Year 4, Month 5, Day 23: There Is A Fountain

The Moose Jaw Times-Herald talks about a visitor to their neighborhood:

“You’re probably sitting here thinking to yourselves, ‘Why us? This is so unfair. This damned thing is going to dominate my life.’ … Get over it.”

That was the tough sentiment veteran freelance journalist and historian Gwynne Dyer brought to dozens of Vanier Collegiate students when he visited the school Thursday to talk about the looming threat of global warming — a topic that he has become familiar with after years of interviews, research, and writing about the topic.

Dyer, who has built an extensive career out of freelancing as a reporter on international affairs and writing about war, geopolitics and climate change over the past several decades, told the story of his investigations into global warming and the measures that governments across the globe are taking to counteract the grim potential outcomes of runaway warming.

“Runaway warming is what will take you right up to five or six degrees higher average global temperature. You hit runaway warming and you lose control when you hit about two degrees higher,” he said. “We know what the planet looked like when it was about six degrees warmer, because there has been times in the past when it was. The last time was about 50 million years ago.”

But, Dyer said, the issue now is one that is man-made, and the result of reintroducing carbon dioxide that has been trapped in the form of fossil fuels into the “closed system” that the Earth has to deal with it, creating a surplus of the greenhouse gas that traps heat.

I won’t call this one of my best, but it’s got a useful point that I’m going to try and develop in other letters. May 10:

The entire span of recorded human history has taken place in a brief interlude of relatively benign planetary climate; in fact, it’s probably accurate to say that the moderate conditions of the past twelve thousand years are what has made human civilization possible, historical records and all. Now, however, the gravest crisis humanity has ever faced is threatening not just our infrastructure and our agriculture, but our entire conception of what it means to be human. The proud history of our species has been painted on the canvas provided by a stable and predictable climate; to unthinkingly tear that canvas asunder with our escalating emissions of greenhouse gases is to replace “history” as we’ve known it with a grim tale of decline: the saddest story ever told.

There is no more time to waste. Only by acting quickly, collectively, and intelligently may we instead make our history one of triumph and humility: the greatest story ever known.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 12, Day 16: Dreamers.

USA Today runs an AP article on the world’s hopes that America will DO SOMETHING instead of making it impossible for everyone else to DO ANYTHING:

Even as international climate talks ended this weekend with no new commitments on carbon emissions or climate aid from the United States, some were relieved America didn’t make a weak deal even weaker.

Other countries are now watching to see if the Obama administration will back up post-election comments about climate change with renewed efforts to cut emissions at home and pave the way for more ambitious targets as work proceeds to adopt a new global climate pact in 2015.

The two-week talks in Doha ended with an extension of the Kyoto Protocol, which was to expire this year, but which now will only cover 15% of global emissions since several developed countries, including Japan and Canada, have opted out. The U.S. never ratified the accord.

European Union Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said Sunday that the U.S. negotiators were “careful not to block” the negotiations, adding that it’s “still difficult to know whether they will actually invest political capital in committing to a new international deal.”

In an emailed comment to the Associated Press, Hedegaard said she hopes Obama “will present not only an enhanced domestic climate policy but also an enhanced U.S. engagement and willingness to commit more in an international climate context.”

Yup. Good luck with that. Sent December 10:

Every president leaves a record of promises kept and broken, of hopes fulfilled or dashed, of ideologies upheld or disproven, and Barack Obama is no exception. The coming years will allow him to shape the future of our country — and our planet — in ways that earlier chief executives could not even imagine. The choices he makes on the issue of global climate change will not only shape his own legacy, but determine whether the slow evolution of our American republic can continue towards an ever more perfect union.

Failure to address the climate crisis condemns future generations to life on a deeply hostile Earth in which simple survival will be a daily struggle — a bleak existence in which our descendants won’t have any time to recall the greatness of past Presidents. It’s not just President Obama’s legacy that’s on the line, but the future of our civilization.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 6, Day 9: Great God a’Mighty, That’s Moose Turd Pie!

More on the Harappans, this time from the Calcutta Telegraph:

“The link between a weakening monsoon and the fate of the Harappan civilisation should now be considered as settled,” said Ronojoy Adhikari, a physicist with the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai, a research team member.

