of several factors, including changes in climate and loss of habitat, he said.

“This short-term anomaly has really kicked the populations while they’re down and may have accelerated their decline,” said Shapiro.

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A few Climate Change links of interest… Superman won’t save our asses

A bit of a climate change link dump. By way of introduction let me just say that I’m pretty sure we’re fucked as a species and of course we’ve set the course for the extinction of lots of other species. Not to say we shouldn’t do something, we should. We really fucking should, every single day. But as I’ve said before I think the turning point has come and gone. Just for the sake of putting it down here’s a simple list: stop driving, work less, spend less, consume less, walk more, bike more, turn up your thermostat in the summer, turn it way down in the winter, eat vegetarian, compost, grow your own food, turn off every electrical device you don’t need, install compact fluorescent lighting.

Yeah, that’s me being hopeful. I expect most will do nothing at all because it’s just too much work. Easier to go see Superman and enjoy a Happy Meal with the kids.

First there is this review by Ken Caldeira over at the American Scientist Online, Time Is Not on Our Side , in which he reviews a couple of recent works on climate change:

Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change. Elizabeth Kolbert. x + 210 pp. Bloomsbury, 2006. $22.95.

The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth. Tim Flannery. xx + 357 pp. Atlantic Monthly Press, 2005. $24.

If the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from the burning of coal, oil and gas is not reduced greatly and soon, the consequences are likely to be catastrophic. So say Tim Flannery and Elizabeth Kolbert, authors of two new books that provide ample evidence that those emissions are adversely affecting the complex web of interactions that ties Earth’s organisms to climate.

The incipient catastrophe is manifesting itself in a myriad of ways. A half-century ago, the Inupiats of the small Alaskan island of Shishmaref were able to venture 20 miles out onto the sea ice to hunt seals; now that ice turns to slush only 10 miles out. Storm surges that were once held at bay by the ice now regularly eat away at the island, a strip of land only a quarter of a mile wide; a single storm can remove as much as 125 feet. Once houses sat square and firm on the frozen ground; now they tilt and veer as the melting soil softens and gives way. The Inupiats recently voted to move their village inland, away from their ancestral home—an early loss to global warming.

This scene from Shishmaref is among those described by Kolbert in Field Notes from a Catastrophe, which is based on a series of articles that appeared last year in the New Yorker. Such is the power of the images she paints that, soon after the series appeared, a senior staffer to a Republican senator told me, “When the Eskimos start moving their villages, you know it’s time to start doing something.”

Kolbert describes scientists at a research station on the Greenland ice sheet working rapidly in the early morning, trying to avoid the slush and rivers of water that will form later in the day from the melting ice. This water sinks rapidly through cracks in the ice cap to the rocky base, lubricating the flow of the ice to the sea, where icebergs will calve off, raising sea level and flooding coastal communities. When the sea freezes, as ice forms, heavy salty water is pushed out and sinks. When icebergs melt, the cold fresh water they contain spreads across the ocean surface (rather than sinking into the denser, saltier waters below), thereby interfering with the large-scale thermohaline circulation of the ocean. No one can predict with confidence how interference with such planetary-scale processes will affect climate. We are like children poking at a sleeping polar bear, without knowing what will happen when it wakes up.

Then there is this essay by John Gray at the New Statesman, Rather than face up to climate change and do what can be done, humanity may opt to let it happen:

During the present century, human beings are likely to experience a change in the planetary environment unlike any in history. Climate change is irreversible, and accelerating fast. No one, apart from a few cranks speaking on behalf of the Bush administration, doubts that global warming is a side effect of human activity. Accumulating scientific evidence suggests strongly that climate change is happening on a larger scale and more quickly than was suspected even a couple of years ago. Observable processes such as the melting of the Antarctic ice cap point to rising sea levels that will wipe out much of the world’s arable land and flood many coastal cities. The face of the planet is changing before our eyes.

Then there’s this gem from CNN reporting on a recent study and panel: Earth ‘likely’ hottest in 2,000 years:

WASHINGTON (AP) — It has been 2,000 years and possibly much longer since Earth has run such a fever.

The National Academy of Sciences, reaching that conclusion in a broad review of scientific work requested by Congress, reported Thursday that the “recent warmth is unprecedented for at least the last 400 years and potentially the last several millennia.”

A panel of top climate scientists told lawmakers that Earth is heating up and that “human activities are responsible for much of the recent warming.” Their 155-page report said average global surface temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere rose about 1 degree during the 20th century.

Last there’s this interview at Rolling Stone with Al Gore:

OK, say you’re the guy making that call. What do you ask us to do — trade in our cars and buy a hybrid?

Here’s the essence of our problem: Right now, the political environment in the country does not support the range of solutions that have to be introduced. The maximum you can imagine coming out of the current political environment still falls woefully short of the minimum that will really solve the crisis. But that’s just another way of saying we have to expand the limits of the possible. And that’s the main reason that I made this movie — because the path to a solution lies through changing the minds of the American people. Not just on the facts — they’re almost there on the facts — but in the sense of urgency that’s appropriate and necessary. Once that happens, then things that seem impossible now politically are going to be imperative. I believe there is a hunger in the country to be part of a larger vision that changes the way we relate to the environment and the economy. Right now we are borrowing huge amounts of money from China to buy huge amounts of oil from the most unstable region of the world, and to bring it here and burn it in ways that destroy the habitability of the planet. That is nuts! We have to change every aspect of that.

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Goldfinch in the garden

Originally uploaded by geekinthegarden.

Our garden is in full bloom with Purple Coneflowers, Orange Coneflowers, Grayheaded Coneflowers, Beebalm, and Butterfly Weed. I’ve spent the morning watching a pair of Goldfinches feed from the Purple and Orange Coneflowers. More photos at my flickr page.

I’ve not been around the blog lately. Lots of gardening then a problem with my knee and some poison ivy and then a bit of work and a trip out of town. So, I’ve been around but not really had the time to focus on the blog. Things seem to be simmering down a bit so perhaps I’ll do some catching up with the blog.

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