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As a follow-up to my op-ed yesterday, “Science Fiction Science Fact,” I’d like to call to readers’ attention the Op-Ed in today’s New York Times by Orrin Pilkey. Orrin of course hits all the salient points. Blessings to him for never tiring of trying to get people to face the reality of beach erosion.
Significantly for me, the illustration that accompanies Orrin’s op-ed directly answers my final imploring question: “Will an artist please render that scientific fact?” [The fact of inevitable beach erosion]. Graphic artist Henning Wagenbreth has done so. His image shows a dark storm cloud exhaling wind above a stormy sea whose waves tickle the feet of a fleeing beach house that carries with it an uprooted tree and automobile. With words and images, Pilkey and Wagebreth bring science and art together to once again try to capture the reality of today and tomorrow.
Science Fiction and Science Fact November 14, 2012Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in beach erosion, climate change, Ecozoic, Hurricane Sandy, Orrin Pilkey.
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Long before teenagers were imbibing dystopian fiction with unquenchable gusto, my teenage cohort was captivated by Planet of the Apes, the 1968 sci-fi film in which a crew of astronauts crash-lands on an unknown planet in the distant future. More recently, a photograph of a person walking by the remains of a roller coaster in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, demolished by Hurricane Sandy reminded me of the final scene of the film; two human beings along the shore in the “Forbidden Zone”—a region outside of “Ape City” that has remained quarantined for centuries subject to an ancient taboo—stumble upon the charred and buried remains of the Statue of Liberty. Thus they realize that the “alien” planet that was once supposedly the home of other humans is in fact the post-apocalyptic Earth.
David Gard / Associated Press
Still from closing scene of Planet of the Apes.
Now I don’t mean to be overly dramatic. But if scientists can’t convince the powers that be that our manner of inhabiting this planet is unskillful, perhaps artists can help conjur some sense of forboding.
It’s the beginnng of week three of post-Sandy life here in the New York/New Jersey metro region and plenty of people unfortunately are still suffering the effects. News coverage has focused national attention on the role of climate change in worsening the effects of the hurricane. But there’s another important lesson we shouldn’t miss: beaches are the most dynamic geomorphic feature on the surface of the Earth and we build fixed structures there at our peril.
My hero, Orrin Pilkey, professor emeritus of geology and of earth and ocean sciences at Duke University says that part of the problem is that “we scientists tend to be dullards when it comes to selling our case.” Nonetheless, we have a responsibility to try to do so. As a coastal geologist who has long advocated for retreat as a strategic response to beach erosion, Orrin has definitely done his part. Coining the term “New Jerseyization” to describe the results of unimpeded development and expensive attempts to stabilize beaches with sandbags, groins, jetties, seawalls or “renourish” them with pumped sand, Orrin has been as relentless as the sea in trying to make the point. Check out his warning in the October 1983 issue of Popular Science: “We have two mutually exclusive choices: beaches or buildings. We can’t have both.” And if you want even more on this subject, in The Corps and the Shore (1996) Pilkey and colleague Katharine Dixon examine comprehensively the impact of coastal processes on developed shorelines.
But the fundamental scientific fact is this: beaches move. Look at the image below to see the substantial westward migration of Breezy Point spit, Rockaway, Queens, New York in less than 150 years.NPS display at Fort Tilden NPS Visitors Center, Rockaway, Queens, NY
Like it or not, do not doubt that the future will provide photo-ops for Planet of the Ape-like shoreline scenes if we persist in arming beaches with sea walls, groins or jetties and continue to dump more sand on beaches from which we refuse to relocate. Will an artist please render that scientific fact?
Listen! The Earth Breathes! November 8, 2012Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Anthropocene, climate change, earth system science, Ecozoic, environmentalism, global warming, Hurricane Sandy, hydrologic cycle, science, sea-level rise, Teilhard de Chardin.
This piece appears in Shambhala SunSpace.
