Climate Change: Preponderance of the Great

April 7, 2014

NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.

Image Removed I  don’t remember how many years it has been since I last hung a calendar on my wall. But this year for some odd reason, I have two.  In my foyer, Greenpeace April 2014 features Nick Garbutt’s snapshot of mist covering the rainforest canopy in the Paradise Forests of Borneo.

In my kitchen, the deliciously elegant and classic Cavallini & Co.’s Vintage Travel 2014 calendar showcases Holland from the Prints and Photographs Division at the Library of Congress.

I had forgotten the tiny zing of excitement associated with flipping the page each month to initiate thirty-odd days of intimacy with a particular image and all it might evoke.  

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It is such a little thing, after all, the distinctive touch of my fingers on the fine texture of 80# dull/matte, yet it was for so many years of my life a monthly ritual. Long past. Almost forgotten. Like the crisp light feeling of an organdy dress beneath my properly folded little girl hands. Or the distinct yearning, at nightfall in a deep December, to rush outside and snap loose a dangling icicle to release it from being frozen in time.

I find myself ruminating lately about what will be lost to the future. Swallowed by the dead ocean.  About the wild columbine and the violets. The brown California Pelicans and the jaguars. About the puppies.  The children.



I should be grateful that climate change is at long last making the news, that more and more people who constitute the fabric of my everyday life are finally curious about what has  obsessed me for so many years.

After all, it is wonderful that NBC’s Ann Curry hosted a one-hour special on climate change. That Showtime is launching an eight-part series Years of Living Dangerously. It’s mind boggling, the synchronicity, given the release last week of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group II’s Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability.  

After years of failed attempts to inform the public about the horrifying consequences of unabated climate change, Mainstream media dedicated sufficient quality air time to the report’s findings to cause several Marin moms to quake in their Miu Mius. (See Meteor Blades’ report.)

Yet the poignancy of the emotions I am experiencing right now reminds me of those Hollywood scenes, standing alongside a train as a loved one departs for the Second World War. Cushioned under a long black wool coat, waving good-by with a white kid- gloved hand.  Distanced from something already lost. Of a civilization having awoken too late. It’s the feeling I have when I recall so many chapters of my life, how they end before you have a chance to close the book on them, leaving so much of your past dangling like cosmic dendrites within a black hole forever in search of a synapse.

I find myself judging young mothers for the selfishness of giving birth.

What gives me this right?

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Within 100 years, huge sections of the Marin shoreline could be underwater, according to the state’s 2013 EPA report Indicators of Climate Change in California

In a nutshell, the IPCC noted that in a civilization already impacted by melting glaciers and rising sea levels, droughts and intense heat waves,and huge migrations of both animals and humans, throughout this century  "climate-change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger."

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In my personal universe, the most powerful phrase here is "throughout this century". It’s powerful because it clearly indicates that climate change can no longer be viewed in the context of fifty years out but rather, 14 years in to the 21st century, this ‘baby’ is already one helluva monster, hell bent on wrecking havoc with our lives after stealing the keys to dad’s car.

Yet, here in Marin County, the impacts of climate change are not yet in focus.  They are almost playful. Like a failed flèche in fencing. Or the menacing gorilla unnoticed as he enters at the bottom of the scene as all eyes are focused on the promise of a prize.

Climate change is why, for example, commuters are being inconvenienced more often than usual when high tides close the main Mill Valley exit off 101. It’s why, as the state experiences one of the worst droughts in recorded history,  many Marin teenagers have yet to unbox their new short white  Hunter rain boots. It’s the reason those Titanium Kevlar Lacroix carbon fiber skis have yet to taste true Tahoe snow. It accounts for frequent sitings of the Tufted Black-crested Titmouse, traditionally native to the eastern states, chowing down on sunflower seeds from Sausalito’s numerous  Lazy Hill Farm Carousel Bird Feeders.

I’m serious.

Just out of curiosity the other day, I stopped by the local Whole Foods Market and scoured the shelves for samples of products that have become vital ingredients in the routine regimes of many health conscious culinary sophisticates. I was curious to determine how climate change is impacting the regions these products come from.  

Things like Cacao and coconut water. Chia and Goji berries. And coffee. Of course, coffee.

Cacao. Peru

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Cacao.  Widely recognized for its health benefits and flavor, Cacao has been a staple in South American cuisine for centuries. It is rich in antioxidants, and magnesium.

"In tropical countries like Peru, health experts are keeping a close eye on climate change. Rising temperatures can change the way diseases behave, while collateral effects — from the retreat of glaciers that provide vital drinking and irrigation water to more frequent, intense storms and flooding — increase the burden on developing economies." Climate Change Impacts Revealed: Disease in Peru. Scientific American.

Coconut Water. Thailand

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Coconut Water."Mother Nature’s sports drink" is gleaned from young green coconuts and is celebrated for containing more potassium than four bananas. It is high in electrolytes, low in sodium and calories and has no fat or cholesterol.  

