The Place Where I Live

 A COMPASS OF SORTS

What place is this? I look north as an eagle flies to the backbones of the Appalachian Mountains where rain clouds fill spruce forests. Gentle mist rains down separating grains of quartz from granite faces. Sweeping down the slopes into valleys, I fast forward to witness waters move mountains to the sea. Sparkling crystals settle out onto the floor of a tranquil ocean piling up into the barrier islands of the Gulf of Mexico where I now live.

gfmexicoI look east across canopies of live oaks draped with Spanish moss to stands of tall straight pines that go as far as I can see. Swooping closer, clear springs well upward into the sun. Their round blue eyes dot the land and lead to cavernous passages underground that undulate across the whole continental shelf, a sponge that holds the rain–Florida’s fresh water supply. I see manatees and myriad elegant white birds, and alligators—immobile denizens sunning on cypress logs and mossy banks. The dark Atlantic forms a border.

South of this place there lies a small aquamarine ocean and a current where schools of fish ply the depths and dolphins play and hunt them. Sailboats, ocean liners, fishing vessels, and ships cross this Gulf of Mexico, bounded by the Florida Straits, Cuba, and the Yucatan Peninsula to the south. The Tropic of Cancer runs through it. The ocean current pours trough the Yucatan Peninsula and Cuba forming the Loop Current and exits through the Straits of Florida becoming the warm Gulf Stream current in the Atlantic Ocean. The Gulf produces food for our nation and the world: billions of pounds of fish and crustaceans are harvested each year.

Along the shores of States that have allowed offshore drilling there are nearly 4,000 oil wells. Deep Water Horizon was just one of them activated to produce crude oil for the American economy. This map below may shock you as I was during the DWH tragedy when my community, and indeed the nation, fully realized how much industry impact had taken place under our noses (under the surface of the Gulf) for the short-term gains of oil lease money. gulf-of-mexico-pa-wells

This is a place of warmth, sunlight, rampant vegetation (semi-tropical), Old South mixed with military and snow birds from around the nation. It is a place without true unity, a place still in search of its identity.

Historically Pensacola has flown five flags (Spain, England, France, Confederacy, and United States). The deep water bay draws enduring interest for its strategic advantages. All that existed here prior to European invasion and occupation was little known or even appreciated, yet a native culture long evolved here by the sea.

turtleMigrations of sea turtles and birds from around the world have known its location and character for millennia before Europeans showed up. They still come but in fewer numbers. The place has been shaped by invaders from lands where they had already exploited the natural resources. The Europeans hungered for new land. But the land was not friendly to them, at least in the beginning.

What became known as Florida was inhospitable for many centuries. It geologic, meteorological, and wild landscapes defied occupation. The original human communities who lived in its recesses had learned its strange creatures, wild weather, and poor soil. They adopted a migratory pattern coming to the ocean near Pensacola for fishing and clamming, then retreating into the cooler forested canopies for the hotter months. Their wisdom and art was never sought nor recorded only disrupted and eventually shut out. That is another part of the story of this place.

Slavery is part of it, too, with African and West Indies men and women brought here to help with timber cutting and hauling, fishing, and cotton growing on farms north of the city. As late as 1900 fully half of the city was black and not because the community was egalitarian. Whites ran the show. Blacks were capital, owned and/or exploited. Even to the present, many white residents have a different standard of conduct with and regard for their black neighbors, but they would vociferously deny that. The truth is that Florida harbors some of the worst racists in the nation.

Another important point on the compass for Pensacola, Florida is the community of people who love the ocean and environment for its recreational and economic value. Some love it also for its esthetic value and fewer but stronger are handfuls of residents who defend the animals, plants, and waters of our place with their very souls and livelihoods.

This then is the place where I live and from which my story continues.

 

Journey Home

scan0001We sat in a booth in the Croton Diner excited to return to the home of my children’s youth. Through the large windows the little pond across the road reminded Tom and Heather of ice skating with friends on icy cold days followed by steaming mugs of chocolate and a greasy burger at the diner. When the waitress told us the pond had not frozen over for at least a decade we were dumbfounded.

My husband and I moved to Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y. in 1972 with a 2 yr-old son and infant daughter. The first winter in the little hamlet of 6,000 residents, snow piled up around our doors and blanketed streets shutting down schools and making the commute to New York a trek with uncertain outcome. More than once my husband slept on the train while it was dug out of drifts.

