my pissant two cents

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

it's not nice to fool mother nature

i live by the ocean. i find it very comforting. the drumbeat of waves just a few hundred yards from my front door, reminding of the constance and the majesty of nature helps keep me sane. oftentimes, i drift off to sleep listening to the pounding of the waves.

that's why i've had such a difficult time getting my mind around the devastation from the indian ocean tsunami. it's difficult to comprehend that untold tens of thousands of people lost their lives to what has always been such a benevolent force in my life.

not to say that i am naive about the power of the ocean. as a southern california boy, i, like many, grew up at the beach, surfing and swimming. i have known real fear of drowning in waves far too big for my skills. i have been slammed to the rocky floor, cut and battered, with yet another concussion, struggling up the beach to get away from an ocean that proved to me just who was boss.

but tens of thousands killed, tens of thousands missing? that is beyond my ken.

it would be easy now to berate the bush administration for offering so little help. its initial $35 million pledge was pathetic. its ten-fold increase of that amount is not much better, coming out to about a buck and a quarter per american. but there is little to expect from a self-proclaimed "compassionate conservative" who has demonstrated a grave misunderstanding of christian charity on so many occasions there is not room to list them here.

there are much more probative issues to discuss, aside from the miserly givings by the bush people, to demonstrate just how little regard it holds for the rest of the world, particularly where cash is involved. where the tsunami, or "seismic sea wave," as it's known in geological terms, is a freak occurrence, the natural disasters looming on the horizon are foreseeable and to some extent preventable.

i'm speaking, of course, of global warming. the bush administration, in sheer defiance of logic and facts, claims that global warming is junk science, and "the jury is still out" on whether the byproducts of human "progress" are choking the life out of the planet. i doubt that anybody seriously questions whether the fossil fuel-based industrial development of the world has changed the atmosphere. it is mere logic, then, to figure that the atmospheric changes are leading to climate disruption, which assumption is borne out by the facts. increase in ocean water temperatures, rapidly dwindling polar ice caps, and dramatically altered precipitation patterns are facts of life in today's climatology.

as i write this, southern california is experiencing its wettest winter in a good long time. three significant rainstorms have hit in the past couple of weeks. it bears the hallmarks of an el nino winter. and that is cause for serious concern.

for those who don't know, el nino is a weather pattern that involves increased surface temperatures in the central pacific, which creates powerful storms on the coasts of the americas. in the past, it has devasted coastal lands, led to mass erosion, caused flooding and taken lives. in one fantastically dramatic example, an el nino-fed storm in 1983 produced an enormous wave that swatted the last third off the huntington beach pier, demolishing it and dumping it into the surf. a similar el nino winter produced similar damage in 1997. another impact of the el nino condition is the effect on the multi-billion dollar fishing industry, as migratory patterns are interrupted by dramatic shifts in water temperature.

but the greatest effect is one not normally associated with rain and storms: famine. the global weather system is so damaged by el nino that its reach extends to africa, where it causes drought, which in turn causes famine. look at the dates of the last two el ninos. then recall the devastating famines in africa in 1984 and 1998. another one appears to be on the way. as if africa doesn't have enough to worry about, what with an aids pandemic gone amok (and stunning indifference from the bush-- and to a lesser extent, clinton-- administration), political instability and already decimating famine.

the hurricane season of 2004 saw florida, the gulf coast and the southern atlantic coast of the united states hit by three massive storms in rapid succession. and what feeds hurricanes? increased temperatures in the mid-atlantic. is the jury really still out?

the u.n. environment program and u.s. national center of atmospheric research have modeled that climate change will lead to more powerful, more frequent el nino conditions. this is not junk science. these reports come from people who've spent their careers trying to understand and predict weather. bush, however, finds such reports inconvenient, and therefore unreliable.

the technology already exists to significantly reduce the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. there is good incentive to increase research to minimize further the reliance on oil-based fuels that cause the vast majority of greenhouse gases. a nation that prides itself on scientific inquiry and conquest might be well served by a commitment to developing technologies that not only creates all-important jobs and expanding economy that bush loves to pretend he's creating, but also serves the good of humanity.

but i rather doubt that's going to happen. bush is an oil man. so is his vice president. the secretary of state-to-be is a former oil executive also. the white house is littered with them. bush's people have cozied up to saudi arabia and launched war in iraq to seize control of the world's largest oil reserves. his is not an administration that's going to wean the american public from the petro-teat.

for the victims of the tsunami, there's not much to offer but tears and money. to the world population that stands under the sword of damocles, in the form of our own brand of capitalist eco-terror, we owe solutions. if this administration will not endeavor to find them, we must create and build leadership that will.

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