Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Climate Bad News - and How to be a Hero

Well, more data on climate - all of it rotten. First, here's the thing I couldn't give you yesterday on 2007 warming trends - look carefully at the graphs.

And second, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is showing much more melting than had been anticipated. Yet again, the data is becoming outdated as fast as it comes in - not by new projections, but by new, concrete reality. That should be worrisome.

"Rignot said the tonnage of yearly ice loss in Antarctica is approaching that of Greenland, where ice sheets are known to be melting rapidly in some parts and where ancient glaciers have been in retreat. He said the change in Antarctica could become considerably more dramatic because the continent's western shelf, an expanse of ice and snow roughly the size of Texas, is largely below sea level and has broad and flat expanses of ice that could move quickly. Much of Greenland's ice flows through relatively narrow valleys in mountainous terrain, which slows its motion.

The new finding comes days after the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said the group's next report should look at the "frightening" possibility that ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica could melt rapidly at the same time.

"Both Greenland and the West Antarctic ice sheet are huge bodies of ice and snow, which are sitting on land," said Rajendra Pachauri, chief of the IPCC, the United Nations' scientific advisory group. "If, through a process of melting, they collapse and are submerged in the sea, then we really are talking about sea-level rises of several meters." (A meter is about a yard.) Last year, the IPCC tentatively estimated that sea levels would rise by eight inches to two feet by the end of the century, assuming no melting in West Antarctica."

Finally, I liked this essay a lot. The "Bystander Effect" is a real phenomenon - and it is hard to say "I'm the best person to act" - but it is also necessary. Perfect understanding is not required, commitment is.

"So, on the train, the boy was loudly identifying this as a true emergency, his mother physically demonstrating the urgency of the matter. Still everyone sat there, mouths open. Half of them had cell phones clipped on their belts, but not one of them was dialing 911. No one was running to get the conductor. Remember this fact; although we feel safer in a crowd, that's actually where humans are most incapacitated. The bigger the crowd, the stronger the effect.

In some of the later Bystander-Effect experiments, the subjects have blood pressure cuffs on and what they say is recorded. Their pulse races, their blood pressure rises. They mutter, 'shit,' and 'holy hell.' From their reactions it's clear they recognize what's happening as an emergency and feel great urgency about it. Still, they stand there, frozen.

Right now everyone understands something truly horrible is happening to the planet's climate. The heat waves and forest fires, the floods and droughts. But there's six billion of us now.

Quite the Bystander Effect. So we stay in our seats filling out forms, working dutifully, trying to ignore the smoke swirling thicker around us. We mutter under our breath, our hearts race, while we wonder why no one else is doing anything.

With the people on the train watching the woman convulse, each of them glanced around and believed everyone else must be sitting still for a good reason. Perhaps the others had some inside knowledge, that this was a movie being filmed or a scam being tried or that the kid was just playing some sort of mean joke.

Each person also thought, if this were real, then surely with 40 other people here, there should be someone who knew how to deal with seizures. There must be someone competent, with professional training and a medical vocabulary. Each person assumed, 'I should be the last person to help. I don't know dinky about seizures.'

Thinking this way, a whole group of adults will passively watch a child screaming for someone to help his mother.

And thinking this way is also how we can bustle about our normal lives, feeling increasingly uneasy about the shifting climate, but assuming it couldn't be as bad as it seems because surely then everyone would be marching in the street about it. And if it were real, then there must be someone better than us at getting others to demonstrate against it. We don't know dinky about activism."

I think it is easy to get hung up on endless debates about whether personal action or political action are more important, etc...etc... Such debates are pointless - the two are deeply interconnected. Few of our personal choices don't reverbate in the public world - our shopping is voting with our dollars. Our voting is shaped by our personal experiences. I don't know many people who follow this news who aren't simultaneously working publically and privately. What we need is integration of both spheres.

But more than that, we need to shake off the sense of paralysis that says that the right people are coming along to fix this in time. The right people are the ones who are here now.



spelled with a K said...

Leo Tolstoy's brilliant words seem to be constantly haunting me of late

"Everyone wants to change humanity, but no one wants to change himself."

I know I do so to my detriment, but I have stopped reading past most headlines when it comes to the latest bad news in climate change. It usually only contributes to anxiety in my case. Most people I have regular contact with are well aware of my peculiarities vis a vis "clean livin." I'll try to let my example be the best argument that Yes its possible, and no it does not condemn you to a life of destitute peasantry to occasionally inconvenience yourself and do things the "hard" way.

Theresa said...

More and more I'm getting up the courage to talk about these things with people outside my family and like-minded others - I'm getting less afraid to sound weird or paranoid. Your blog helps me do that Sharon, thanks.

katuah said...

when reading Audrey's article, I realized something: I've always been the one to act. Example: My family witnessed a car accident this past summer. We were in a parking lot when heard tires screeching, and turned around to see one car rear-end another at fairly high speed on the nearby road. Before the cars had even stopped moving, I was simultaneously running toward them and trying to dial 911. No waiting for flames here!

This sort of thing obviously came from my parents: they taught me that it was better to do something, and OK to be the first or the only one, even. No fire dept? My dad helped start one. No Scout troop? My mom started one. Emergency? Do as much as you can, as fast as you can.

I think this is part of why I'm willing to be the only one in my family and social group to talk about peak oil and climate change, the first one to start growing a garden, the one who sends emails around and gets the "quit reading those crazy blogs!" comments. It's almost as if my nuttiness gives other people an excuse to go a little bit further, too.

I think it's way too late to even wonder if we are the right people! we are the ONLY people. we HAVE to act, even if it may not be in the most efficient way or the best long term way. In the article, Audrey notes she didn't have the current information to know what best to do re: preventing tongue-swallowing vs. other first aid, but at least she tried something, and that in turn got others moving. I look at my wimpy garden like this. Maybe it isn't very good as gardens go, but I'm trying, and if you decide to try too, we can both learn together.

Anonymous said...

I had a very similar thing happen to me. I had just left work and hopped on the light rail. As soon as I stepped up a man ran up to me and said "Call, Help" and pointed to the floor. On the floor was a man having a seizure. There were dozens of people on the bus! The only ones that were willing to do anything were a couple of Mexican men who didn't speak English. They were holding him down so he didn't hurt himself. I instantly hit the help button, but got no reply. So I hit it again and again. Finally the driver answered "WHAT?". "There is a man back here having a seizure!" I said.

The paramedics met us at the next stop. I guess the man had a known condition that caused grand maul seizures, but he couldn't afford his medication.

From what info I gathered after the fact. The man started to convulse the two men noticed and jumped up to help. They tried to call for help, but because they couldn't speak English the driver ignored them. Which is why it took so long for me to get an answer. The whole time dozens of people were sitting there, pretending not to see!

I was sickened by the experience. Even more because this was Salt Lake City, where people look for ways to earn brownie points in heaven. He was lucky that there was someone on that train that hadn't been ruined by our self serving American way of life.

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