According to Thrillist, Ranking the  top 7 coconut water brands , many of the most popular brands are produced with coconuts sourced from Thailand.

"The IPCC warns that “the megadeltas of Asia are vulnerable to climate change and sea level rise that could increase the frequency and level of inundation…due to storm surges and floods from river drainage putting communities, biodiversity and infrastructure at risk of being damaged.  This impact could be more pronounced in megacities located in megadeltas where natural ground subsidence is enhanced by human activities, such as in Bangkok.”

Bangkok, Thailand’s capital city and home to over 10 million people, has been sinking 10 centimeters annually.  The land subsidence, coupled with rising sea levels due to climate change, puts the city at risk of disappearing into the sea within 15 or 20 years, according to Smith Dharmasaroja, chair of the Thai government’s Committee of National Disaster Warning Administration.  To counter this threat, disaster prevention experts are now advocating the construction of a 100 billion baht (3 billion USD) flood prevention wall to protect Bangkok.  Initial designs call for a wall 80 kilometers long, and three meters higher than the moderate sea level, to be built 300 meters offshore to allow mangrove forests to serve as a natural barrier against coastal erosion.  The wall’s construction would demonstrate Thailand’s need to adapt to environmental changes that threaten its population and economy" Climate Change in Thailand: Impacts and Adaptation Strategies. The Climate Institute.

Goji Berries. The Himalayas.

High in nutrients and shown in some studies to promote mental clarity and calmness, to improve sleep and physical fitness.

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"The increased incidence of extreme weather events and magnitude of associated natural disasters, believed to be related to climate change, are exacting high economic and social costs. The Himalayan region and the downstream areas that depend on its water supply and ecosystem services, including the Indo-Gangetic plain – ‘the grain basket of South Asia’ – are particularly vulnerable to these changes. "Himalayan Climate Adaptation Plan.

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Chia Seeds. Mexico. The richest plant source of Omega-3s, chia seeds reduce blood pressure, lower blood sugar, and are great for hydration.

Excerpts from IPCC 5, Working Group II. Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Latin America.

Ecosystems: Ecosystems. "It is well established that Latin America accounts for one of the Earth’s largest concentrations of biodiversity, and the impacts of climate change can be expected to increase the risk of biodiversity loss (high confidence)." … "In Mexico, nearly 50% of the deciduous tropical forest would be affected"
Agriculture: "Studies in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and Uruguay—based on GCMs and crop models—project decreased yields for numerous crops (e.g., maize, wheat, barley, grapes) even when the direct effects of CO2 fertilization and implementation of moderate adaptation measures at the farm level are considered (high confidence). Predicted increases in temperature will reduce crops yields in the region by shortening the crop cycle. "
Health: "Increases in temperature would affect human health in polluted cities such as Mexico City and Santiago, Chile."

Arabica Coffee Beans. Central America

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"For two million or more coffee workers and small farmers across Central America, the "hungry season" is beginning. It’s always a thin time before crops ripen, but with this winter’s coffee harvest down 50% or more on normal, for the second year running, hunger, malnutrition and debt are new curses for hundreds of thousands.

"Science is in no doubt that the changing climate is behind the rust and other problems affecting coffee production worldwide – and that things are likely to deteriorate.

"In many cases, the area suitable for [coffee] production would decrease considerably with increases of temperature of only 2-2.5C," according to the recent IPCC report (from The Guardian )

Today I consulted the I Ching about the future of the Planet Earth. I threw the hexagram "Preponderance of the Great." The Joyous, Lake above, the Gentle, Wind, Wood.

The Judgement:

The ridgepole sages to the breaking point.
It furthers one to have somewhere to go.

"It is an exceptional time and situation; therefore extraordinary measures are demanded. It is necessary to find a way of transition as quickly as possible, and to take action. This promises success. For although the strong element is in excess, it is in the middle, that is, at the center of gravity, so that a revolution is not be be feared."

And then, the image:

The lake rises above the trees:
Thus the superior man, when he stands alone,
Is unconcerned,
And if he has to renounce the world,
He is undaunted.

(excerpts above from The I Ching or Book of Changes. The Richard Wilhelm Translation. Princeton University Press. Bellingen Foundation. New York. 1950. (pp 111-112)

I suppose we are all waiting for the superior man. We are all uncertain and perhaps too frightened to look inside lest we do not find the greatness within us to revolt. We lack the tools with which to battle this unprecedented self-inflicted fatal wound.

We are lost warriors who have destroyed our home.

Perhaps the only revolution remaining is to stop now. To turn around.

But then we think "I’ll be alone. Alone and homeless."

I choose not to believe that is true.

At least not today.

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"We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown."
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, T.S. Eliot.

Deborah Phelan

A veteran journalist passionate about climate justice and the rights of the poor, 'developing' countries, and indigenous peoples to an equal share of carbon space, human rights, and self determination and all things authentic.

Tags: climate change, climate change environmental effects