12. Everybody Complains About the Weather

16 October 2021

   As usual, I was up this morning several hours before the rest of the household stirred. I made my cup of coffee, drank it, then read a little of John Muir’s “My First Summer in the Sierra” before dozing off. It was just getting light when I fell asleep, the back yard still just shadows. Forty-five minutes later, I woke to sunny blue skies, with juncos in the bird feeders and robins continuing to strip the mountain-ash berries off the tree. Our big ash tree (a real ash, not a mountain-ash) stood out brilliantly against the blue sky.

    This year, the ash, in its fall yellow-bronze “plumage,” has been lovely. It’s past its peak now, and a lot of leaves fell yesterday, but I think the timing is near “normal” for it. Last year, our “fall color” lasted only a week or so. They say that, with changing climate, some trees are dropping their leaves earlier in the fall than they used to.[1] (Climate change is also suspected to be the cause of the early bloom of the famous Japanese cherry trees, recent peak blossoming 10 days ahead of the 30-year average.[2]) Early leaf fall could be bad news for the tourism season in New England, affecting both the tourists and those who make their money off the seasonal visitor boom. It could be bad news for the world, in general; tree leaves gather and store a lot of carbon dioxide, reducing the amount that goes into our atmosphere, lakes, and oceans to warm our temperatures.

      Oh, no! Here I am, talking about Climate Change, again. Well, I’m not the only one talking: to  change a couple words in the famous quote of  Charles Dudley Warner, everybody talks about the Climate, but nobody does anything about it.[3]  Sometimes, it seems like I and Greta are the only ones who are really worried about it.[4] I know that’s not true: almost all of the world’s climate specialists are fully aware – and loudly proclaiming – that the situation is dire, and that we may already be past the point of taking any meaningful action against what’s happening. The world leaders and the general populace definitely have not reached that point.

   Recent polls[5] suggest that almost two-thirds of Americans now “believe in” climate change. That’s an improvement over ten years ago but, really, can a third of Americans still not see what’s going on around us? Further, only about 43% of those who believe in climate change are immediately concerned about it. (That figure is up 10-15% of what it was twenty years ago, but has been fairly stable the last five years.) About 35% say that they are  - at best. - maybe “a little worried.” Most of those 35%ers said they aren’t worried, at all. Some of the worriers are apparently only worried about future generations: although 60% think significant climate change is already happening (30% said it probably isn’t happening), only about 45% feel it will be a real issue during their lifetimes. About 50% said they don’t expect personally to experience any ill effects.   Looks like a lot of education is still needed.

17 October 2021

   Another solo morning in my chair, watching the day begin outside my windows. Things are busy on the deck – juncos, at least three flickers, and one squirrel. The robins are finally arriving in force – three on the bird fountain at one time, and numbers more in the mountain-ash, meticulously harvesting the orange-red berries.

   A hummingbird is at the feeder in the eaves outside, just above my head. Her food is getting low; I’ll have to refresh it today.

   More leaves have fallen from the ash. It’s still lovely, but now you can see through the foliage in a number of places, and some of the larger branches are in view for the first time since spring. If the tree was harboring a raccoon – or, better yet, a mountain lion! – I might be able to glimpse it.

  I finished reading “My First Summer.” John Muir has reluctantly left the High Country, and followed his flock of sheep back to the dry, brown San Joaquin Valley. One of his last adventures was to climb Cathedral Peak above Tuolumne Meadows, the same Cathedral Peak that was – some 65 years ago! – my first real mountain climb. With John, I feel a moment of sad nostalgia, as I  remember that I’ll never see that area – my favorite landscape – ever again.

   But, snap back to the present day. My mind is still full of Climate Change. In the recent polls I’ve been looking at [6], one of the questions asked was whether people thought that climate change was mostly the result of human activity, or just natural phenomena. The ratios haven’t changed in recent years, with about 65% opting for human effects and 35% natural. It amazes me how a third of Americans can ignore that somewhere in the world just had the hottest month on record, the wettest or driest year ever recorded, the most tornadoes, the strongest hurricanes, the largest and most ruinous wildfires, the second “hundred year” flood in the last two years, or massive crop failures due to long-term drought. Does that third not know that right now, in some parts of the world, whole populations are needing to move because their desiccated lands will no longer grow adequate food, or because their island homes are actually going under water due to rising sea levels? Yes, we’ve always had periods of “unusual weather,” but can anybody believe that Mother Nature has gone on the current rampage all by herself?

