All posts by riceemi

Facing the Facts

This week’s reading, “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene,” was an interesting scientific contrast to the more humanities-focused discussions we’ve had so far in class. Personally, as a first-year climate science major, I was particularly interested because I was able to apply concepts I’ve learned throughout the term in my Intro to Climate Science course. Having an understanding of radiative forcings of greenhouse gases, climate feedbacks, glacial-interglacial cycles, and climate stability helped me appreciate the paper at a deeper level, and it was exciting to be able to apply these concepts I’ve been studying. 

While the questions raised in the paper and the tentative conclusions drawn did not paint a hopeful picture for our future, I appreciated the solution of stewardship towards our planet that the authors proposed. My interpretation of the issue is that in order to keep the planet within stable interglacial conditions, it is necessary for humans to take action not only to reduce carbon emissions but also to contribute to negative feedback loops (loops that will dampen the effects of warming), for example, increasing the atmospheric carbon sink of photosynthesis by protecting tropical rainforests. To avoid crossing a threshold after which it would no longer be possible to stabilize the climate, the authors suggested we must take “deliberate and sustained action to become an integral, adaptive part of Earth System dynamics, creating feedbacks that keep the system on a Stabilized Earth pathway.” Whether or not we know exactly what it would look like, this implies a total upheaval of human life as we know it. 

To put it simply, there is no single end-all solution to stabilizing the climate, rather, our only hope involves tackling the issue from several angles and making drastic, large-scale changes to the structure of our global society. This theme is consistent with what I’ve learned in my climate science class as well as what we’ve discussed in previous meetings in Dawn of the Anthropocene. Our only hope is a complete restructuring of society and human life as we know it. 

To act towards this goal takes “radical hope”, an ability to overcome the many forms denial can take while not giving in to hopelessness; a simultaneous acceptance of harsh reality and belief in the potential for change. I believe that for the human race, as a whole, to overcome its denial and find this kind of hope is what the issue of the Anthropocene boils down to.

Fact or Fiction?

This week’s reading, The Tamarisk Hunter by Paulo Bacigalupi, was an interesting change of pace the more academic readings we’ve mostly been exploring. It offered a descriptive, artistic perspective into what a post-global warming world might look like, in many ways more real than what any scholarly article could offer. As Bill McKibben says in his introduction to the collection of stories, “With climate change we face the biggest single thing human beings have ever done, so big as to be almost invisible… Since global warming seems, almost by definition, hard to imagine… it gets short shrift.” Artists, he says, by giving us a vivid image of what we find difficult to imagine, help take the reality of climate change from abstract to real. Furthermore, by painting hopeful pictures, they give us the courage to face what we might otherwise hide from. This is the first step towards change. 

The Tamarisk Hunter is about a man who destroys tamarisk trees (which suck water out of the Colorado River) for a small daily wage and a water bounty. In the time it is set, California has bought out the water rights for the Colorado River, leaving the rest of the country in a severe drought. At the end of the story, the water bounty program is cut by the government and he is forced to move north in search of a richer watershed.

This story is striking because it is not an unrealistic prediction of the future. I think this kind of writing is important because it opens our eyes to a different kind of reality than science can offer, and hopefully will help snap us out of our denial and into action. If we don’t respond to facts, we just might respond to fiction.

Escape from Ourselves

This week’s readings offered some interesting perspectives on something we don’t often stop to think about: the sense of sound. As Krause put it, we are so visually oriented that we often use visual language to describe the qualities of sound (like when we call a piece of music dark or bright). Our sense of hearing is something we rely on daily but rarely do we stop to appreciate it for the pleasure it brings us, or the serious affect it has on our mood. 

I was intrigued by this idea and the idea of “soundscapes”. The readings made me think about the times in my life I have felt the most relaxed and at peace, and how almost always, I was surrounded by the sounds of nature. Industrial clamor and traffic noise provides a constant backdrop for my daily life, drowning out the once familiar and comforting sounds of birdsong, wind in the trees, insects chirping. As I write this essay, my sense of hearing is bombarded with car engines starting, distant construction projects, lawnmowers, and underlying it all, the low, constant hum of human activity. Over time, I’ve learned to block these sounds out, but until only until I escape into the mountains and am reminded of the freedom and relief that comes with the absence of this cacophony. Or perhaps more accurately, the presence of the quieter sounds that exist underneath it. 

Maybe these sounds of the Anthropocene are a result of the human notion that we are separate from nature, that we should “claim dominion” over nature. But within each of us, there exists a craving to escape the dominion we have created and return to the connection from which we came. How can we reconcile these two worlds?

ephemeral

The article Re-Engineering the Earth by Graeme Wood outlined several different options considered by scientists for “geoengineering” or artificially altering the earth’s climate system in an attempt to mitigate global warming. These solutions ranged from pumping sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere to planting genetically engineered forests to blocking sunlight by launching ceramic disks into the sky. Wood then gave her take on these options, describing their dangerous ramifications and the sad potential that they might someday become a realistic last resort, or worse, that wealthy individuals might take matters into their own hands without considering the repercussions. The article, in my opinion, was powerfully written and did a good job summarizing the topic of geoengineering. It left me with a stark awareness of the reality that what seems like science fiction now might not be for much longer.

