Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Erratic Times: Weather Report

Remember the story about the butterfly’s fluttering wings in the Amazonian
rain forest causing a hurricane in Texas? Well it turns out to be true that
climate is a network of finely responsive relationships and in its
complexity unpredictable.

Now people estimate that a one degree Fahrenheit increase in Earth’s surface
temperature as recorded over the last century can cause electric storms that
are 10 times as fierce. Small changes, big consequences. Many of the
relationships that go into the ‘weather equation’ are still poorly
understood such as the relation between ocean temperatures, ocean current,
earth rotation, melting ice caps and wind.

The shift towards extreme weather types has been well documented, and in its
totality is considered proof that ‘Global Warming has arrived irrefutably.
Just to remind you of a few: The heat wave of 2003 settling over Europe
caused the death of 35.000 people. The worst floods in memory in India,
Bhutan and Bangladesh happened just last year and left 30 million people
homeless. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 (how time flies) was the most
devastating storm ever recorded in the history of the US. An ongoing endless
drought has settled over the continent of Australia. And these are just the
larger events that everyone knows about. On a much more local level people
in the Amazonian rain forest are trying to cope with rivers drying up one
year (a disaster for the transportation), alternated with abnormal flooding
(a disaster for food security) the next, Pacific island communities are
wiped out due to rising sea levels, Polar bears loose their habitat, etc.
These kinds of events are treated as footnotes in history and most of us are
oblivious to the reality of it.

Heat waves, floods, forest fires, hurricanes, icecap melting affecting sea
levels, droughts, etc.- they all form part and parcel of ‘Global Warming’
and obviously that that concept doesn’t quite do justice to the complexity
of what is happening. Global Warming gives the idea that we are dealing here
with a gradual process going into one direction, but that is not the
experience of many people. ‘Global Weirding’ has been proposed as an
alternative, more accurate expression of what is happening, but perhaps it
is too weird to be generally accepted as a term.

Human responses to climate events associated with what we will here still
call Global Warming do not just require emergency teams, but a whole series
of measures aimed at the longer term prevention of catastrophes plus the
adaptation to a whole new set of circumstances. It is questionable if we
humans are wired to understand the consequences of our own actions deeply
enough to be able to respond to the scale of havoc in a collected and
comprehensive manner –but without that, we are condemned to live in a more
and more fragmented situation of resource wars, mal nutrition, insecurity,
human conflict on all levels, etc.

What is required now is to dream a whole new ‘societal gestalt’ affecting
everything from agriculture to (city) planning, from energy to
infrastructure, from architecture to transportation, from wealth
distribution to conflict resolution, etc. We have to find simple principles
that can guide us in this transition. Al Gore’s proposal to tax carbon
instead of labor may be one of those principles --but only one of many. We
need to seek new consensus based on a deeper understanding on who we are as
human beings. What makes us happy? What makes us tick?

Unless we are able to engage and enter this challenge, we will live more and
more in what in the Hopi prophesy is called the ‘Erratic Times’. Erratic
Times covers our situation perhaps better than the Global Warming. When
asked what Erratic Times means the Hopi elders will tell you: it means that
there will be flowers blooming in winter and it might snow in summer. That's
it: the Erratic Times.

-Willem Malten

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