Category Archives: Extreme weather

I Need Thee Every Hour, Most Gracious Toyota

This has been an excruciating couple of weeks for any of us who keep a prayerful eye on the earth’s ecosystems. Hurricane Harvey, which wreaked billions in damage on Houston and the Gulf Coast, ranked as the worst rainstorm ever to hit North America, more than doubling previous records. Hurricane Irma devastated the Caribbean, clocking in as the hurricane with the longest sustained Cat-5 winds on record. Space images revealed three simultaneous hurricanes in the Atlantic at one time. India, Bangladesh and Nepal lost more than one thousand souls to drowning due to record-strong monsoons. The Pacific Northwest choked under a shroud of haze from massive wildfires.

Satellite images of hurricanes Irma, Jose and Katia

Strange weather happens. But this is not normal. The creation is groaning in ways that prior generations never heard. We look for who’s to blame. Surely there’s someone. Of course, we can rightly blame the Trump administration, as they censor climate science, shackle NASA and NOAA from their leading climate science roles, lease more public lands for coal mining, and thumb their noses at national and global efforts to address climate chaos.

Some blame God, assuring us that heaven is in control, and that our actions as a nation and world are essentially His problem to fix, without any effort on our part.

But any honest assessment must also include us among the culprits: You and me. Our culture is carbon crazy; but in particular, we have gone car crazy. We love our cars. We have a right to our cars! We couldn’t live without our cars! To varying degrees? Sure. But it’s time to address our addiction, and its effect on the world around us.

Cars and travel account for more than a quarter of US greenhouse gas emissions, among the world’s highest. We may bemoan the super-sized American appetite for carbon, but it’s no good trying to solve it while living nearly every aspect of our lives behind the wheel. We simply have to take our addiction seriously.

And it won’t be easy. This became painfully obvious to Barbara and me on the weekend as we traveled from New Jersey to North Carolina for a week of grandchild-care. On the way, we pulled our Prius into a Chick-Fil-A restaurant for a quick sandwich. To our amazement, the restaurant had only six parking spaces – all full – with double lines of cars snaking slowly into an enormous tandem drive-thru complex. No room at Chick-Fil-A for people willing to turn off the engine for lunch.

Double rows of cars at Chick-Fil-A drive-thru

Nearly a decade ago, I committed never to use any drive-thru again, so that was that.

We hurried on. Steak-and-Shake was next door, and there were parking vacancies. But with all the cars waiting in line for the drive-up window, the staff had little time for us humans on foot. A simple hamburger lunch ended up costing us an hour.

Reaching our destination in Carolina, we ventured out into Durham on Sunday morning for church, passing mile after mile of nearly vacant highways, overpasses and exit ramps, with no human structures anywhere in sight. A vast web of asphalt built to assure that the next generation of cars would have plenty of room to run and play. Light rail? Bike paths? None in sight. Just miles and miles of roads for our precious cars. (Precious! We needs them!)

Coffee without moving a muscle

On Monday morning, I took one of my grandchildren to school, since there’s no school bus available. Blocks away from the school, cars were lined up along the curb to drop off the kids without the hassle of stepping out from behind the wheel. We zipped past a long line of brake lights and tailpipes, left the car, and hoofed it a short hop to the 2nd-grade classroom – past scores, or even hundreds, of cars belching exhaust as they inched their way toward the drive-up entrance. At pick-up time in the afternoon, it was the same story: a nearly endless procession of parents in SUVs crawling their way toward waiting children – all presumably able to walk; all seemingly unable to imagine a world of natural human mobility.

My dear creation-caring friends, I recognize how committed you are to advocacy for climate action. You voted; you called your congressional representatives; maybe you marched through the heart of your city bearing signs with compelling slogans. A year from now, you’ll have your chance to vote into office men and women who will care for the earth and its most vulnerable children. But at some point, we are going to have to begin modeling lives that break with our American love affair. At some point, we’re going to have to get out of the car, plant our feet on the ground, and begin to reclaim the right to move ourselves without fouling the air.