For me, this awareness was more scary than hopeful. My personal take is that the only realistic solution to global warming is to reduce carbon emissions. Most of the options presented in the article seemed like an attempt to band-aid the issue. This tendance to ignore the root of problems and think they can be solved with superficial means is something that our culture has done too well throughout history, and one would think that we would have learned our lesson by now. Will the pros outweigh the cons? Is acid rain, species devastation, and “radical shifts in the global climate” a fair price to pay for some temporary cooling? To quote Pierrehumbert, “‘it’s like taking aspirin for cancer.’” The warming would still be there, only delayed until we could no longer pump sulfur dioxide fast enough to keep up. 

Furthermore, even if we do further research into solutions like this one, I think it’s unlikely that we will ever come to a thorough enough understanding of our climate system to predict all of their potential repercussions. We are talking about artificially altering a system that is in a delicate balance, a balance which happens to give us just the right conditions to support life. In thinking that we can alter this system for our own benefit with a simple, cheap fix, we take for granted the delicacy of this balance, the ephemeral nature of the universe, and the extreme luck that allows us to exist in the first place. It’s time we took a step back, found a little humility, and considered that maybe the only way out of this mess is to look at what got us here in the first place. 

a global issue

Sustainability, from the series Lexicon for an Anthropocene Yet Unseen By María García Maldonado, Rosario García Meza, and Emily Yates-Doerr, the main point that I took away was that sustainability is a western concept developed by the people most responsible for climate change. The example the article gives of Marta shows that we push this concept on communities that have known and practiced it more effectively than us for generations. 

To truly tackle the issue of sustainability, I think it’s important that we look beyond western concepts and to “the various strategies of world-making that, for example, Indigenous and Latin American peoples have cultivated for generations.” After all, global warming is a global issue–although we may not be able to place the blame for its cause evenly on all humans, it is now an issue that is affecting all humans–and that means it requires global solutions. It requires nations and communities working together and striving for common understanding across language barriers. Simply pushing our western idea of sustainability on communities around the world is not going to solve anything, it will only do more harm.

Besides, the United States has the second-highest greenhouse gas emissions in the world, so we have no ground to stand on when it comes to defining “sustainability”. We should clean up our own mess before claiming to have a solution that can be applied around the world.

The climate crisis: adaptation or mitigation?

In the essay “Radical Hope for Living Well in a Warmer World,” Allen Thompson discusses the impacts that the inevitable warming of our planet will have on our culture. He claims that consumerism is not likely to survive as our culture changes in response to our changing environment. Furthermore, he considers how future generations will have to develop “new environmental virtues suited to a new world environment” (Thompson 2). 

Much of the essay seems to be based on the assumption that there is little we can do now to mitigate the crisis of climate change, rather, we should shift our focus to the issue of adaptation. In the last chapter, “Technology and the Ghost Dance”, Thompson argues that it’s too late to reasonably place hope in developing a technological solution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He discusses different forms of alternative energy and their feasibility in producing the amount of sustainable energy we need globally. He claims that although the sun continuously delivers far more energy than we could ever use, it’s unreasonable to think that we could come up with the technology to harness that energy within a short enough time frame to mitigate the climate crisis. 

However, I disagree with Thompson’s sentiment that finding a technological solution to the climate crisis, specifically in the form of alternative energy, is just a pipe dream, or as Thompson put it a “ghost dance”. If the sun continuously delivers eight hundred terawatts of energy to the earth, and it’s just a matter of harnessing thirty of those, then to me the obvious solution is to fund the development of technology that will harness the sun’s energy. Solar technology is already improving rapidly, even though we don’t provide energy research the funding it deserves. Before we effectively give up on facing the issue at hand by discussing adaptation to global warming, shouldn’t we first put our resources into attempting to develop a technological solution to the issue? It may not be feasible, but if there is even a chance that it is, then to me it seems logical to explore this possibility before it’s too late.

Anthropocene: a human issue?

Kathryn Yusoff offers an interesting and eye-opening perspective in her book “A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None.” She argues that the field of geology erases its history of racism by normalizing the historical mistreatment of minority groups. Particularly, the framing of the Anthropocene epoch as a “‘new’ condition that forgets its histories of oppression and dispossession” serves to further this historical erasure (Yusoff 15). The term “Anthropocene” itself, the root of which is “Anthropos” or “human” implies that all humans are at fault. This framing of the issue both “fails to name the masters of broken earths” and “fails to grabble with the inheritance of violent dispossession of indigenous land” (Yusoff 13). Yusoff claims that this nomenclature “neatly erases histories of racism that were incubated through the regulatory structure of geologic relations” (Yusoff 14).  By framing the Anthropocene as a “human” issue, geologists fail to acknowledge the historical racism that is inseparable from the issue.

Furthermore, Yusoff argues that the aforementioned historical racism is inseparable from the climate crisis. She claims that the cultural notion of separateness from our environment that now fuels the climate crisis was born of the incorrect separation of “human” and “inhuman”, which began when slaves were labeled as inhuman to justify them being treated as such (Yusoff 16).

She claims that we cannot move forward in facing the climate crisis without acknowledging the reality of its history. While some may feel that her ideas are too esoteric to be useful in the face of the impending emergency at hand, I feel that it’s not only possible but important to acknowledge the past while simultaneously facing the issue of the present. What matters currently is that we, as humans, are faced with a common problem–whether it was caused by all humans or just some. Working together to solve it requires facing the harsh reality of where we are and how we arrived there. Only then can we move beyond the issues of the past and look to the future.