Tag Archive for Global Warming

Peak Water

Rehoboth Beach, DE photo by Lucinda Marshall

Rehoboth Beach, DE
photo by Lucinda Marshall

On a recent trip to the Delaware shore, I was struck by the jarring notion that in the not so distant future,  the sandy beach where I was walking would be reclaimed by the ocean.  Although the weather was chilly, I took off my shoes–I needed to feel the cold, wet sand beneath my feet.  Each step became a possible goodbye.

Our relationship with water is changing drastically.  For years we have read about terrible droughts in Africa, floods in Bangladesh, melting glaciers in the arctic and about how our waterways are becoming polluted. Events where water–too much of it, too little of it, and the compromising of its pristine health occur are becoming more and more common:

  • The historic drought in California may well spread throughout the entire Southwest.
  • To make matters worse, the Colorado River is drying up at an alarming rate.
  • And of course it isn’t just the American West that is in trouble. Nadia Prupis reports that, unless water use is drastically minimized…widespread drought will affect between 30 and 40 percent of the planet by 2020, and another two decades after that will see a severe water shortage that would affect the entire planet.”
  • War can severely impact access to safe water as the Iraqis know all too well and as we are seeing now in the Ukraine and in Gaza.
  • As can corporate greed, as we are learning in Detroit.
  • Acidification is killing fish.
  • Throughout the U.S. water service is frequently disrupted by pipe breaks in our aging infrastructure.
  • Energy companies pollute our water at will with little real culpability. Think Elk River, think the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and fracking.
  • And now we are seeing how allowing the over-fertilization of lawns can contribute to poisoning water supplies such as Lake Erie, recently leaving the entire city of Toledo, OH without potable water.
  • We have littered the oceans with literally islands of trash.
  • Intersex fish are being found in our waterways, likely the result of endocrine/hormonal disruption due to herbicides, fertilizers and pharmaceuticals that have made their way into our rivers.
  • And of course the ongoing disaster that is Fukushima.

That, unfortunately is only the prelude of what is to come. It should be all too clear that we need to immediately change the way we think about this precious resource and take immediate action to protect and conserve water, and practice realistic land use policy in areas where there is drought and along our coasts where impending inundation is a given.

But with the gridlock and sellout of our body politic, that is unlikely to happen.  And if it doesn’t, the taps will run dry, our homes will be underwater and there will be inadequate potable water. A grim (and unsurvivable) future indeed.

Many years ago, I had the privilege of attending a water blessing along the banks of the Ohio River conducted by a group called the
International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers
,

The truth is our Mother Waters is dying and we are dying with her. However, in this gloomy situation is indeed a message of hope. For our Mother Water shows us that she is dirty because something is wrong with our humanity. She has, and always has, become a mirror to our souls. The simple act of blessing the rivers in fact makes a beautiful re-connection back with all that is life. You do not abuse something you have created a respectful relationship with.

We pray that our Mother Waters in all her forms celestial and physical continues to nurture and guide us. May she continue to run clean so that we and all life can be sustained. We ask for blessings for and from Mother Ganga River, Mother Osun River, Mother Mekong River, the Jordon River, the sacred Catawba River and the many more. We pray that there is healthy clean water for the next seven generations.

We would do well to heed their wisdom.

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Finding Strength In The Extraordinary Ordinary

For more than ten years now, I have devoted the overwhelming majority of my work as a writer and activist to shining a light on the many heinous guises of misogyny, especially on the impact violence has on women’s lives, and also on efforts to stop that violence and to empower women. Now and again I have also tackled other topics, including environmental issues such as global warming and climate change because as we confront environmental disaster after environmental disaster at a rapidly snowballing speed, the need to address these issues as an integral part of my work feels urgently compelling, yet words more often than not painfully fail me.

What precisely can one say about ocean acidification, leaking methane from the thawing Arctic, seas that are rising faster than expected, the loss of ice in Greenland and Antarctica, (and those are just stories that have crossed my digital desk in the last week alone)?  And how precisely can one say what should be said about these overwhelming climactic disasters in a way that accurately portrays the proper measures of terror, and the tears that should be streaming down our faces as we see the result of our misguided dominion while offering  hope or perhaps vision?  On most days, I neither know or begin to feel adequate to that task.

Not being one to suffer writer’s block or despairing inertia quietly, I have floundered about trying to find inspiration and strength, a grounded path towards coherent expression.  I have buried myself in the words of Terry Tempest Williams and tackled a lengthy biography of Rachel Carson. I cheer Sandra Steingraber’s call to action about fracking and Bill McKibben’s relentless tar sands pushback and the solar-powered Thanksgiving in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

And mostly I have walked away from the computer and staggered out into the natural world, needing to take in huge gulps of (I hesitate to say fresh) air.  I have sat beside the Atlantic Ocean and watched the tides roll in and out, seagulls standing watch at the water’s edge.  I’ve walked along the Potomac, visited pueblos and mountains and craters in the Arizona desert and high country. And some days, I simply walk the streets of my suburban neighborhood.

The community in which I live is perhaps the embodiment of a sub-urban design train wreck–houses crammed in every available space, open spaces in the wrong places, dysfunctional streets where people live isolated lives.  But even in this embodiment of Malvina Reynolds’ little boxes on the hillside “all made out of ticky tacky, and they all look just the same”, I have looked up at the trees, and found wonder and love and grounded strength in these branches of heart filling beauty.