American madness: cars snake in an endless line to the school drop-off

Why not start this way: If you are able to walk, why not commit before God today that you can do without the drive-thru line? At the bank, the coffee shop, the restaurant, at school or even (believe it or not) at church, you can join those who model a certain level of care for the earth by shutting off the motor, and standing on your own feet. It won’t save the world, of course. For that, we’ll all need to take a thousand steps. But maybe this will make the next one a bit easier.

Thanks for reading, thanks for walking, and God bless you.

P.S. For good measure, one last picture for those of us who participate in church on Sundays. I know, I know: It’s absolutely nuts.

How to Really Help Hurricane Harvey Victims

“American Christians are incredibly responsive when it comes to acts of mercy. You know, famines, epidemics and floods – we can be really generous.” Sitting across the lunch table from me in Philadelphia, evangelical theologian Ron Sider smiled kindly as he dwelt on the heartfelt compassion of our fellow evangelicals.

But then a more somber cloud darkened the Christian justice icon’s brow. “When it comes to structural injustice,” he said, “the economic, environmental and social systems that lurk just below the surface of human suffering – we’re not nearly so good at that.”

Ron Sider, theologian, author, activist and founder of Evangelicals for Social Action

One of the happiest associations of my life has been with Sider, a lifelong campaigner for gospel justice and founder of Evangelicals for Social Action. Like hundreds of other bit-players in his orbit, I’ve always been amazed at his gentleness toward those whom God has called him to rouse from comfortable religious slumber. But he was definitely onto something: If we evangelicals could be persuaded to care about the underlying causes of calamity, the world could be transformed for good – on earth as it is in Heaven.

As I watch the news pour in from Houston today, Sider’s words come back to me, in real time. I am dying to get in on the tangible relief. Where can I give? There’s the Red Cross, of course. (http://rdcrss.org/2xvQKd8) And there’s the Salvation Army. (http://bit.ly/2vtIdF2) I can help! Even $25 will make a difference!

My heart is pounding. I want to do something! And so do millions of other Christians. We will give. And in the coming months, we’ll pack up crow bars and hammers, and help tear out the mold and ruined wiring – just like Sider said we would.

But his words still haunt my thoughts: What about the CAUSES of Houston’s suffering?

Decades ago, Ron Sider helped to found the country’s largest evangelical network advocating for urgent climate action. He knew then, as we all know now, that virtually every coastal city will be condemned to Houston’s present fate, if we don’t overcome denial and act to preserve the earth’s climate systems. And we were recently making serious progress. We were reducing our carbon footprints. Our nation had a Clean Power Plan for low-carbon electricity. In our future were clean-running cars, and mining that cleaned up after itself. Our seas and our atmosphere were going to be nobody’s free dumping ground. And we joined with every other nation in the world in a global effort under the Paris Accord.

Today, roughly six months into the Trump presidency, every one of those initiatives is in shambles, the wreckage left by a President who has called climate change a “Chinese hoax;” an EPA Administrator who has made a career of fighting against climate action on behalf of oil drillers; and an Interior Secretary intent on throwing open Federal lands to coal mining and oil, just when our world is glutted with way too much of the stuff.

What’s the greatest threat to beleaguered Houston today? As bad as things are now – and they are awful – they could be unimaginably horrible if we don’t stop the madness. And the chaos will almost certainly be extended to Norfolk, Tampa, Boston, Miami, New York and New Orleans. (Not to bore you with Dhaka, Kolkata, Lagos, Amsterdam, London, Ho Chi Minh City, Manila, Guangzhou and Shanghai.)

And so, if you’re willing to take a word from the social conscience of the American evangelical church, Ron Sider would surely applaud your impulse to give to the Red Cross and the Salvation Army – and to sign up with All Hands Volunteers. (https://www.hands.org/) … BUT…

Let me suggest – as he would – that you also consider joining the fight against the underlying causes: the sea level rise and the heat-driven extreme weather that have caused the National Weather Service to declare Harvey “unprecedented & beyond anything experienced.”

