Say After Me: Global, Local, Global, Local

posted in: Environment | 0

We’ve just turned our clocks back. I never can remember which we acquire with each spring/fall maneuver–more or less light, morning or evening. But waking in the dark as I usually do, winter or summer, I send filaments of light far and wee, to borrow a phrase from one of America’s most wonder-filled poets, e.e.cummings.

As I lie in the dark of morning, polar bears enter frigid Artic waters with fewer and fewer ice floes to rest on; displaced Somali herdsmen wander south, their herds having died of thirst and lack of food. Bangkok and the east coast of the U.S. are pummeled with various forms of wet–typhoons, hurricane, snowfall. Texas experiences drought and high temperatures greater than ever recorded.

This sends me looping back to the “little Ice Age” which has been identified by all kinds of measures to have occurred off and on from 1315 to the end of the 19th century. Rivers in England and the Netherlands, not to mention New York Harbor and the Baltic Sea froze during this period. Crops failed from cold and wet, with great famines being recorded in 1315-17. Colonies in Greenland starved and were abandoned. Ice persisted on Lake Superior until June. And the great violin maker Stradivari created his world-reknown violins out of wood made denser by the shorter growing seasons. Finally, two crashes in world population occurred first in Europe during the Black Death and then in the Americas following European contact and the scourges of measles, smallpox, and other infectious diseases against which Native Americans had no immunity. With the drop in agriculture, more trees grew back. As we should know by now, reforestation soaks up warming gases, cooling the atmosphere.

According to weather scientists, we should be in the middle of a 4000 year cooling period, but instead because of the accumulation of greenhouse gases–created by human burning of fossil fuels–we are experiencing global warming. A few days ago, this up-tic in greenhouse gas was measured as much higher than predicted. We may have passed that point of no quick return identified by climate expert James Hansen. According to Hansen (see his book Storms of My Grandchildren) the largest culprit in the greenhouse production which the US can control is coal. His “Declaration of Stewardship” urges a moratorium on coal burning because much of the world’s oil and gas comes from other countries whose politics cannot be controlled. Whereas, the US has large deposits of coal still to be retrieved and burned. He opposes a cap and trade format and urges a carbon tax on oil, gas, coal with 100% dividend (meaning, I think, that the tax would be 100% returned to the users).

As I ready my trees and perennials for this very dry onset of our harshest Minnesota season–the BIG W!–I rake and carry all the leaves from my silver maples (one of the most hardy native trees) and my boulevard ash (unfortunately targeted by the ash borer, though I’ve had my tree treated twice). I mound these leaves around the base of trees including evergreens, shrubs, perennials. And of course I have watered them all very well before doing so. We live in an urban heat island. The state is planning to position devices through the Twin Cities to test just how much warmer, and yes drier, we are. I personally find drought much more problematic than wet. Seems to me I read that we have not had a full complement of 20-22 inches of rain for around 5 years. Yes we have a large river that runs through us. We have many lakes. And our huge snowfall last year and wet spring may well have replenished our underground acquifers. But I still count on my trees to cool my house, to “eat” greenhouse gas, and spread that life-giving oxygen around the neighborhood.

Remember, my dear friends and neighbors, far and wee, trees are our best hope against global warming, especially in this neanderthal political period when our politicos are butting heads and refusing to take what seem the most obvious steps toward protecting our life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, which increasingly means taking major steps to control our contribution (huge!) to global warming.

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