Saturday, May 29, 2010

I suppose I need to take a deep breath, but still....

I know I've been very lax in posting this month. I try - emphasize "try" now - to have up two pieces a week that are worth reading, that is, that are not just a quick remark and a link. So even if I have only maybe a dozen posts a month, the majority of those will be substantive comment, hopefully on something that isn't already being well-covered and well-argued (and well-argued about) at other blogs.

I haven't been keeping up to date of late. You know the saying "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." Or, as a computer program designed to translate languages (in)famously put it after the phrase was translated into Russian and back into English, "The vodka is strong but the meat is rotten." (Or, in a bit I liked and will have to run down somehow, a business plan was condemned by the line workers expected to implement it as "Shit, and we hate it" but that report got gradually changed as it moved up the corporate ladder until at the top it came out as "It promotes growth and is extremely powerful.")

Back on track, the point here is that the condition here at Lotus is the opposite: The flesh is willing, but the spirit is weak. This is not just one of my (increasingly frequent? I'm not sure) dark spells, it's a feeling of being discouraged, at seeing the same old divisions on the left and hearing the same old arguments about the same old issues and facing the same old politico-corporate classes spewing out the same old crap. And when I say "old," I don't mean 2008 old or 2000 old, I don't even mean the old-enough-it-barely-registers-in-the-blogosphere Ronald Reagan years old, I mean 1960s old. I have been a political activist in some form or another for over 40 years and I have rarely felt as just plain dispirited as I do now.

One thing that brought this to the surface is the Deepwater Horizon disaster. It wasn't the corporate-produced, government-abetted lies about how much oil was flooding into the Gulf that did it, it wasn't the corruption at the Minerals Management Service, it wasn't the evidence of how BP demanded drilling continue even as the other companies involved (whose profit did not depend, at least not nearly so much, on how much oil was pumped out how quickly) resisted, it wasn't even the truly, truly foul stench arising from the attempts by BP and Transocean to shift blame onto the ordinary workers on the rig.

Rather, it was a curious echo of the Bob Somerby-Rachel Maddow intersection which was just such a source of contention here. Somerby criticized several pundits for pushing a "Why haven't they stopped the leak yet?" line without them admitting (or, perhaps, knowing) that those involved were doing what they could - because no one actually knew what to do: No one had ever tried to deal with something like this at anywhere near this depth. Maddow raised the same point but took the next step of asking why, in that case, these oil companies had even been given permits to drill in conditions where no one knew what to do if anything went wrong.

And then it happened. It was one of those Omigod! moments when something which for whatever unknowable reason hadn't really registered before smacks you in the head so hard it hurts: Maddow noted that there are already other rigs out there working at even greater depths than the Deepwater Horizon was, meaning there's even less understanding of what to do there in the event of another case of what Lawrence O'Donnell accurately called "corporate homicide."

And it hit me: That means, in practical effect and assuming perfection is still off the scale, that we have already committed ourselves to seeing more Deepwater Horizons - perhaps worse ones. Even as this one threatens the wetlands and threatens the animals that depend on the wetlands and threatens the economy that depends on the animals that depend on the wetlands and threatens the people who depend on the economy that depends on the animals that depend on the wetlands and threatens the social culture that depends on the people who depend on the economy that depends on the animals that depend on the wetlands - even as we stare helplessly at the environmental, the economic, the social damage being wreaked on the Gulf and the Gulf Coast and the animals and lands and people of the Gulf Coast, even as we stare helplessly at the carnage even the extent of which may not be clear for decades, we have already committed ourselves to a path that will see more of it.

As David Roberts (who I swear is Jonathan Frakes' long-lost brother) put it at Grist,
[e]ven if the flow were stopped tomorrow, the damage to marshes, coral, and marine life is done. The Gulf of Mexico will become an ecological and economic dead zone. There's no real way to undo it, no matter who's in charge. ...

Humanity has grown in power, wealth, and appetite to the point that there is no more margin of error anywhere. We're on a knife's edge, facing the very real possibility that for our children, all the world may be one big Gulf of Mexico, inexorably and irreversibly deteriorating.
The difference between us is that he still sees hope:
Perhaps if the public gets a clear taste of this, they'll step back and contemplate whether the kind of energy we use is really as "cheap" as it looks.
It's a hope in which I no longer have any faith. It's no longer a question of what will be done in the future but of what has already been done in the past. It has little to do with whether or not people can be convinced of the need for alternatives but with the sheer momentum of the present. I liken it to trying to make a sharp turn with a supertaker: Despite your best intentions and most fervent efforts, that ship is going to keep going the way you had already pointed it for some distance. You are already committed to that course for some time to come no matter what you do now. Here, everything from bureaucratic inertia to corporate greed and criminality to questions of time, resources, and money speak to the supertaker of our present situation - as does, for a particular example, the fact that
the Obama administration has granted oil and gas companies at least 27 exemptions from doing in-depth environmental studies of oil exploration and production in the Gulf of Mexico
since the disaster began.
The waivers were granted despite President Barack Obama’s vow that his administration would launch a “relentless response effort” to stop the leak and prevent more damage to the gulf. One of them was dated ... the day after Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he was temporarily halting offshore drilling.
The point being that I don't think there was any venality here. I think it was just sheer bureaucratic momentum.