And where words come sometimes only haltingly, I have taken to letting my camera portray the extraordinary that we all too often fail to see, let alone honor in the ordinary of our days.

The words will continue, we must talk about what has been, what is and what will be.  But we must also see the tree branches above, and feel the breezes from the sea, the hot desert sun and the path below our feet.

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Will We Drown In Denial Or Face The Sea Change of Climate Reality

Of all the searing images in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the one that I find most disturbing is this picture of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier which remained throughout the storm at great personal danger. That we must honor our military dead even at the risk of completely unnecessary loss of life speaks volumes about our priorities in this country.

I rarely watch cable news, but I found myself obsessively switching between a local news channel, CNN and The Weather Channel for much of the storm.  There was much valuable and urgent information shared although much of it looked like a contest between reporters to see who could report while standing in the deepest water and stay standing (and I absolutely need to say that throughout the storm, I consistently found critical information being disseminated on Twitter well before I saw it on television). But not once did I hear any mention of the many nuclear power plants in the storm’s path, or a discussion of what to do if your house is flooded with toxic waste or the lack of plans to protect oil and gas facilities. No analysis of what climate change denial and inaction has cost us.

Nor was there mention of the fact that we’ve known that storms like this have been an event waiting to happen.  Instead, as I pointed out a few days ago, we have continued to beat the drum in the fight against “terrorism”, pouring billions of dollars into destroying other countries, killing innocent civilians and creating conditions in which terrorism ferments and while we’re at it doing an ace job of brainwashing ourselves into being perpetually paranoid and terrified while at the same time allowing the infrastructure of our own country to go to hell.

As Chris Mooney pointed out in Grist, NASA warned about an event like Sandy in 2006:

Scientists at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York have been studying that city’s vulnerability to hurricane impacts in a changing world, and calculated that with 1.5 feet of sea level rise, a worst-case-scenario Category 3 hurricane could submerge “the Rockaways, Coney Island, much of southern Brooklyn and Queens, portions of Long Island City, Astoria, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens, lower Manhattan, and eastern Staten Island from Great Kills Harbor north to the Verrazano Bridge.

And of course, that wasn’t the only warning.  WE KNEW IT COULD HAPPEN.  And we did nothing.  As a result we are now contending with this:

Consider what Kathy Waters, American Public Transportation Association vice president for member services had to say about the New York subway system,

The New York system, although there are some components that have been upgraded over the years, has a lot of antique components where the vendor has been out of business for 50 years. (emphasis mine)

And then there is this from NRDC’s Amy Mall:

Under the Clean Water Act, there is something called the Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) rule which includes requirements for oil spill prevention, preparedness, and response to prevent oil discharges to navigable waters and adjoining shorelines…Sounds like a no-brainer. But in Fiscal Year 2011, EPA officials visited 120 sites oil and gas development sites and found 105 were out of compliance– 87.5%…Almost every single oil and gas site inspected lacked a mandatory spill prevention plan meant to protect our rivers and streams. (emphasis mine)
 

Internet, cable and phone services were also significantly disrupted and yet two days later with thousands of people still without access, I heard a report of a FEMA official telling people to file claims on the internet.  And he expects people who are stranded in flooded buildings to do that how?

And,

Raw sewage, industrial chemicals and floating debris filled flooded waterways around New York City on Tuesday

…The best officials could do was urge residents to steer clear of the contaminated waters.

Incidentally, they sent that warning out by email.  To people who obviously were going to have trouble accessing their email.

The storm also precipitated numerous problems at various nuclear power plants, all of which are aging quickly past the lifespans they were designed for and some of which are the same design as the Fukushima facility in Japan,

Storm-related complications were blamed this week for forcing three nuclear reactors offline – Nine Mile Point Unit 1 northwest of Syracuse, N.Y., Indian Point Unit 3 about 25 miles north of New York City and the Salem plant’s Unit 1 on the Delaware River in New Jersey.

Meanwhile, rising waters along the Barnegat Bay prompted officials to declare an “alert,” the second-lowest in a four-tiered warning system, at Oyster Creek in New Jersey…

…NRC officials reported that other plants continued operating but reduced their electrical output as a precaution, including the Millstone plant’s Unit 3 reactor in Waterford, Conn., Vermont Yankee south of Brattleboro, Vt., and both reactors at the Limerick nuclear plant about 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia. The storm also appeared to knock out emergency sirens used to notify residents who live near the Oyster Creek and Peach Bottom plants in Pennsylvania, according to NRC reports. (emphasis mine)

These are the kinds of issues we need to confront if we are to stand a prayer of survival.  They aren’t theoretical or in the future.  They are real and they are right now.  We need to see this as literally the moment for a sea-change in attitude.  It is not acceptable for the media to continue to ignore climate change,

Last year at least 7,140 journalists and opinion writers published some 19,000 stories on climate change, compared to more than 11,100 reporters who filed 32,400 stories in 2009, according to DailyClimate.org…

…Particularly noticeable was the silence from the nation’s editorial boards: In 2009, newspapers published 1,229 editorials on the topic. Last year, they published less than 580 – half as many, according to DailyClimate.org’s archives.

And it is not acceptable for our politicians to continue to chest thump  the drums of war while maintaining a deafening silence on climate change. Protecting symbols of military prowess while our cities drown isn’t honorable, it is an act of national suicide.

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