Living in Croton we played in winter with every pond and nearby stream freezing solid for our skates and sleds. During the cold, snowy months I read books to my children sitting in the cozy dormers of our Cape Cod house with fluffy snowflakes drifting by a frosty window pane.

But the Croton-on-Hudson of our memories, we learned over our two-day visit, was no more. In fact the young families living there looked at us like we were talking about Vermont or Alaska. Other changes were dramatic as well. Our home which once sat adjacent to a large reserve that stretched up the hills for hundreds of acres had been reshaped and developed into a golf course and expensive homes. The woods from where deer crept into our yard and large maples and elms stood over elegant dogwoods all were gone – and with them the little brook that my daughter frequented, sitting on an old stone wall from a century past.

It slowly sank in that here was a dramatic example of climate change. Further, the changes in the landscape from human development reflected the larger forces at work across the planet:
• Loss of forests
• Disruption of watersheds
• Rising temperatures
• Loss of biodiversity.

We were returning to Croton to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Harry Chapin Memorial Run against Hunger, an event I helped start with a group of enthusiastic women runners in 1981. We were mothers who met over our tiny tots at school, soccer games and birthday parties, and we all were part of the nascent women’s running movement in New York. While my friends and I worked on the race, I began reading books about the root causes of hunger and poverty. I learned that industrialization of our food system was a part of creating more hunger by out-competing small farmers in America from their farms, and by degrading the soil through overproduction and use of fertilizers and pesticides to produce evermore crop yields through monoculture (growing only one crop on thousands of contiguous acres). Big corporations made huge profits while the quality of food decreased and millions of subsistence farmers went bankrupt.

At age 36, a busy mother, I only vaguely connected the causes of hunger and poverty to degradation of the environment. Worldwide leaders and scientists were meeting to consider global environmental problems. In 1979 for example a Geneva Convention addressed sulfur dioxide emissions and later in 1988 the Montreal Convention addressed ozone depletion. Both were caused by industrial pollution.

Today we face major problems in our food supply. Populations of pollinators—millennia-old handmaidens of reproductive capacity of plants—are crashing around the country from what scientists have discovered is a pesticide-induced disruption in ecosystems allowing pests and fungi to proliferate and kill hives of bees. Honey-bees pollinate over 70% of 100 of humanity’s most important food crops. ReportHoneyBeeHealth.  More frequent extreme weather events and long term drought are affecting the historic agricultural “breadbaskets” of the U.S that have not only fed us all these years but also many countries in the world.

The fifth report of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was released this month (April 2014). The certainty of their predictions has profound implications for humanity:
• Warming of the climate system is unequivocal…
• Ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored in the climate system.
• The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years…causing ocean acidification.
• Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes.

Our journey home was a sobering experience. An absence of a quarter century allowed us to see the dramatic changes in climate and landscape. It dramatically illustrates how humans can be fooled by living in the present moment, unaware of incremental changes over time. New generations born into a changed environment have no cultural memory of what it was like before. These realities do not bode well for the human community.

The 33rd Harry Chapin Race is still raising money for hunger relief, and sadly, conditions for the poor and the middle class in America are worse than in 1981. A recent NY Times article finds America’s poor, poorer by comparison to other developed countries, and even worse, the middle class in America is no longer earning nearly the amount of the middle class elsewhere.

The struggles of the poor in the United States are even starker than those of the middle class. A family at the 20th percentile of the income distribution in this country makes significantly less money than a similar family in Canada, Sweden, Norway, Finland or the Netherlands. Thirty-five years ago, the reverse was true.

The rich get richer in America – the poor poorer. Why do we allow it? I believe it is lack of moral fortitude and a set of values that would act as a compass to assure next generations of all that we say we stand for. Those assertions sound more hollow with each passing year and political campaign without actions to back them up.

Still, it was good to journey home, to see old friends and to participate in the Run Against Hunger. It illustrates to me that we can create communities of beauty and safety, or not…there are solutions, happy ones. See here a great way to curb climate changes.

See a photo-journal of my daughter’s experience: Going Home.

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NEON Citizen Science: Project Budburst – Get Involved

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You can help study changes in the environment with the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON).