And again, again, it's not just the Deepwater Horizon. It's not even the damage wrought by the disaster. If it was, if it could be chalked up as the "accident" some would have it be, the isolated event we would like to see it as, if it had no meaning other than as an individual case, it would be different. But it wasn't, we can't, and it isn't. The simple fact that no one - no one - can honestly tell you that there will not be more of them, quite probably worse ones: because there will be. Our supertanker is already headed that way and it's too late to turn in time.

We are so screwed.

And the real thing of it, the real thing, is that it's not even just this part of the overall construct. Remember the Copenhagen summit on climate change in April? The one with all the pledges to cut carbon emissions and save the planet from the worst excesses of global warming? And remember how climatologists believe it's necessary to keep global temperature from rising less than 2oC. to head off the worst effects of climate change? Well, it turns out, according to an analysis by a team from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the pledges coming out of Copenhagen not only do not reach those required to achieve that goal, but there is
a greater than fifty percent chance that warming will exceed three degrees Celsius by 2100.
In fact,
“In the worst case, we could end up with emissions allowances exceeding the business-as-usual projections,” says [study co-author] Joeri Rogelj.
We are as a planet, as the nations of the world, already committed to a course that has a better than even chance of seeing 3oC. of warming by 2100. That is the direction our supertanker is heading. That is even though, again, climatologists say that limiting it to 2o is required not to head off the effects, but just the worst effects of global warming.

What could three degrees mean? Complete loss of the Arctic ice cap. Dramatic rise in sea levels, endangering coastal communities and inundating wetlands. An increase in severe storms. Significant losses in the Amazon rain forest and numerous, frequent, droughts there and elsewhere. Loss of food supplies. Millions of climate refugees. Strife and conflict from competition over resources and governments overwhelmed trying to deal with the influx of people.

That's where our supertanker is now heading. Even if we start to turn it now, even if we give our best efforts now, I have come to doubt that we can keep it from crashing into that shore. There is too much corporate-government-media momentum to overcome.

I have days when I say I am glad I will not live to see the world I see coming. This is one of those days.

We are so very, very screwed.

[Thanks to the always-useful Green Left Global News & Info for the link to the news about the Potsdam Institute study.]

Footnote: If want an example of media momentum on the issue, a momentum full of "the science is only worth reporting if we can say it's 'controversial,'" here's one:

You heard, I have no doubt, about the ginned-up "controversy" involving hacked emails which the nanny-nanny naysayers dubbed "Climategate." A Google search on the word shows over 1.2 million hits, most of the tops ones right-wing screeds about fraud, the end of global warming as an issue, etc., etc. A more restricted search on Scroogle (a "Google scraper" which avoids the privacy issues associated with the G-monster, if you don't know it) still produces results that mostly involve right-wingers screaming out headlines.

I'm sure you heard about it. But did you hear that three separate investigations, two by panels of the British parliament and one by the University of Pennsylvania, all concluded there was, as they put it in the UK, "no case to answer," that there was nothing to the charges? I wouldn't be the least bit surprised that unless you follow the issue of climate change, you haven't.

And did you hear that The Met, Britain's national weather service, issued a new metasurvey of more than 100 climate studies published since 2007 and concluded that the evidence for anthropogenic global warming is "stronger than ever?" How about the fact that according to NASA, we've just had
the hottest April on record.... More significantly, following fast on the heels of the hottest March and hottest Jan-Feb-March on record, it’s also the hottest Jan-Feb-March-April on record.
Again, I wouldn't be surprised if you hadn't heard. But I bet you did see some naysayer spouting off in an op-ed somewhere or perhaps that recent so-utterly-dreadful-I-won't-even-link-to-it he-said/he-said article in the New York Times which reduced the issue of global warming to a personality conflict between former friends.

(As a sidebar, the NASA numbers are particularly important because we've been in “the deepest solar minimum in nearly a century,” which would minimize solar irradiance as a forcing in the current temperature changes. That is, it ain't the Sun, kiddies. Period.)

Finally, if you'd like a quick overview of what the effects of various increases in global temperatures might be, this and this are parts one and two of a National Geographic podcast on just that.

Sweet dreams.

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