Thursday, April 19, 2007

April Snowshowers bring May's...

A snowy central Texas Easter - photo courtesy of Donna O'Connor

...Global Warming?

One of my biggest pet peeves right now are the folks (in the media and otherwise) who point to unseasonably cold weather as evidence against "global warming." I'll readily admit that the term "global warming" probably does a disservice to the cause in that it is easily interpreted to be something other than what it is not (much in same way as the term "gifted" seems to imply that children two standard deviations above normal IQ don't require special services when those in the opposite position do). Perhaps a better descriptor is "global climate change," though I suspect that this phrase doesn't have quite the alarmist overtones that serve both supporters and detractors.

For those who have yet (or are unwilling) to see Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, I'll give the two minute version here. Yes, Gore does use his bully-pulpit to make a few good-natured jabs at the 2000 elections. he also masterfully translates the science of global climate change into common parlance much in the same way that Dr. Stephen Hawking does for theoretical physics. There are a few points to the take-away message: 1) The ocean currents power our global weather; 2) Increased temperatures at the poles result in ice melt, ice melt results in exponentially faster ice melt because water absorbs the sun's energy and melts the ice from below (when frozen, most of this energy is reflected back into space); 3) increasingly warm water at the poles will shut off ocean currents causing massive, widespread climate change in a matter of years instead of millenia.

Those who would point to unseasonably cool weather to disprove global climate change fundamentally misunderstand the thesis; they are, in fact, unwittingly drawing attention to the harbingers of such a shift. Though "global warming" accurately describes the root of the problem at the poles, the resultant climate shift everywhere else won't necessarily mean higher temperatures. It might mean less rainfall, or more. It might mean more big, destructive weather for some, and milder weather for others. Certainly, one year of cooler-than-average springtime doesn't provide conclusive evidence for climate shift, but three years looks like a trend, and in five we might have completely different weather patterns.

Taking a broad view of the global ecosystem, one might argue that there have been much warmer periods in earth's history (Mr. Gore does point this out). What is markedly different about this moment in history is that the change is likely to happen far more quickly than it has in the past, and with much greater impact on the world's ecosystems, which are already hard-pressed by other man-made threats such as habitat elimination and excessive harvesting.

The sobering, and hopeful, coda to An Inconvenient Truth is that we can make a difference. Start thinking about your carbon footprint and how you can live a lower-impact lifestyle. Check out's Green Challenge. Save your gas money and ride a bike...or a Segway. Vote for green energy and sustainable practices with your wallet.

In closing, I offer these thoughts penned by His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew
The Lord suffuses all of creation with His Divine presence in one continuous legato from the substance of atoms to the Mind of God. Let us renew the harmony between heaven and earth, and transfigure every detail, every particle of life. Let us love one another, and lovingly learn from one another, for the edification of God's people, for the sanctification of God's creation, and for the glorification of God's most holy Name. Amen.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

So long, and thanks for all the fish

Kurt Vonnegut's death this week has left me with a peculiar sadness that is hard to describe. Though I enjoyed (very much) the two books of his I have read (Galapagos, Timequake) and have fond memories of my stepdad telling stories about Tralfamador, from which planet a younger brother was purported to hail, I've never really thought of myself as a Vonnegut fan. Thinking about it now, I suppose that Mr. Vonnegut might have thought about the concept of fans as slightly ridiculous anyhow. I've not yet read Slaughterhouse-Five or Cat's Cradle, though I have vague plans to do so in the way that I think all English majors have a list of great books they just haven't gotten around to reading yet. In spite of this all this good-natured disinterest, Vonnegut's death leaves a hole in my world that I don't think I could define better than Jon Stewart's comment, "the world got less interesting." Vonnegut was one of those rare authors who seemed to be able to work hope out of postmodernism. A comment made in a literary obituary in The Observer sums up Vonnegut's genius this way: "he told us the hardest of truths, but in the gentlest, funniest and most amiable way he knew how." I really think Vonnegut is what Mark Twain would have been like had he been an optimist.

Vonnegut's death made me think of another unexpected loss of an author whose distillation of hope from the absurd has helped me understand the human condition. Douglas Adams, the author of The Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy and all its related stories, and Last Chance to See. Though Adams' death is several years past, his passing also permeates the sense of loss I feel for Vonnegut. I think that it is increasingly rare to see such selfless truth-giving from authors, and that we're worse off without them. I don't think that their perspectives necessarily need to be lost, though, as their readers--dare I say, fans--can take advantage of a cultural tipping-point in calling to account the absurd abuse of power in the world. I don't think their lessons are being lost, we just have to act rationally irrational. Both might agree, "Don't Panic."