Unfortunately, today you can’t really fight the underlying causes in Congress. Of course, the White House isn’t listening either. But the COURTS are. And that’s where the Environmental Defense Fund (http://bit.ly/2gndzvl), EarthJustice (http://bit.ly/2xvK0eX) and even the Natural Resources Defense Council (http://on.nrdc.org/20F006z) operate. If you care for people like those in Houston, these three entities may do as much good – and perhaps much more – than the bearers of tangible relief like food and shelter.

For example, EDF is measuring how much methane (a powerful climate-warming gas) escapes from every kind of industry; and it’s fighting the President’s efforts to kill the Clean Power Plan. EarthJustice is fighting pipelines that threaten indigenous people and rules seeking to block the progress toward clean fuels. NRDC is fighting against the dirtiest fossil-fuel projects, and supporting the transition to cleaner energy sources.

So, my friends, please, go ahead. The Red Cross is working around the clock, and they need your help. But maybe, you might save some of your giving for those who labor in the courtrooms as well? Today, they may be the last, best hope for a country mired in catastrophic climate denial — and for the good folks of the Texas Coast.

Connections: Anti-Refugee Furor and Censored Science

 

Two items in today’s news are connected in ways you may not have considered.

  • First, the voters of France chose their next President: Emmanuel Macron, a centrist newcomer to politics, over neo-Fascist Marine Le Pen, by a wide margin. Europe, France and global markets breathed a deep sigh of relief. Despite admiration on the part of both Putin’s Kremlin and Trump’s White House, Le Pen and her Front National were rejected by two thirds of French voters. And while the champagne is undoubtedly still flowing in Parisian cafes, one ominous fact remains: A right-wing party widely associated with racism, white nationalism, Holocaust denial and anti-refugee frenzy garnered the votes of one in three French men and women.
  • Second, in Washington, the Trump regime took steps to muzzle climate research at the EPA, firing two scientists from its science advisory board in the late after-hours on Friday, and pushing for an 84 percent cut in funding for the board overall. The move is widely understood to be part of a broad effort to muzzle science within the EPA, and to unleash the power of the fossil-fuel industry.

    EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt leading the charge to suppress climate science at the Agency

Climate science suppression among Washington’s new rulers. Refugee hysteria in a large segment of the French electorate. So what’s the connection? Maybe it’s obvious to you. Maybe not.

Our Western democracies have proven to be much less resilient to systemic shocks than we might have believed. Sure, there were some nasty events in Europe during the last century. There were Nazis, and Fascists, and Bolsheviks and such. But who can imagine our world slipping back into that abyss? It would take massive tectonic shifts for us to return to those dark days, no? Surely, we’ve progressed way beyond such risks, right?

But in 2006, something happened that threatened to undo our civil democratic order. It must have seemed a distant grief to Western democracies in those days: An epic drought hit the Middle East. And it overstayed its welcome in Syria, Turkey and Iraq for four long years. In Syria, the drought forced hundreds of thousands of farmers to abandon their fields and migrate to urban centers, exacerbating sectarian conflicts long held in check by Bashar al-Assad’s repressive regime. The resulting civil war has so far displaced four million desperate refugees, roughly half of them now crowding Europe’s displacement camps and resettlement communities. A couple of million refugees.

Now, consider the result of this wave of migrants:

  • Great Britain voted to leave the European Union. Granted, the arguments for Brexit were varied, but fear of immigrants dominated to the debate. No one believes that the Brits would have cast off the European bow lines if not for the wave of refugees from the Middle East.
  • And Hungary: Right-wing nationalists now run the country.
  • And in Poland, where the right-wing authoritarian regime has clamped down on public protest and intimidated the judiciary.
  • And in Austria, where anti-immigrant nationalists recently came within a whisker of winning the election.
  • And even in progressive Netherlands, the anti-Islam party of Geert Wilders finished a strong second in the latest election.
  • And here across the pond, there’s the United States, where the new president took power in a campaign launched on fear of Mexican criminals and “rapists.”

And finally, yesterday in France, Marine Le Pen and her anti-immigrant Front National garnered the votes of one in three voters. Sure, centrist Macron came away with the win; but the neo-Fascists made the most of the social disruption caused by the influx of foreigners.

A few million refugees, and the Western democracies are thrown into chaos.

