Saturday, August 15, 2009

Build Me an Ark

Oxfam has reported that, in the past twenty years, the incidence of weather-related disasters has quadrupled. If the great consensus of credentialed climatologists is correct (barring the occasional right-wing crank who claims “the jury’s still out” regarding climate change—yeah, out of its mind, and into the pockets of Big Industry), then we’re in for more. Much more.

We are getting a little foretaste here in the northeast. (The polar regions, where none of us pitch our tents and therefore is off our radar, is changing at a far more rapid rate, with frightening levels of icemelt reported.) A little time to build our big boats, the only thing that will help us now. But whither to set sail? Why, let us dock in the deserts of the southwest, there to tie our ropes to the railings of a million abandoned Arizona palais de trop, now sunk ten feet atop the drained aquifer. Let us climb the mainmast to train our spyglasses on the vast browned fields of desiccated golf courses that represent our willful childishness, greenswards that should never have been put here in the first place.

This is the summer that wasn’t. I kept waiting for it to begin, waiting through rainshower after rainshower. Mushrooms sprout in the side yard; the scent of incipient mildew spreads through the house. The boy waits, waits for a day in which the temperature climbs enough past 70 to make swimming, that old summer pastime, a desire. The dog waits, going to the doorstep to peer out through the sheets of silver wet, then giving me a baleful look (You’re not going to push me out into that, are you?) and turning around to take up her supine position on the kitchen rug again. Or else on the couch. Or maybe my bed. Her hair coats the house, in this humidity.

Summer was once the Promised Land, stretching into infinity, three months of heat and various stickinesses (popsicle juice, sweat) to enjoy for what seemed like forever. This season, we have gone to the swimming hole exactly once, and it began raining shortly after we arrived. The dogs and people started streaming back to their cars, but we stayed. We were wearing our rain gear, I mean bathing suits, after all. Last weekend I pitched my small tent, last used years and years ago at a rally in West Virginia in another young life, and shivered through two nights in a cheap sleeping bag that was rated for warm summer nights, while the cold descended from a hard, deep sky occasionally giving up wishes in a flash of shooting star. It had been hard to pull myself away from the bonfire, even though I was tired, and even though I did not really want to see what might happen if the one person overindulging in gulps from a bottle of bourbon lost his balance near the pot of flames that was glowing red from all the wood being heaped on it; by midnight he had attained the general status of gas-soaked rag, which needs only one spark to combust.

In the couple of weeks left of this season—though it seems impossible that another one is in our sights, or on the calendar already, but nature does not lie, and this morning I walked partway up Ticetenyck Mountain on a path gently littered with scarlet sugar maple leaves—I will have to work hard to get my share of summer. Ice cream cones and ferris wheels head the list. I need these to make myself feel, if only for a little while, that we have not lost this all, these pieces of the past that seasonally recur, just yet.


motonomad said...

Melissa, I am disappointed to read your uninformed, myopic, sarcastic comment concerning global warming (or, as your PC liberal brethren now prefer to call it, the less specific, less arguable "climate change").
Is it possible you really believe that only "the occasional right-wing crank" doubts the sky-is-falling hysteria? If so, I suggest you broaden your research and your mind to include the myriad credentialed climatologists and other scientists who persuasively argue an opposing view.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

It is chastening to be called out on what was just one of those pissy moments we all have from time to time. Though now the thought occurs that maybe I am the only one . . . and that's a little more than chastening.

I apologize for the tone. But I can't for the substance.

When you want the rock-bottom truth about anything, just follow the money. Or the munitions. When the U.S. military sits up and takes notice, I think we have cause to consider it seriously:

The military advisory board for this report on climate change and national security is top brass--very well polished at that.

And here is a report on a study commissioned by the Center for Naval Analysis, It notes, "The Army's former chief of staff, Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, who is one of the authors, noted he had been 'a little bit of a skeptic' when the study began meeting . . . . But, after being briefed by top climate scientists . . . Sullivan said he was now convinced that global warming presents a grave challenge to the country's military preparedness."

If you follow the money, you'll find industry dough hiding behind more than a few of the prime naysayers. I personally don't trust the opinions of anyone whose bread is buttered by any profit-making entity, in the same way that I don't necessarily believe that what they say in advertisements is the truth--ads are a codified form of lying. "Well, it said it was the best--and the letters on the billboard were really big!"

The people who prosecuted those who first said the earth is round were those who had a very vested interest in maintaining the status quo; the truth was not the issue at all. Those who vilified Rachel Carson after *Silent Spring* were almost exclusively on the payroll of pesticide manufacturers. And so on, to a million examples.