Like many millions of people around the world, I was captivated by President Barack Obama’s election night victory speech. And my heart cheered when I heard the President say, “we want our children to live in an America that…. isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.” Maybe the Earth has now, finally, made itself heard on the issue of the disastrous implications of global warming for all beings that live on this planet.
I’ve always favored scientist James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis that organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a self-regulating complex system that contributes to maintaining conditions for life on the planet. And I’ve also been a big fan of Vice-President Gore’s book, An Inconvenient Truth, especially because he makes so clear that the Earth actually breathes. “It’s as if the entire Earth takes a big breath in and out once each year,” he wrote in referring to the Keeling Curve, the diagram by scientist Charles David Keeling that shows not only the overall increase in CO2 in the atmosphere starting in the late 1950s based on measurements of atmospheric CO2 at Mauna Loa, Hawaii but also the annual cycle of increase and decrease of CO2 in the atmosphere that results from the growth and decay of vegetation.
And now at the risk of committing the sin of anthropomorphism (attributing human motivation to an inanimate subject), I’ll suggest that Earth itself cast a vote in this election.
Some pundits say that “Superstorm Sandy” helped the President win the election partly because of his compassionate and competent response to the crisis. I’m no poll, so I don’t know. I hope only that this election marks our movement into a new geologic Era thatJesuit paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) once proposed: the Ecozoic, a new era of mutually enhancing human-earth relations.
In The Long Road Turns to Joy, Thich Nhat Hanh wrote:
You will be like the tree of life.
Your leaves, trunk, branches,
And the blossoms of your soul
Will be fresh and beautiful,
Once you enter the practice of
May the re-election of Barack Obama usher in the Ecozoic Era, a period in which we listen attentively to what the Earth tells us and live the understanding that we breathing humans are the breathing Earth.
From Science and Art, Global Warming is Real November 2, 2012Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Anthropocene, art, climate change, disasters, global warming, Hurricane Sandy, science, sea-level rise.
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So what if global warming isn’t directly responsible for “superstorm Sandy”? Let’s not get hung up on that minor detail.
Because the planet has warmed–the average surface temperature of the Earth rose 1.08°F to 1.62°F (0.6 to 0.9 °C) between 1906 and 2006— the cryosphere has melted, moving H2O from the ice caps to the oceans.
Markers show the dramatic retreat of the Athabasca Glacier, photo Judd Patterson
And seawater has literally expanded. As a result, sea level has risen—worldwide measurements of sea level show a rise of about 0.56 feet ((0.17 meters) during the twentieth century.
Earlier this week Hurricane Sandy pushed the sea onto land in coastal regions that are today more “low-lying” than they were a century ago. Images are still coming in of the devastation caused by such mass movement of water along parts of the northeastern coast. Earth behaved as predicted and revealed the increased risk to which we have subjected ourselves.
At a time when scientists have been convicted of not making good predictions may I be the first to congratulate Dr. Jianjun Yin, a climate modeler at the Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies (COAPS) at Florida State University, and colleagues Michael Schlesinger of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Ronald Stouffer of Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at Princeton University? In 2009 these folks published their analysis of data from ten state-of-the-art climate models and warned that, considering its population density and the potential socioeconomic consequences of such changes, the northeast coast of the U.S. is one of the areas most vulnerable to changes in sea level and ocean circulation.
Yin and his colleagues advised that, since much of the New York City metro region is less than 16 feet above mean sea level—with some parts of lower Manhattan only about 5 feet above it—a sea level rise of eight inches could be catastrophic. New York City would be at great risk, they added, for damage from hurricanes and winter storm surge (emphasis mine). Yin et al are the Hurricane Sandy analogs of scientists at Louisiana State University whose models of storm tracks led a reporter for Scientific American to presage in 2001 “New Orleans is a disaster waiting to happen.”
Yin’s study, “Model Projections of Rapid Sea-Level Rise on the Northeast Coast of the United States,” produced this artist’s rendering of a flooded Manhattan.
