Sometimes it's really hard to see beyond the mountains that surround our valley. If you've lived in other places far away from our tidy spot here along the Blue Ridge, it is perhaps a little easier. Yet in localizing our concerns and focus, we end up being part of the problem.
This morning I even set the alarm clock so I wouldn't miss any of what I hoped would be another spectacular sunrise like yesterday morning. I'm something of a sunrise fanatic as I love to capture those moments when the sun first creeps over the mountain or springs out of the water. Today, I was up at 6:25 eagerly anticipating a sunrise. It took me only a couple of minutes to realize that the clear skies of yesterday were gone.
Last night I talked to my mother's sister, my Aunt Sally. She is still doing remarkably well for someone who turned ninety three this year. Since she still lives on a small farm, we always talk about the weather. She quickly echoed my complaints of the grass not slowing down this year, and the difficulty of keeping it mowed. It was only a few years ago that she got rid of the last of their cattle. If she still had cattle, I sure she would have appreciated the extra grass in August.
As Fred up in Floyd said in a recent post, "This year's garden was neither the best or the worst garden we've ever had." It was the same way with our tomatoes, which is what we consider our garden these days. I did pick what I consider to be the ugliest tomato that I have ever harvested. If our second crop of tomatoes from the same plants comes in during September, it won't be such a bad season, but if it doesn't, this will be our shortest tomato harvest season. I blame it on the excessive moisture without heat, followed by extreme unrelenting heat until just recently.
Yet the moisture that has given us a less than perfect tomato crop would be greatly appreciated in Portugal which I learned this morning is suffering from an unrelenting drought. The first BBC article that caught my attention was, "Portugal wildfires out of control." Wildfires generally are the result of drought and sure enough there was another article published in July, "Portuguese drought hits farmers." It's a pretty bleak story.
Sure, the vertical sun and 40C (104F) heat do not help but they are normal in Portugal.
It is the fact that it barely rained at all in the winter and spring....
It is their worst drought since records began at least 150 years ago.
We have had more ninety degree temperatures this summer in Roanoke that I can remember in our nearly sixteen years here. Fortunately our drought of a few years ago has now receded from our memories. I'm sure our reservoirs are brimming. When it comes to water, we're more worried about the horrific accident that took place Sunday night on Smith Mountain Lake.
Yet there are lots of places in the US that are suffering from drought this year as a map provided by the US Drought Monitor indicates. It looks like a good chunk of the United States breadbasket, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, and Arkansas have varying areas which are suffering. I'm sure it's been reported, and I just haven't caught the news about it. In fact a little Internet searching turns up the information that the Governor of Illinois has requested a natural disaster declaration.
A near-record dry spell from March to June stunted crop growth across the state, especially in corn, which received inadequate moisture to pollinate. A paltry 8.5 inches of rain fell during those four months, about half the normal total, making the March through June period the third driest since weather records were first kept in 1895.
I was fortunate to take a geology course in college where a young professor, only twenty five years old, was often a lecturer. His name was Stephen Gould. From Stephen Gould I learned that the world, as we know it, is a dynamic changing place. In his lectures, I first saw the proof of continental drift and learned that some places, which are now bitterly cold, were once teeming with life. I was reminded of that in "March of the Penguins" which somehow managed to focus on Penguins and ignore the challenge to their habitat. Then again it was done by Walt Disney for entertainment so we shouldn't expect much of a commentary.
I couldn't remember what Gould had said about modern climate change so I did a Google Search which turned up this 1998 article by David Chapman, "Global Warming - Just Hot Air?." In it he says quite simply, that business as usual won't work.
Because 90% of society’s energy presently is produced by burning fossil fuels, the inevitable population increase and drive towards higher standard of living simultaneously aggravates the enhanced greenhouse gas condition and, with it, global warming.
There is an alternate path. We could unleash our engineering, economic, and political entrepreneurs to improve energy conservation and efficiency and move us towards greater use of renewable energy sources. Technology and training in energy efficiency and use of non-polluting fuels could allow developing nations to skip the carbon intensive, energy -production stage of industrialization. Such a path would simultaneously reduce excessive consumption in developed countries and provide conditions that would bring worldwide population growth under control. Global warming may be the "smoke alarm" that pushes us to action.
It was a "Gould Distinguished Lecture." It turns out that this is another Gould, William Richard Gould, who had a particular distinction.
Mr. Gould made a lasting and overwhelming impact on the science, engineering, and entrepreneurship of the industry.
This innovative approach to the relationship between society, industry, and the environment characterized the faith and philosophy of William Gould. As a result of his insightful and courageous leadership in the utilities industry, Southern California Edison is the only corporation to ever receive the prestigious John and Alice Tyler Prize for Protection of the Environment - a sterling example for the rest of the industry.
It's too bad that that we don't have a few more William Goulds are. Here we are seven years after the very impressive lecture, and not much has changed except we're paying through the nose at the pump, and our government has turned the latest energy bill into what the Washington Post calls a "piñata of perks for energy industries."
The bill gave the federal government new eminent-domain powers to clear paths for power lines -- a long-standing demand of the nation's electric utilities. The utilities said they were being thwarted by not-in-my-back-yard opposition, so the politicians came to their rescue.
The provision was just one example of how the energy bill, touted as a way to reduce dependence on foreign oil or moderate gasoline prices, has been turned into a piñata of perks for energy industries.
It was nice of our representatives to slip in eminent domain powers which most had railed against recently in the Supreme Court decision which supported a Connecticut property grab.
Perhaps energy is becoming the 9/11 of the next few years. We'll be so afraid of what is happening at the pump and in our monthly cooling and heating bills that we'll give up a few more freedoms.
Weather is a very local issue, which can have some severe impacts such as this article from the BBC indicates, "Floods sweep across Switzerland." Yet the sum total of weather over time is our climate.
Our climate has always been changing, as we look beyond the mountains that ring our valley, our hot humid summer could be just a return to more normal Virginia summer weather, but it could be something more. The droughts in Portugal and the American breadbasket, and the floods in Switzerland are inextricably tied together even if they have nothing to do with global warming.
One of these days we might have the computing resources to figure out what exactly is causing our climate to change these days, but in the anti-science environment in vogue today in the US, it probably won't matter. It appears our only hope might be economics. As prices go up, we'll adopt smaller cars and a more energy efficient life style. I hope that is soon enough to forestall any drastic climate changes, because it's pretty clear our current government doesn't care very much about the future of anything except the profits of their buddies.
Perhaps, there's one bit of good news in all this, we may get to sail the fabled Northwest Passage soon.
It is also believed that global warming is causing the rapid melting of the ice across the Arctic, and that could make the legendary North-West Passage linking the Atlantic and the Pacific passable for ships for the first time.
The US has already said it regards the passage as an international strait, not Canadian waters.
Well we might not believe in global warming but we believe in access to everything for us. Here well south of the Canadian border we're nothing if not pushy about our international rights and even our bilateral NAFTA rights (A simple solution to U.S. bullying), but just maybe we should be thinking about our international responsibilities in a different way.
The blow our enemies to smithereens theory seems to have run aground once again. As we pick up the pieces from that once again, just maybe we can figure out a more productive place in the world which just might be driven by a different way of looking at the world.
At least that is the view from this mountain, where technology allows me to visit a myriad of places every day. Each visit gives me an insight into life beyond our valley and convinces me daily that paying more attention not less to the rest of world will lead us to a better life.
(Note connections to the Toronto Star and the Washington Post for full articles require free registrations)