The thing I find genuinely myopic here is the notion that this issue is political. It's real to "liberals," and a falsehood to "conservatives"? But how can this be? We're just talking about the complex effects caused by 150 years of unrelenting pounding of the earth's atmosphere by fossil fuel burning. That repercussions must necessarily arise from abuse of this magnitude on a finely calibrated system is a matter of plain logic. Not politics. We will all suffer equally. Well, actually not equally: the poor in the poorest nations will suffer more. and more quickly, than any of us who are able to read this, my most long-winded comment ever. Thank you for prompting it.

Jolanta said...

I'm not the blogger here, so I don't need to be polite. At this point, disbelieving that humans are changing the climate is about on a par with disbelieving in DNA, or gravity. And why "climate change" instead of "global warming"? Because the changes are broader than warming alone. Some places get more rainfall, some less; some get more storms, some less; some places may even get colder while the planet as a whole heats up. This isn't the first time I've heard a fingers-in-the-ears type claim that the term "climate change" reflects a weaker position than the term "global warming." It doesn't. It's broader because climate is big and the effects on it aren't the same everywhere all the time.

Tina said...

Liberals hold the companion beliefs that everything that goes wrong is caused by people and all those wrongs can be fixed by people. It's a sin/redemption mode of thinking and very seductive. Conservatives think things can go wrong from causes other than human folly and not all things can be fixed by people. People aren't at the center of this world view, hence the callousness of some conservatives, the apocalyptic religiosity of others. This is why, some might say, the majority of liberals are the comfortable educated middle classes, whose faith is in comfort and education, while conservatives tend to be the very wealthy, whose comfort is in wealth, making allies and good use of the very uneducated.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Once again, Tina, you have the omniscient-eye view on this; perfectly said. Thank you.

While I know this is true, I still harbor a deep feeling that liberals are *right*, while conservatives are ignorant and misguided (and mean).

Then just as quickly I realize that they feel just as deeply they are right.


Or maybe, hallelujah. Because otherwise, we'd all think the same thing, and then we'd have nothing to discuss. And discussion is the beginning of change.

Tina said...

Well I know, how about the night Sarah Palin gave her speech at the Republican Convention? I staggered off to bed--aghast, stunned, etc. As if the prom queens and cheerleaders had risen from the grave of high school and come to take over your town. They're outside RIGHT NOW! All these reactions are so visceral that you have to know more is going on that what you're doing with your brain, same as the loonies at the town hall meetings now. I know you're more interested in motorcycles than politics, so no need to acknowledge this comment--I just like to write them!

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Tina, every time I venture outside of my "liberal cocoon" I am amazed to find out that there are people who apparently inhabit a whole different universe than I do! Yeah, Sarah Palin was a real smack upside the head--what were they thinking???

Actually, I think I know: in more proof of my little belief that we are first & foremost animals with absolutely no conscious control over ourselves (contrary to our fondly held wishes), it's all about the beauty.

She's an evil airhead.

Yes, these days I have indeed resumed a passion for motorcycling. But that's not all I am, or think about (though it seems so at the moment). I still feel a lot of fight in me for what I think is right--which is what I think to be ethical, for humans and other animals, based on (I hope) knowledge of the way things work. So, first I study; then I protest.

Kevin G. said...

I guess that after several readings of "Build Me An Ark", I should now be greatly relieved to find that someone has declared that much of what I had related to, to be an uninformed, myopic viewpoint shared by the few. My problems are A): beyond the disappointment and demeaning, incredulous tones of those who urge people to "do your homework and catch up with the rest of us" there isn't much there. Just vague promises and an implied " Don't panic until we give the order to panic" and B): I don't even look like a lemming.
Who needs to broaden their minds here, those who would choose the path of least resistance or those who would suggest that "discussion is the beginning of change"?

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

What you said, Kevin. What you said.

Because I am actually going to refrain from writing on the health-care debate (it's been amply covered by those who know more; plus I feel awful when people jump down my throat), I'll say only this. Disinformation amazes me. In this case, it takes facts on something that could be a great benefit especially to one sector of society (here, the working and middle class) and twists them so that those people turn against their own interests. I read a letter in the paper last night from an elderly lady railing against what Obama wants to "take away" from old people--HUH? Every one of her "facts" was dead wrong, and in fact the opposite, of the proposed change.

Let me steal this from a wise (and funny) friend of mine, who posted on Facebook: "I wonder how many people sitting in Dallas's $1.15 billion [publicly funded] stadium think we shouldn't spend public money on healthcare? My guess is a lot." And he is, depressingly and no doubt, right.