   There doesn’t seem to be any question that climate change acceptance or climate change denial is as strongly politically-based as it is science reliant. On the question of the cause of climate change, those who identified themselves as Republicans opted for natural causes 65% of the time; only 11% of Democrats blamed Mother Nature. When asked how accurate news reporting was on climate issues, 77% of Republicans thought it was “greatly exaggerated;” only 6% of Democrats thought the news very inaccurate. Only 29% of Republicans thought climate change is already evident, compared to 82% of Democrats. Asked if climate changes would have noticeable personal effect during their lifetime: Republicans 89% no, Democrats 33% no. One can speculate on the reasons for the extreme differences; the obvious fallout is that it will be extremely difficult for our Government to attempt any climate change controls or remedies that require major support.

   And let’s not be too hasty about making this strictly a partisan stand-off. Of those identifying themselves as Independent voters (presumably meaning they vote by issue, not by party), 18% claimed not to be at all worried about climate change; 30% didn’t feel that any significant changes would occur in their lifetime (an even higher 57% didn’t anticipate any personal impact on them); 34% thought the changes were                                  natural, not human caused; and 42% felt that the reports on climate change effects were generally exaggerated. 

   My conclusion: America is not going to be making any significant changes in life style because of climate threats.

 

18 October 2021

   In bed a little longer than usual this morning, but still up long before anybody else. I decided to make banana-oatmeal muffins, which I did. They turned out a little drier than usual (the recipe has no set number or size of bananas; just whatever you have on hand), but still good. Lovely aroma in the house after baking.

   I re-filled the hummingbird feeder, before finally reaching my chair by the window, and my morning  cup of coffee. Bird feeders and nearby trees are pretty quiet – just a few juncos, and two hummingbirds. Mostly blue sky, just a light washing of high foggy type stuff. Yesterday’s predicted rain never made it to our deck; not a drop in the rain gauge. I guess downtown Portland got a little wet, but the “storm” dropped most of its water on the ocean shore and the Coast Range.

   The ash tree isn’t bare yet, but there may now be equal numbers of leaves still on the tree and on the nearby ground beneath. Lots of opportunity now to see any visiting raccoon (or cougar!).


Today’s Aussie cartoon, “First Dog on the Moon,” is about climate change (of course, it is!), the artist wondering why it’s taken the current Aussie administration seven years to do absolutely nothing about it. Also, there’s a news article on the Biden plan for addressing climate change. If the current proposed legislation doesn’t get Congressional approval (not looking good, right now), it could be the end of the World. Worse than that, the United States is going to look pretty inept at the international climate conference coming up in a week and a half in Glasgow, if we have nothing to show that we are making national progress, or anything to encourage other reticent nations to move ahead.

   Probably, no Republican in Congress will vote for the pending climate change bill, which is stupidly sad. Even stupider is that passage or not may come down to one dog-in-the-manger Democrat, whose “moral code” about government spending may cost us our last chance to take leadership in slowing disaster [7].

   Taking one more look at the recent climate-related polls, there is one other factor that greatly limits the United States’ role in Saving the Earth: Americans don’t care. Okay, that’s probably a little unfair, so I’ll rephrase it: Americans don’t care about much of anything that doesn’t affect them Today – or, at least, this year. To illustrate: In a July 2020 Pew Research Center poll (just before our last Presidential election), people were asked to identify the top issues they would be considering as they placed their votes. In a list of twelve, Climate Change came out a distant Number Eleven, only slightly ahead of abortion (and, currently, it would probably fall behind even abortion!). This list, in order of “importance:” the Economy, health care, Supreme Court appointments, the coronavirus pandemic (well behind the previous three!), violent crime, foreign policy, gun policy, race and ethnic inequality, immigration, economic inequality, climate change, and abortion. Granted, this poll was taken in the midst of a national situation even more screwed up than usual, but it is similar to results found in other parts of the world. A poll taken in the United Kingdom in 2018 [8] asked participants to rank eight issues from most important to least important. The issues were climate change, health care, education, crime, immigration, the Economy, terrorism, and poverty. Climate change came out “least important” to 38% of the respondents, and seventh out of eight for an additional 15 percent. The same authors reported that a survey of European Union citizens found that only 43% considered climate change as among the top four most important world issues.