And that brings us to the second piece of news: Trump’s EPA is silencing its climate scientists, most recently firing two of its top science advisors, and planning to cut funding for its science advisory board by a draconian 84%. Evidently, they plan on having almost no one remaining there to speak for science.

The connection is still a bit cloudy? Here’s the point: Mass human migration tends to have catastrophic effects on otherwise stable societies. The exodus from Syria is widely recognized as an event driven by a vanishingly rare drought, made much more extreme by the climatic warming afflicting the region. The Syrian Civil War is often placed alongside Darfur as one of the first climate wars of this age.

But it’s not remotely the last. Today’s wave of Syrian refugees is now projected to look like a rounding error in the coming wave of human migration that awaits the world during the next generation. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the world will have to absorb between 250 million and one billion “climate change refugees” over the next 50 years. Maybe one hundred times more than we have seen in Syria. Maybe three hundred times more. Fleeing drought, famine, resource conflicts, sea-level rise and flooding made worse by climate change.

How will we respond to such an enormous crisis? Well, a wise society could begin with Option One: build infrastructure, establish resettlement programs, educate the public and foster dialogue with affected communities. Or it could go with Option Two: pour its resources into bombs, bullets, border guards and walls. But our choice will be informed at least in part by the extent that we accept our responsibility for the conditions driving the mass migration. And that’s where the science is so troubling. Scientists know that it’s greenhouse gases principally driving this climatic chaos. And we’re among the world’s worst greenhouse gas gluttons.

The Trump regime has bet the ranch on Option Two. Billions more for the world’s largest military and border walls, while silencing the science that exposes the consequences of our carbon binge.

So you knew it, of course. The rise of anti-refugee movements in the West goes hand-in-glove with the efforts to suppress the science explaining one of the principal underlying causes of mass human migration. This, of course, will become impossible in the years ahead, when it will be largely too late to change course.

We still have time, today, however, to respond. Will we listen to the scientists, and our own better angels, or will we fire them and charge headlong into the abyss?

Please, dear friends, raise your voices to be sure that we listen to wisdom.

Plant Hardiness Zones Racing Toward the Poles

“Sweetheart, what hardiness zone are we in?” It’s getting late in the fall season, and Barbara is reading up on whether or not to bring her thyme plants indoors.

What plant hardiness zone are we in?

What hardiness zone are we in?

Like all growers, we care about plant hardiness zones. They guide us with regard to planting times and suitable plant varieties. They tell nurseries when to ship saplings to us, and when we ought to plant them. Just now, they’re going to settle for Barbara whether or not to dig up her thyme. But at the moment, I somehow can’t remember.

“I think we’re in seven. Or maybe six. Let me check.”

There are eight plant hardiness zones in the United States, as determined by the USDA. Zone 3 is a thin strip up along the Canadian border. Only the hardiest plants will survive the winter up there. Zone 10 is basically South Florida, where winter is always balmy.

It turns out I had a good reason for my confusion about our zone at Good Hand Farm. When we started farming here, almost all of New Jersey was Zone 6. Fifteen years later, it’s basically all Zone 7. The plant hardiness zone has moved about 200 miles north in sixteen years. That’s about twelve miles per year, around here.

But it’s happening just about everywhere. In 1990, virtually all of Kentucky was Zone 6. By 2006, the whole state was zone 7. In the Upper Midwest, the border between Zones 4 and 5 ran through Sioux City, Iowa. Now it runs through Minneapolis, more than 200 miles north. Virtually every state has experienced one zone change in less than twenty years. At this pace, in one century, New Jersey would be about four hardiness zones hotter, like Miami, or maybe South Texas.

changes15

Notice the black zone (Zone 3): Almost all gone since 1990.

Repeat that: New Jersey would be like South Texas in one century.

So, how do you grow trees when you’re changing the climate this rapidly? Trees can live for hundreds of years. Two sugar maples out our front door are nearly two centuries old. What happens to them now, as every couple decades ushers in a whole new climatic zone? And what happens to our forests, brimming with cold-weather species, but now subject to increasing heat every decade?