But the images below are no artist’s rendering. They are photographs of water inundating the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s new South Ferry Terminal.
The trees and map along the walls are part of a site-specific art installation, See it Split, See it Change (2005-2008) made of fused glass, mosaic marble, and stainless steel by Doug and Mike Starn. The work of these artists has articulated themes of impermanence and transience.
Let’s heed the message from both science and art. Can we all just pay attention to the Earth?
After Earth Day, Active Hope April 30, 2012Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in "Eaarth", book review, Buddhist concepts, climate change, earth community, earth system science, environmentalism, geologic time, Joanna Macy, mineral resources, science.
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With its numbered teachings, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy (2012), a new book by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone, pays tribute to its Buddhist roots. However, instead of the four noble truths, the noble eightfold path, the five hindrances, and the four brahmaviharas, readers of Active Hope get three stories of our time, five signs of the great unraveling, four stations of the work that reconnects, and three dimensions of the great turning. In their book, Macy and Johnstone update the repertoire of teachings that will enhance our abilities to acknowledge disturbing ecological truths and respond with creativity and resilience.
According to Macy and Johnstone, Active Hope is a practice—we do it rather than have it—with three key steps: obtaining a clear view of reality, identifying the values and directions we hope for, and taking steps to move our situation along that path. In their view, since it requires no optimism, but simply intention, we can apply it even in seemingly hopeless arenas.
Good thing. Macy and Johnstone name resource depletion, mass extinction of species, climate change, economic decline, and social division and war as five signs of the great unraveling, but the signs also bear striking resemblance to the Book of Revelation’s four horsemen of the apocalypse: Famine, Death, Pestilence, and War. I don’t mean to be alarmist, but Macy and Johnstone say it themselves:
“We can no longer take it for granted that the resources we’re dependent on—food, fuel, and drinkable water—will be available. We can no longer take it for granted even that our civilization will survive or that conditions on our planet will remain hospitable for complex forms of life.”
Scientists’ take on Earth’s vital signs suggest such an imminent reality.
The author of numerous books, Joanna Macy is a scholar of Buddhism, general systems theory, and deep ecology. Hers is a deservedly respected voice for peace, justice and the environment, honed over fifty years of activism. In this clear and practical book, physician Chris Johnstone joins her to articulate her approach to activism and empowerment, which she calls The Work That Reconnects.
I first learned of Macy in 2007 when I googled “deep time” and “Buddhism” in a search for a meditation teacher who might help me integrate my preoccupation with contemplative practice and geologic time. Reading Active Hope gave me a window into Macy’s Work that Reconnects and fueled my inclination towards it. Here’s why.
Other recent books on global change focus on dire, dispiriting problems and offer sweeping seeming-solutions. Macy and Johnstone’s manual strives to equip us with a “transformational mindset.” Conceptualized as a journey, the book takes readers along a stream of thinking that, in the authors’ words, flows toward a way of life that enriches rather than depletes the Earth. Chapters in the book guided me through the four stages of the spiral of the Work that Reconnects: Coming from Gratitude, Honoring our Pain for the World, Seeing with New Eyes, and Going Forth. I could tell you more but I’d rather you read the book.
What I will say is that this book offers poetically scientific and accurate renderings of feedback loops and geologic time that will, I think, be helpful as we work little by little toward radically reconfiguring life on Earth. I love that Macy and Johnstone devote a chapter to helping readers develop that critical “larger view of time.” I think the book will refresh environmentally-minded Buddhists who suffer from what I’ve come unfortunately to think of as environmental change fatigue. In Active Hope, Macy and Johnstone teach us how to focus on our intention and strengthen our ability to respond happily to the vexing global crisis in which we live.
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This piece is cross-posted on Shambhala SunSpace.