“We can now almost rule out every other hypothesis that has ever been proposed for the decline of urbanism in the Harappan heartland,” said Adhikari, who used statistical tools to analyse changing urban patterns in the region from 7000 BC to 500 BC.

Adhikari and his colleagues from Pakistan, Romania, the UK, and the US combined evidence from archaeology, geology, and satellite photos to develop a chronology of landscape changes in the region spanning nearly 10,000 years.

Their analysis shows that the emergence of settlements coincided with a steady weakening of the monsoon that began about 5,000 years ago. The Harappans took advantage of a window in time during which a weakening monsoon encouraged settlements.

“It was a kind of a Goldilocks civilisation,” said Liviu Giosan, a geologist and principal of the study at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the US. “During periods of heavy rains, the floods were too wild for people to settle near rivers, it was too dangerous.”

As the monsoon rains weakened, a gradual decrease in the intensity of floods stimulated the intensive agriculture and encouraged urbanisation about 4,500 years ago. But the continued decline in monsoon rainfall began to drive people to wetter regions upstream and eastward.

“As rivers became increasingly drier, going east became an escape route,” Giosan told The Telegraph. The archaeological record shows that settlements shifted eastward, but the region did not support crop surpluses that the Harappans had enjoyed in their river valleys.

“They forgot their (Harappan) script, and concentrated on survival,” Giosan said.

Archaeologists believe it might have been during these times of decline that the Harappan civilisation developed one of its great legacies — the double-cropping system with kharif and rabi crop rotations that survives in the subcontinent even today.

Generic…but good! Sent May 30:

While differences outweigh similarities in any comparison of our own industrialised civilisation with that of the ancient Harappans, there is much to be learned from the emerging story of a vibrant urban culture that met its doom in the forces of environmental transformation.

The climate crisis that now threatens us is of our own creation; our rapid and unthinking consumption of fossil fuels has unleashed an essentially instantaneous shift away from the relative climatic calm of the past ten or twelve thousand years, to a new state of increasing extremity, violence and irregularity. One wonders if the Harappan citizens (like so many of us modern humans) assumed that the forces of nature are inherently benign? Did they avoid thinking about their vanishing monsoons until it was too late for their cities to survive?

Will future archeologists similarly speculate on our culture’s fate in the aftermath of a runaway greenhouse effect?

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 6, Day 8: The Indus Near!

The more things change…

The slow eastward migration of monsoons across the Asian continent initially supported the formation of the Harappan civilization in the Indus valley by allowing production of large agricultural surpluses, then decimated the civilization as water supplies for farming dried up, researchers reported Monday. The results provide the first good explanation for why the Indus valley flourished for two millennia, sprouting large cities and an empire the size of contemporary Egypt and Mesopotamia combined, then dwindled away to small villages and isolated farms.

The Harappan civilization, named after its largest city, Harappa along the upper Indus River, evolved beginning about 5,200 years ago and reached its height between 4,500 and 3,900 years ago, stretching across what is now Pakistan, northwest India and Eastern Afghanistan. An urban society with large cities, a distinctive style of writing and extensive trade that reached as far as Mesopotamia, the society accounted for about 10% of the Earth’s population at its height and rivaled Egypt in its power. Unlike Egypt and Mesopotamia, however, the Harappans did not attempt to develop irrigation to support agriculture. Instead, they relied on the annual monsoons, which allowed the accumulation of large agricultural surpluses — which, in turn, allowed the creation of cities. The civilization was largely forgotten by history until the 1920s, when researchers finally began studying it in depth.

OK, it’s a bit of a stretch, but it felt good to write this. Sent May 29:

The ancient Harappans had it good for a long time. The annual monsoons provided ample water for their crops, ensuring food enough to sustain their civilization for well over a millennium. What did the Harappan people think when the seasonal rains began to get irregular? Were priests lavishly paid to perform elaborate incantations in the hopes of restoring the no-longer-idyllic climate? Did traveling storytellers tell their listeners that everything would be just fine, that the monsoons had always been undependable? Was there a bitterly polarized political standoff between those who recognized that things were changing and those who steadfastly refused to accept the facts?

Of course, their culture was regional, not global — and their demise was not self-triggered through profligate consumption of fossil fuels. But future anthropologists will surely puzzle over industrial civilization’s apathetic and uncomprehending response to global climate change. Are we all Harappans today?

Warren Senders