(Swans - January 28, 2013) Climate change is the entropy of industrialized civilization. It is Nature's fever from its infection by viral capitalism.
In early January 2013, the National Climatic Data Center in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that 2012 was the hottest year ever recorded in the contiguous United States, with a mean temperature of 12.9º C (55.3º F). The average for the 20th century was 11.2º C (52.1º F), and the scatter of the yearly data points about that century average lies within the band defined by 10º C (50º F) and 12.2º C (54º F).
The globally averaged temperature during 2012 was described as follows in the National Climatic Data Center's "State of the Climate" announcement:
The globally-averaged temperature for 2012 marked the 10th warmest year since record keeping began in 1880. It also marked the 36th consecutive year with a global temperature above the 20th century average. The last below-average annual temperature was 1976. Including 2012, all 12 years to date in the 21st century (2001-2012) rank among the 14 warmest in the 133-year period of record. Only one year during the 20th century -- 1998 -- was warmer than 2012.
NOAA also estimated that there were eleven extreme weather and climate events in the U.S. during 2012 that caused losses of more than one billion dollars each. Extreme weather events included the drought extending over 61% of the nation (the Great Plains and Hawaii), the heat waves in the Northeast, the extensive wildfires in the Southwest, and the storms along the Gulf and East Coasts: Hurricane Isaac and Post-Tropical Cyclone Sandy.
At the same time as NOAA was issuing its "State of the Climate" announcement, a bushfire catastrophe was declared by the Australian government. In December 2012 and early January 2013, during an austral summer with unprecedented high temperatures, fires raged across so much of the states of New South Wales (in which the cities of Sydney and Canberra are situated) and the island state of Tasmania that the smoke plumes massed into a blanket obscuring daylight at ground level, and the view of the landmass beneath it to astronauts orbiting above.
Also appearing in early January 2013 was a massive draft report on climate change in the United States, by the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee (NCADAC) of the US Global Change Research Program. After a three-month period of public review and comment (ending April 12, 2013), and review by the National Academies of Sciences, NCADAC will revise its draft report and submit it to the Federal Government for approval as the Third National Climate Assessment Report. The previous NCA Reports were issued in 2000 and 2009.
The draft NCADAC report is detailed and unequivocal about the many specific manifestations of ongoing climate change occurring within the territory of the United States. The purpose of the NCA Report "is to establish a scientific and credible foundation of information that is useful for a variety of science and policy applications related to managing risk and maximizing opportunities in a changing climate."
The atmosphere today holds more moisture because it is warmer than in previous centuries. That enhanced fluid mass can be cycled with greater intensity because of the added heat energy, as storms and floods, or withheld with more enduring pitilessness as drought. As global warming continues, we can expect a higher frequency of droughts, heat waves, wildfires, downpours, and tropical storms like those of 2012, and of greater intensity.
Despite the stark assessment of ongoing climate change in the new US Government reports, a multitude of fresh memories of extreme weather events and associated personal tragedies in 2012, and the greater publicity about climate change in mass media today, the issue of implementing a broad and immediate national response to climate change, and then an international response, neither dominates the attention of the American public nor perceptibly impacts the formation and conduct of national policy. Why is that?
Many concerned with the ominous potentialities of climate change believe that the corporate stranglehold on mass media throttles the flow of information to the public about the links between climate change and political economy, as part of a management of the public mind by a national elite so as to preserve popular attitudes of consumption that continue to support, acquiesce to, or be fooled by profitable schemes of finance, commercialism and resource exploitation. To some of the people deeply concerned about climate change, it may seem as if censorship is being practiced out of elite fears of awakening the public and then overturning the economic order.
It is not a matter of censorship, but of mental inertia. For most people, behavior is habitual, ingrained by training through indoctrination (TV, advertising, peer pressure; thought molded by an external agency), and thinking is fashioned after the fact to align with behavior ("I'm cool because I own this desirable stuff," or "I have substance and status because I am recognized by this class of better people").
Changes to behavior are fiercely resisted by any person who takes the pattern and style of their learned and imprinted behaviors to define them, to be their self-image. To "force" someone to change their behavior is to force them to re-think who they are, and that is nearly always experienced as a demotion, a degradation: psychological death.
Confronting people with your anxiety about climate change as an emergency they must respond to immediately and irrevocably can be received as a demand that they commit psychological suicide: Climate change means that all your implicit assumptions about the world on which you base your life and self-image are wrong, you must kill your present psychological self (your idea of who you are and how you should live) and accept a new one that fits in with the new climate-change-altered reality coming into being.
One segment of the population will flat out deny the existence of the threat to its psychological continuity, and this is simple climate change denial.
The more liberal resistant people will accept the logic describing climate change as a physical reality, but see it as external to their lives. They will block the climate change imperative to live differently, to exist differently, by moving the issue of climate change far away from their immediate spheres of thought and action, and onto remote domains controlled by forces and institutions they hope will save them. So, they will look to cap-and-trade economic schemes, geo-engineering schemes, anticipated "new" and "hybrid" and "carbon-free" technologies, so they can continue with existing behaviors despite the changing externality of climate, and continue to believe they will be shielded from climate change harm. This is why so many affluent people drive the Toyota Prius automobile, with a hybrid electric-combustion propulsion system. The sought-for mental oasis is: "It will cocoon me from the external threat to my inflexible behavior."
To be clear-eyed about climate change requires accepting three facts:
1. Human-caused climate change is real, accelerating rapidly, and inevitable; human restraint on greenhouse gas emissions can only make it "less bad" in the future.
2. People who are fully prepared to alter their ambitions and their conceptions of how to live, to both adapt to ongoing climate change and to mitigate its future development, will be in the minority.
3. The climate-change-accepting minority will be condemned to live in a world, and in most nations, in which the change-resistant majority will determine the economic, industrial, energy-use and environmental exploitation practices.
The idea that we can globalize a climate-change-accepting mentality into species-wide group-think, and species-wide equitable group response, is illusory. What is real is that indeed psychological globalization has occurred, in that sense our world is smaller, or perhaps more accurately, "condensed," but the controlling character of humanity's globalized mind is the simple and primitive brain-fever of self-centeredness, the clutching of acquisitiveness and for control.
Climate will change; people won't.
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About the Author
Manuel García, Jr. on Swans. He is a native of the upper upper west side barrio of the 1950s near Riverside Park in Manhattan, New York City, and a graduate engineering physicist who specialized in the physics of fluids and electricity. He retired from a 29 year career as an experimental physicist with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the first fifteen years of which were spent in underground nuclear testing. An avid reader with a taste for classics, and interested in the physics of nature and how natural phenomena can impact human activity, he has long been interested in non-fiction writing with a problem-solving purpose. García loves music and studies it, and his non-technical thinking is heavily influenced by Buddhist and Jungian ideas. A father of both grown children and a school-age daughter, today García occupies himself primarily with managing his household and his young daughter's many educational activities. García's political writings are left wing and, along with his essays on science-and-society, they have appeared in a number of smaller Internet magazines since 2003, including Swans. Please visit his personal Blog at manuelgarciajr.wordpress.com. (back)