Recently, when I opened my copy of Offerings: Buddhist Wisdom for Every Day for a bit of early morning inspiration, as has become my habit, I found the following insight from Pema Chödrön:
Not causing harm requires staying awake. Part of being awake is slowing down enough to notice what we say and do. The more we witness our emotional chain reactions and understand how they work, the easier it is to refrain. It becomes a way of life to stay awake, slow down, and notice.
Reading it, I couldn’t help but think how relevant her comment is to the situation of North America in March of this year, a month that has felt downright summery. On the college campus where I teach, students have been gallivanting about in shorts, t-shirts and sandals, basking in the warm sunshine, and asking me to hold class outdoors.
It was unseasonably warm around the Ides of March 2012 and I’ve had an appropriate sense of foreboding. On that day The Washington Post reported that hundreds of temperature records had been broken; and the pattern continued for days with unprecedented record heat spanning much of the continental U.S. and Canada. In some places, temperatures were more than 30-40 degrees above normal — breathtaking.
The extent and intensity of the heat wave can be seen on the diagram below, courtesy of NASA’s Earth Observatory, a map that shows just how out of the ordinary these temperatures have been. It shows temperatures of the land surface compared to the same eight-day period of March since the millennium turned. The red color represents areas with warmer than average temperatures while the blue reflects areas that were cooler than usual.
During this balmy spell, I’ve been teaching a course on so-called “natural” hazards. Pema Chödrön’s comment helps me realize how important it is that I enable students and other fellow beings to awaken to the seriousness of this unseasonal surprise. Though in my class I’ve concentrated so far on the more dramatic disasters — earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions — the truth is that more human beings died from exposure to heat and drought in the period 1986 to 2008 than from any other type of hazard including floods and tornadoes, among the others I’ve already mentioned. Not far behind heat and drought in the list of leading causes of hazard-related fatalities is winter weather.
Weather-related disasters are unspectacular and slow-moving so they are easy to not notice. We can get caught up in the elation of a summer day seemingly gifted to us ahead of schedule or an October storm that causes celebratory whoops among school children who are seeing their first snow day of the season.
But if we slow down and take notice we learn from studies such as one completed by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research that daily record high temperatures occurred twice as often as record lows over the last ten years across the continental United States. This shows that climate is shifting for if the planet was not warming, there would be roughly equal numbers of record high temperatures and record lows over the last few decades.
Despite the fact that teaching about such hazards can sometimes erode hope, I’m motivated by the desire to do no harm. I realized the other day that there is virtue in paying attention to not only the wrenching disasters but the slow-moving, potentially catastrophic ones. Doing so provides the opportunity to integrate mind and heart, understanding and behavior.
The Keystone XL Pipeline Project: Extremely Unskillful? November 9, 2011Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Buddhist concepts, climate change, Dalai Lama, earthquakes, fossil fuel, fracking, hydraulic fracturing, Jack Kornfield, Keystone XL Pipeline Project, tar sands.
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The Keystone Gulf Coast Expansion (Keystone XL), operated by Calgary-based TransCanada, is the southernmost geographical component of the Keystone Project that will carry crude oil derived from Alberta, Canada tar sands through Saskatchewan, across Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma to southern Texas where it will be refined along the Gulf of Mexico. In a recent interview TransCanada CEO Russ Girling commented
“We never expected to be the lightning rod for the development of the Canadian oil sands. At the end of the day we build a conduit from A to B.”
What’s wrong with this attitude? The idea that this complex enterprise can be reduced to as simple a notion as connecting two points by a line can only arise from a profoundly confused mind. Here’s some geoscience in the service of clarity.
Mind Maps, Climate Solutions, and the Earth Year November 16, 2010Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in climate change, geologic time.
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This piece is cross-posted at Shambhala SunSpace.
