Saturday, February 22, 2014

Telling the Tough Nut

It's a tough nut to crack -- communicating the reality and urgency of climate change and motivating people to do something about it.  It's something covered in this blog often, from a personal scuffle with a denier to some excellent best practices.

It would help, though, if the mainstream media would talk more about it.   Let's face it, if it's not in the media, it's perceived as unimportant, or it's not perceived at all.

According to a report from the School of Politics and Communications Studies, the "total number of articles on climate change printed over three years was fewer than one month’s worth of articles featuring health issues.  The articles offered mixed messages about the seriousness and imminence of problems facing the environment."

“Our research suggests that the media is not treating these issues with the seriousness that scientists would say they deserve.  The research company lpsos-MORI found that 50% of people think the jury is still out on the causes of global warming," said Neil Gavin of the School.

That's on us.  Professional communicators are not doing their jobs if half the people out there think there is still a debate.  Another result shows a huge lack of understanding of what excess carbon pollution is doing to the planet.

The study finds a strong connection between U.S. weather trends and public and media attitudes towards climate science over the past 20 years -- with skepticism about global warming increasing during cold snaps and concern about climate change growing during hot spells, according to Science Daily.

Whew, this is a tough nut.

Let's remember that weather is local event but climate change is something happening on a global scale.

Average global temperatures have been increasing for decades.  That it's an average of the entire planet -- hundreds of thousands of recordings.  Measure a cold snap in your hometown against thousands of higher-than-previous temperatures all over the planet every day of the year and you begin to see why it's called global warming.

Let's remember that shipping companies are putting new polar routes on their maps through what was previously ice-covered ocean.

Let's remember that it's not natural -- past warming events millions of years ago took thousands of years to happen. That's natural.  Our pace has been off the charts faster, try over the past 200 years, when the industrial revolution began, not coincidentally.

That scientists don't say they're unsure -- scientist say it's definitely happening.  Sorry, make that out of 2,258 peer reviewed scientific papers written by 9,136 scientists from Nov 2012 to Dec 2013, only one scientist rejected man-made global warming.

Clearly, our work is cut out for us.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Paddle Away Part II

A holiday paddle in the mere wilds of Florida hard against the teeming city of Sarasota. Part I of this paddle posted a few weeks ago.

After the diving cormorants, we kayaked into the mangrove tunnels.

My young cousin, sitting between my nephew and I, her small feet touching the water, was still talking about the cormorants as we glided in.  But she quickly quieted as we all did.  The dark green leaves all around and overhead in muted light encouraged reverence.

The homes, cars, outdoor restaurants, ice cream scoopers, and massive condo buildings looming over the shoreline quickly disappeared.  A paddle made a small splash sound.  We slowly drifted under one low but thick root, and I tilted my head to the side to just clear it.

You can think for a moment you're elsewhere. Especially when you see the small black crabs climbing on the organized tangle of roots. The more you look the more you see. Hundreds of them moving as only crabs can. Creepy. Startling. Awesome.

I half expected a Hobbit to stumble by or to find Sméagol hunting for fish (and that ring) in the shallow stream.

We turned a bend in the watery maze and there stood a blue heron ignoring us. A wisp of a feather high across its head, as if feigning royalty.  Looking into the water, there were fish with tiger-like stripes on their backs hovering here and there -- aptly named tiger sandfish.

We peered deeper into the thick mangrove forest and a couple white ibis came into view -- surprisingly not standing out against the deep green canopy and greenish beige water as much as you might think.
As we emerged into the sunshine on the other side of the forest, I looked back at the natural tunnel we had just exited. It's opaque blackness somehow still beckoned me.

But ahead, hopefully, was one of the biggest draws to this bit of water: manatees.  The sea cow, a docile but heavyset marine mammal that eats mainly vegetation.  They cling to a somewhat precarious existence in the estuary that thousands of humans call their backyard.

We paddled into the canals dominated with large homes, groomed lawns and all the blunt stamps of humanity.  The natural edge, the transition between land and sea, was long gone.