19 October 2021

  Another day when I got up a little later than usual. I had a few immediate chores that needed doing. By the time I finished, the household was stirring, so I never got to my chair for early morning coffee,  birding, and contemplating.

   We had a little rain and quite a bit of wind overnight, and the ash tree is now essentially leaf-less. Anything that goes on in that tree from now through the winter could not be missed by anyone.


   Okay, it probably looks like I wrote this whole four-day “journal” to talk about climate change. I didn’t. (Really!) My comments about early cherry blossoms and early leaf fall started out conversationally – something else to see out my window. However,  I have been pretty obsessed with the topic of climate change for some time, so maybe the segue was inevitable. Maybe, it’s also inevitable that I try to use my “animal in the ash tree” as a substitute for the bigger subject.

   1. Full leaf stage: Long before the general public was aware, climate scientists learned about, and became concerned about, changes in the Earth’s climate that did not align with any historical norms or expectations. Although “the animal” in “the tree” wasn’t yet visible to most people and governments, the experts knew because they had been watching it climb in.

   2. Beginning of leaf fall: As scientists learned more and became more anxious, they increased their efforts to spread the word. Now and then – particularly after a few climate disasters – others besides the experts would get glimpses of “the animal.”

   3. Major defoliation: Climate disaster followed climate disaster. It became harder and harder to pass events off as just Mother Nature playing her tricks. Understanding and worry grew as more and more observers began to clearly see “the animal.”

   4. Bare limbs: Everything in “the tree” is fully visible, and anyone who looks can’t miss “the animal” there. The “animal” is Climate Change. Its causes and effects are agreed on by almost every world scientist with the credentials to speak authoritatively on the subject. Many are concerned that its changes and impacts are proceeding much faster than earlier predicted. A growing number of experts are concerned that we may have already passed the point where we can stop the progression, or even slow it down. 

   We can’t know if humans can reverse Climate Change, or even arrest it. What we can be assured of is that it will not stop by itself. It won’t be stopped by a lot of talk, and the setting of a few “goals.” Climate Change is a Really Big Deal, and has to be approached that way, worldwide. Averting continuing and increasing disasters will require changes in expectations and lifestyles that I doubt we humans will be capable of making. If we’re even going to try, it has to be right now, and the effort has to be Big.

    A quote usually attributed to Ayn Rand fits here, nicely, I think:

  You can ignore reality, but you can't ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.

 NOTES

[1] Zani, D., T. W. Crowther, L. Mo, S. S. Renner, and C. M. Zohner. 2020. Increased growing-season productivity drives earlier autumn leaf senescence in temperate trees. Science 370(6520):1066-1071. 27 November 2020.

[2] “Climate crisis ‘likely cause’ of early cherry blossom in Japan.” The Guardian, 30 March 2021.

[3] Mark Twain is often given the credit for being the first to say that everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it. Probably it was his friend, Charles Dudley Warner, editor of the Hartford (Connecticut) Courant, who Twain borrowed it from.

[4] At the September 2021 meeting of the Youth4Climate summit in Milan, Italy, teen Greta Thunberg bluntly chastised adult decision makers: “Build back better. Blah, blah, blah. Green economy. Blah blah blah. Net zero by 2050. Blah, blah, blah.  This is all we hear from our so-called leaders. Words that sound great but so far have not led to action. Our hopes and ambitions drown in their empty promises. Our leaders’ intentional lack of action is a betrayal toward all present and future generations” She isn’t wrong.

[5] Most of my data come from a Gallup Poll from March 2021. Studies in 2020 and 2021  from the Yale Program on Climate Communication and the Pew Research Center show similar results and trends.

[6] See Footnote 5.

[7] Apparently, he is the only “moral” Democrat in Congress. We won’t mention that he is said to have major investments in the coal industry, likely to take a huge hit if we ever get serious about controlling greenhouse gases.

[8] Crawley, S., H. Coffé, and R. Chapman. 2020. Public opinion on climate change: belief and concern, issue salience and support for government action. British Journal of Politics and International Relations  22(1):102-121.


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