Project BudBurst engages citizens to note when plants are blooming each year. This is very important data but there are only so many scientists to do it. Yet there are millions of citizens who enjoy seasons and who have flowering plants in their yards and neighborhoods. Consider doing this. It requires only a few minutes but scientists are actually using this data to understand changes across ecosystems and how it is changing biodiversity. Join 18,000 other Citizen Scientists! The site will help you use what they call a “protocol” – a systemized way of observing and recording your data.

There is also a Citizen Science Academy through which teachers and citizens can take courses for college credit.

Today the National Science Foundation hosted a live webinar on why we need biodiversity with a team of scientists and conservationists. See the program here.

 

2014 IPCC Science Report to Policymakers

2014 IPCC Science Report for Policymakers

Summary statements are below. (See Policymaker Report above for accompanying graphs and tables). Keep in mind that the IPCC also states that one of the most effective solutions to warming and its consequences is the redesign of cities. Because the number of people living in cities is expected to double between now and 2050, design and practices that reduce CO2 emissions in cities may be humanity’s best strategy for curbing the impacts of climate change. Also keep in mind that the IPCC is conservative in its estimations of climate impacts.

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.

Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850 (see Figure SPM.1). In the Northern Hemisphere, 1983–2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years (medium confidence).

Ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored in the climate system, accounting for more than 90% of the energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010 (high confidence). It is virtually certain that the upper ocean (0−700 m) warmed from 1971 to 2010 (see Figure SPM.3), and it likely warmed between the 1870s and 1971.

The rate of sea level rise since the mid-19th century has been larger than the mean rate during the previous two millennia (high confidence). Over the period 1901 to 2010, global mean sea level rose by 0.19 [0.17 to 0.21] m (see Figure SPM.3).

The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. Carbon dioxide concentrations have increased by 40% since pre-industrial times, primarily from fossil fuel emissions and secondarily from net land use change emissions. The ocean has absorbed about 30% of the emitted anthropogenic carbon dioxide, causing ocean acidification (see Figure SPM.4)

Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of the climate system.

Observational and model studies of temperature change, climate feedbacks and changes in the Earth’s energy budget together provide confidence in the magnitude of global warming in response to past and future forcing.

Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes (see Figure SPM.6 and Table SPM.1). This evidence for human influence has grown since AR4. It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.

 

Meander…

copy-cropped-img_8918.jpgOne of the great privileges and pleasures of living on the Gulf of Mexico is the terrific bird life that inhabit our shorelines. The graceful Great Blue Heron is one such character. But you can imagine my surprise to learn that a small town in New York State has its own Blue Heron Music Festival on July 4th each year: Sherman, N.Y. Lake Erie is this Yankee town’s ocean. Hey, maybe Pensacola needs a southern version of the Blue Heron Music Festival! Hmmmm…

Learn all about the ubiquitous Great Blue Heron on the Cornell Ornithology website. And here from the Poetry Foundation website: Carolyn Kizer’s soulful poem, The Great Blue Heron.  And now that your whistle is whetted for poetry, go on to Poetry Outloud and listen to the great poets of our time reading their own and their favorite poets’ poems outloud.

And, like a good meander on the crystal white sands of my hometown beaches, I’ve taken you on a wander, too.

 

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – Fifth Report

5th Report of Climate Change for Policymakers (PDF) is linked below. Take time to read it thoroughly. The alarm bells are ringing!

As I review this report it is clearer to me that each country, and region within a country that represents a particular biome (distinctive ecosystems associated with regional temperature, precipitation, altitude, etc…we know them as boreal forests, coastal zones, deserts, and so forth) must start analyzing these predictions and present state of the ecosystems, cities, farms, and associated economies and begin adaptation strategies.

In the Gulf coastal communities this should be very deliberate planning to clean up and protect water quality. That means restoring the marshlands to full health so that future warming and sea level rise can be met with greater resiliency than is present in the degraded coastal ecosystems we have in and around Pensacola. As weather warms and storms increase in intensity, how are we adapting to hurricanes and severe flooding? Who is most vulnerable and how can we prepare now to minimize impacts?

Our tourism industries are at risk. We need to develop other economic drivers for our community and stop building tourism as the main driver. BP funding can help make that shift.

Use the charts in the report for policymakers and find your continent and type of ecosystems. We are now into adaptation not mitigation. What has been set into action by heating the atmosphere cannot be reversed, but it can be minimized for current and future generations.

5th Report of IPCC for Policymakers

Here is a shorter press release that summarizes the report contents:

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