There are signs that ask boaters to slow down through certain stretches because manatees may be present. Not only do manatees face the challenge of finding enough food and swimming in water tainted by runoff but also they are often struck by speeding boats or gashed by a propeller.

It's kind of too bad that there are houses all around but this is the canal with the warmest water and the manatees come here to hang out. A lady with nicotine skin and a raspy voice says she's seen'em today. Nonchalant she says this, as if she owns them. 

Further into the canal, someone ahead of us becomes excited and in our kayak, my nephew sees it first.  A bump in the water and then a snout just breaking the surface ahead.  Then another. We drift closer but still give the animals lots of space. We wait. They can hold their breath for a long time.

There they are, someone nearly shouts.  Soon we're seeing a large manatee longer than our kayaks, probably a mother, with a smaller one, probably the offspring, swimming and floating along. They're making their way back toward more open water and we can glimpse their wide brown bodies off the bow of our kayak.  It's an exciting little gift. 

Then, almost on cue, here comes a boat moving too fast directly toward the manatees.  Its a Riviera  Redneck. He's wearing a t shirt that says exactly that.

We holler at him to slow down as his dingy is headed straight toward the manatees.   He does not seem to see or hear us. His engine is full on and his boat is moving quickly.

A few paddlers including my nephew and I wave paddles in the air and finally he slows down but does not look happy about it. As he moves away and we ride his wake, I hope he does not begrudge the manatees.

Giving them plenty of room, we follow the manatees out into the bigger water.  We lose sight of them quickly but they will stay with us in our mind's eye.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Climate Urgency Lies Buried Under Words

I went out to Brooklyn to a climate event recently.

It was organized by a group that is known for taking action. The urgency of doing exactly that on climate change in my head like a bolt of light, I rolled out on the subway wondering if anyone else in the moving underground menagerie was pondering carbon pollution.

I was looking forward to the meeting.  These events are energizing as like-minded people are reminded they're not alone. Also, inspiration is often in the air as newcomers have ideas and ask good questions.  This night was none of that.

First of all, few people showed up.  Maybe eighteen people in a city of millions.

Secondly, I was surprised and frustrated to find how splintered we were.  And this I cannot blame on the fossil fuelers, led by the the Koch Brothers' insidious money machine.

People had many valid points, their arguments well thought out, careful to avoid hypocrisy and to present a flawless future.

But we're missing the point -- while we talk and talk, the world burns. 

There's the guy in a gray jacket with a notepad balanced on his lap who questions solar and wind power because he asks what mountaintop are we going to have to remove to make these things.  He asks what does "clean" mean anyway.  

There's a guy in a red bandanna and combat boots who thinks that if we build a clean energy industry we're just doing more of the same oppression of the poor and indigenous.  He says he's a scientist.  I think he secretly just wants to throw rocks at the police.

He says people are protesting solar plants in China because they're spewing toxins.   I felt like saying what isn't spewing toxins in China but held back because that's another thing -- it's a pretty humorless bunch.

Also, the self-appointed leader, the same woman who made us put our chairs in a circle and go around the room and introduce ourselves, had already chastised me for getting a little too fired up.

So I kept quiet and we kept going around the room.

Another person talked about saving electricity.  She tells her friends to turn out lights.  She tells them that's what they can do to fight climate change.

Another guy, slouched in his chair like a bored student, said the West is irrelevant anyway as countries like India and China consume more electricity than us (China just passed the U.S. as the country that consumes the most energy).

One person, a girl with high cheekbones and long straight hair, said it helps to close our eyes and think good thoughts.  I thought my head might explode at that moment, and I caught the self-appointed leader giving me the you-keep-quiet dead eye. 

There were other people who made very good points, good ideas, good questions, and these people I mention are not wrong or right or irrelevant or anything like that.  It's just that:  Where is the urgency in all this?

It's there on the floor in the space between us under a pile of words.  

The point of no return on climate change is right around the corner and it's a travesty to let agonizing over the perfect plan and pure intentions prevent the good.

Renewables like solar, wind, and geothermal energy are vastly cleaner than fossil fuels, plain and simple.  They are not perfect because nothing is.  The time is now.