Dr. Dan Siegel, author of Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation and a participant in a recent Garrison Institute retreat on climate, mind and behavior has commented that among the ways we can consider the brain in relation to climate change is by using maps. By way of example, he states that while you have a map in your brain of your body sitting in a chair you may or may not have a map of your relationship with the earth. Siegel avers that if human beings do not have the capacity to conjure mental maps of our relationship to the planet, we won’t make wise decisions regarding climate change. In the Garrison Institute’s autumn newsletter Siegel wrote:
We need to have experiences which create maps of “earth-relatedness,” just to make up a term. Without that it is irrelevant what is happening with the planet. With it, it’s vital. The maps determine what we do.
I couldn’t agree more. Earth formed roughly 4.6 billion years ago—that’s 4,600 million years ago—so it’s difficult to get a sense of this vast length of time. I think that a mind map of such deep time is invaluable to the project of responding sensibly to all types of global environmental change.
Therefore, to aid the project I’ve constructed a metaphorical map that can help others begin to foster their own “earth-relatedness” mind maps. I call it “This Day in the Earth Year” and hope that as a map of Siegel’s “earth-relatedness,” it will help us cultivate humility and behave accordingly as relative newcomers on the planet. We start with tomorrow, Nov 17th.
Using a calendar year as a metaphor for the 4.6 billion years of Earth history and using January 1, New Year’s Day, as the Earth’s birthday, I calculate the current date’s location in the Earth Year and detail what was happening paleontologically at that moment in Earth history. For example, November 17 is day 321 out of 365. With so much of a calendar year having elapsed, one might think that at this point in the Earth Year, some familiar organisms might have been roaming the planet. Not so.
In geologic time, November 17 represents 555 million years ago, the latest Proterozoic. Many of the most important events in earth history took place during this era–formation of an oxygen-rich atmosphere and evolution of eukaryotic cells for example. Still, at 555 million years—the moment in geological time just prior to the evolution early fishes—the only living things on Earth were ocean-dwelling, soft-bodied organisms.
In November of the Earth Year, humans are not yet even a glimmer in Earth’s eye. May we carry that map with us throughout the Earth Year.
The Earth Strikes Back? May 1, 2010Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in climate change, earthquakes, volcanic hazards.
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A former student of ours in the Vassar College Department of Earth Science and Geography, Ian Saginor, has a nice editorial on CNN, “Are Earthquakes Getting Worse? No!”
‘Eaarth’ Gay on ‘Eaarth’ Day 2010 April 22, 2010Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in 'Eaarth' Day, Buddhist concepts, climate change, contemplative practice, earth community, environmental justice, LGBT concerns, Vassar College.
Sometimes I feel blasé about Earth Day because I grow tired of talk without action. As a bujugeoscientist (that’s a Buddhist, Jewish, geoscientist) I’m inclined towards Right Speech and Right Action among the steps of the eightfold-path. As a result, I am unmoved by the verbiage of Earth Day.
Founded with good intentions by Senator Gaylord Nelson forty years ago today, it was designed as an environmental “teach-in” to inspire awareness and appreciation for the Earth’s environment. But I think it’s time for the speechifying (and partying that sometimes goes with it) to be supplanted by serious (right) action.
So, I’m pleased to share my delight today at having stumbled upon a new organization, OUT for Sustainability that aims to engage and mobilize the LGBT community around progressive environmental thinking. In my opinion, environmentalists like those running Earth Day events can learn plenty from LGBT activists who have had to mobilize swiftly to fight life-threatening illness and counter gross civil rights injustices.
The current state of Eaarth should move Eaarthlings as the AIDS-crisis moved LGBT activists. Started in 2009, OUT for Sustainability seems to me to represent the type of alliances this planet and its living beings need now. My queer Vassar College students get this connection; for example, they are OUT working on advanced degrees in epidemiology and environmental science; serving as educators about climate change; directing films about the effects of Hurricane Katrina; and promoting organizations that focus on issues of environmental justice, including food justice and health.
Thank you students! Thank you OUT for Sustainability. On Eaarth Day 2010, this Eaarth Gay feels inspired.