Global Warming

Wild asters are among the most welcome weeds in any garden.
  • Unusually sultry days linger on this October.
  • According to a recent extended article in the Wall Street Journal, insurance companies have firmly decided that a warming planet is real, has real world effects, and are making adjustments.  Now, the WSJ is fairly schizophrenic at this point, with its four or so back pages and online front page almost reading like the National Enquirer.  Those cater to a group of subscribers best described as old right-wing grumps and younger trolls.  But the rest of the paper remains a bastion of solid reporting, because the business community still uses such information to make corporate life and death decisions concerning money.
  • Insurers are reacting ( quickly, because their bottom lines are heavily impacted when risk is calculated incorrectly.  The main differences now are not, as one might naively expect, that some areas are getting hotter, or even that sea level is rising rapidly.  Insurance problems have to do with new patterns of weather, which affect and will increasingly affect our daily lives.
  • For one thing, even if annual average rainfall remains the same in a certain area, it often arrives in a different periodicity _ months of drought followed by months of flood, rather than the former weekly cycles of wet and dry.  Agriculture is obviously affected, but so are forested areas increasingly at risk of fire.  Formerly desirable sites along rivers, streams, lakes, and seacoast are becoming practically uninsurable, which means unable to obtain a mortgage, which means that only the rich can buy with cash, which lowers the average prices for sellers.  Crops like wine grapes have been increasingly destroyed by hail in Europe _ what used to be a 1% chance of damage in the southern part of the continent has jumped to 18%.
  • Another issue is calculating risk.  Insurers once used averages obtained over hundreds of years _ they now consider those relatively worthless, and only use the last few decades.  Some are even ignoring averages in favor of trends.  Extreme “black swan” events are no longer unusual _ storms carry more rain, more violent winds, and linger for extended periods.  Or never arrive at all.
  • Eventually, this reaches our pocketbook, even if crops are not wiped out, even if we do not live in a fire or flood zone.   Public services must pay more to respond, taxes go up.  Patterns of where to live change dramatically and affect specific housing prices.  Some foods become more expensive or unobtainable.
  • Bottom line _ this is all real and happening now no matter what the trolls and editorials may say.  The companies which are impacted do not survive on fairy tales.
Hordes of crickets this year seemingly unaffected by environmental change.
  • Evolution is a fascinating field of study, still filled with uncertainty.  Are the driving forces gradual adaptation, punctuated equilibrium, massive disaster, Lamarckian epigenetics?  The fossil record provides evidence of all of these at one time or another.  And, for relaxation, there are all the tall tales and fantasies of pre-scientific people and current religious fanatics.
  • I fear, with accumulating professional agreement, that we are in the middle of one of the massive disaster scenarios.  It is hard to see how the world escapes extreme warming, industrial pollution, and the ravages of human exploitation without a stupendous die-off of many species.  Only the bacteria and viruses are unaffected.  My own “anecdotal” memories indicate a great loss of birds, animals, fish, insects, and reptiles since I was young.  Where did you see the last once-common box turtle or garter snake?
  • The real problem is that this ending is everywhere.  Once upon a time the last box turtle in New York City made no difference, since there were so many elsewhere.  But now, with monoculture, warming air, changing rain and fire, human habitation _ there is no elsewhere.  Only more of the same monotonous survivors of widespread ecological niche destruction.  Cheer up.  We will always have bacteria, viruses, and probably ticks, flies, and mosquitoes.
Who knows if this ancient tree died from simple old age or environmental change?
  • We have a hard time getting a rational handle on global issues.  Far away places _ filled with storm, plague, and famine _ are far away.  Local events _ fire, flood, drought _ are anecdotal and fogged by the overlay of memory. 
  • We all share the defect I remember from an old science fiction story.  A group of people are huddled under a tree as rain pours down.  One worries what they will do when the tree begins to drip.  “Don’t worry,” says another.  “We can just move under a different tree.”  When we can’t eat one species of fish, we will just eat another.  And so it goes.
  • The biggest paradigm shift since the 1950’s has been the realization of global effects and limits.  We put up with regulations that would horrify our ancestors.  They could just move on to somewhere else on the frontier.  We cannot. 
  • Today the remnants of a huge, “unexpected” hurricane arrive.   But these things happen so often that “unexpected” is losing much of its power.  Once upon a time we could move to another tree, another fish, another place to avoid them.  Today _ “global” is almost a curse.

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