Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Time to Act

In a new op-ed in the New York Times on June 21, Hank Paulson says he's seeing the same systemic stresses that nearly brought down the banking system, and which led to the Great Recession, are playing out in the global climate. He makes a call for action on all fronts in order to avoid the catastrophic consequences of emitting more carbon. To quote his op-ed: "We’re staring down a climate bubble that poses enormous risks to both our environment and economy. The warning signs are clear and growing more urgent as the risks go unchecked." He cites the Risky Business report, a bipartisan project backed by three former US Treasury secretaries, that sets out estimates of the potential costs of problems such as flooding caused by rising temperatures and higher sea levels.

"That means the decisions we’re making today — to continue along a path that’s almost entirely carbon-dependent — are locking us in for long-term consequences that we will not be able to change but only adapt to, at enormous cost. To protect New York City from rising seas and storm surges is expected to cost at least $20 billion initially, and eventually far more. And that’s just one coastal city."

Its aim is to move the debate in the US, which has become characterised by partisan divisions, into a more practical assessment by business and political leaders of how to manage the risks posed by climate change. The study looks only at the US, and only at potential costs, rather than possible solutions.The project is chaired by Hank Paulson, who was Treasury secretary under President George W Bush; Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York; and Tom Steyer, the former hedge fund manager turned environmental campaigner.

Mr Paulson, who was chairman and chief executive of Goldman Sachs, the investment bank, between 1999 and 2006, and then led the US administration’s response to the financial turmoil of 2008, drew a parallel between climate change and the “failure of risk management” that led to the crisis. “We are experiencing a climate bubble,” he said. “In the run-up to the financial crisis, we incentivised lending. Today we are encouraging the overuse of fossil fuels.”

A June 8 article discussing this in the Financial Times also reveals that the analysis, based on work by Rhodium, a consultancy, and academics at Rutgers and Berkeley universities, attempts to calculate financial values for climate risks including flooding and storm damage, heat-related deaths, working hours and energy demand, broken down by state and locality. Because of the large uncertainties involved in predicting both how far temperatures will increase and what the effects of those higher temperatures will be, the estimates of potential damage come in wide ranges.What turns up in many of these estimates is that the greatest potential costs come from flooding in Florida and Louisiana and heat-related deaths in California, Arizona, Texas and Florida.

Back in 2012, tracking the hottest year on the planet at that time, the Daily Kos outlined the destructive path of climate change and raised the alarm that the US is ground zero for climate change in the southern part of the country. This is due to the carbon emissions that are forcing temperatures into extremes not seen before, and we are rapidly burning into the remaining "safe" budget of total carbon emissions:

"What most U.S. politicians and the the political junkies here don't understand is that the U.S. is ground zero for climate change. Most of the additional heat from global warming is going into the oceans and the north Atlantic is taking up the most heat of all the world's oceans. That heat is moving the big high pressure north and east towards Europe. That shift of the high pressure dries out the western and central U.S. Our bread baskets heat up and dry up."

California Senator Dianne Feinstein has expressed her awareness of this issue in her public missive earlier this month in "A Time to Act", emphasizing that legislation must be set into place immediately to address the dangers ahead of us.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Art of It

The reverberant song of the natural world is rising through the arts and music now; it's becoming overwhelming. A story that stands out among many is that of Zaria Forman, who paints with her fingers in pastels. Her work often has underlying environmental themes. For example, the piece above was part of her Maldives series where she wanted to promote awareness of the Arctic polar melt that’s causing rising seas. This comes via the story of her mother:

My mother, renowned artist Rena Bass Forman, dedicated her life to photographing the most remote regions of the earth and was inspired by Bradford’s journey. The cold and isolated landscape of the Arctic consumed her interest for the past ten years. She created her own series of journey’s entitled Chasing the Light and the Greenlandic expedition is the third in the trilogy. Her work from her Arctic trips have been compared to 19th century photographers John L. Dunmore and George Critcherson who were on Bradford’s expedition.

It's called "Chasing the Light". She is currently leading a historically contextual art expedition in the Arctic in honor of her mother who passed away in 2011:

Continuing the story of polar melt, which is the main cause of rising seas, I followed the meltwater from the Arctic to the equator. I spent September 2013 in the Maldives, the lowest and flattest country in the world, collecting material and inspiration to create a body of work celebrating and representing a nation that could be entirely underwater within this century. Two award-winning artists who participated in the Greenland expedition Chasing The Light joined me in this venture: Painter Lisa Lebofsky, and director, filmmaker, and actress Drew Denny.

During our month on the islands, we shared the concept of our project with children on the islands, inviting them to document their homeland as it transforms throughout their lives. The children can use their creativity to continue spreading awareness while inwardly processing the ecological transformations surrounding them.

I hope my drawings will raise awareness and invite viewers to share the urgency of the Maldivians’ predicament in a productive and hopeful way.  I believe art can facilitate a deeper understanding of crises, helping us find meaning and optimism amidst shifting landscapes.

Another artist, Daniel Crawford, came up with a completely different approach. He’s using his cello to communicate the latest climate science through music. Crawford used an approach called data sonification to convert global temperature records into a series of musical notes. The final result, “A Song of Our Warming Planet,” came about following a conversation Crawford had with geography professor Scott St. George during an internship. St. George asked Crawford about the possibility of turning a set of data into music, and this is the result.

In an urgently collaborative effort in the first few months of 2014, over 120 musicians and poets participated in The Climate Message; creating and submitting short video clips that combined moments of astonishing beauty with calls to action on climate change.

Google Doodle asked kids, grades K-12, to draw an invention that would make the world a better place for their 7th annual Doodle 4 Google competition. The winner, Audrey Zhang, invented a transformative water purifier. It takes in dirty and polluted water from rivers, lakes, and even oceans, then massively cleanses the water into clean, safe and sanitary water, when humans and animals drink this water, they will live a healthier life. Tragically, we see here a child frantically trying to save her own world.

These have become the voices of the New Environmentalists who are engaging hearts as well as minds, with the courage to challenge the status quo and go forward with beauty and light in these dark times.

Update:  On June 22: Bearing Witness To The Climate Crisis — Welcome To Our Festival Of Song And Sound!