We are performing a massive, uncontrolled experiment upon ourselves, and upon all the creatures who share our communities. When are we going to grasp how reckless it is to radically alter climate conditions within a single human generation?

Climate change is real. It’s high time our politicians own up to the fact, and begin to work on solutions. Why not contact your Congressional representatives, and ask them where they stand? Otherwise, you might have New Jersey feeling like South Texas or Miami. And if so, those places would feel like something straight out of your worst nightmares.

The time to do something is now. This world belongs to God, and we’ll surely have to account to him for what we’ve done to it — or for our silence while others did so.

Contact your Congressional Representatives.

NEWSFLASH: Earth Just Had a Not-Record-Hot Month!

It had to happen sooner or later. After sixteen consecutive months of record monthly global heat since record-keeping began, September 2016 fell short of the prior September’s heat by a scant 0.04 degrees Celsius, making it only the second hottest September in the last 137 years.

That is, if you believe the National Oceanic & Aeronautic Administration (NOAA). If you prefer NASA’s analysis, the record heat continues, with this September edging out last September’s record heat by a razor thin margin.

NASA's global temperature has been this color for many, many months

NASA’s global temperature map has been this color for many, many months

Of course, we still run into people who remind us that temperatures go up, and they also go down. So with all these record hot months recently, we looked for the most recent record low month, and found it! It was February 1929, eight months before the stock market crash that ushered in the Great Depression.

Facts are stubborn things. It’s been a long time since the earth has been cool, and the string of record hot global temperatures is becoming downright terrifying. The politicians who control Congress may wish they could hide it, but they simply can’t cling to “I’m-not-sure” any longer, without condemning our children to a dismal future.

My own congressman (Scott Garrett, Republican NJ-5th) is one of these climate-science deniers. I beg him, as I hope you will beg yours: It’s not too late yet. God’s entire creation is in peril from our reckless carbon binge. You may hate the solutions that have been proposed to date. Fine. Propose your own. But we’re not the only ones who have children. When we are dead, and answerable to the Lord of Creation, all of our kids — yours included — will inherit whatever world we have left them.

Isn’t it time we decided to do something to spare them from the chaos we are leaving behind?

How Our Coasts Will Disappear

They say that doom and gloom is sure-fire method of driving away readers. But if sea levels are rising, as seven in ten Americans acknowledge, then it’s worth asking just how – and when – my favorite coastal spot might be gone. Believe me, I know you’d rather not wade into this swamp. But it’s important. Please, take a second to look.

Just this August, Louisiana suffered historic flooding, causing more than $10 billion in damage, 80 percent of it uninsured. It was dubbed the most destructive storm to hit the country since Super Storm Sandy.

Hardly a month later, another storm barely grazed the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, and left behind comparable damage, still being assessed in the range of $6-9 billion.

Big storms, no doubt. But here’s the thing: Neither one involved a hurricane making landfall on U.S. soil. Louisiana merely suffered from an intense rainstorm. And American Easterners nervously watched an advancing hurricane’s trail of destruction and death in Haiti, but breathed a sigh of relief as it sliced eastward into the open Atlantic.

Still, the storm wreaked many billions of dollars of damage, and more than fifty fatalities.

Of course, these storms produced the usual claims and denials about the connection to climate change, as always. But more instructive to me was the picture of what coastal inundation will look like in an age of climate chaos. Here’s why:

For the large majority of Americans who accept the findings of climate science, I suspect we tend to view sea-level rise as a linear phenomenon. Mapping websites abound where you can zoom in on your home, select a hypothetical level of ocean rise, and see whether you’re safe or not. For Louisiana, here’s what it looks like for two feet, well inside many estimates for the current century.capturelouisiana

Look! The blue incursions make New Orleans look pretty dicey, but Baton Rouge and Lafayette are still okay, right? And here’s a look at the Carolinas at two feet. Sure, the Outer Banks, Charleston and Wilmington are all gone, but Goldsboro, Wilmington and Raleigh are pretty good.capture

Okay, admittedly it’s bad, but we can find a way to manage, right?

Actually, no, we probably can’t. Here’s why: These maps may be accurate, for what they’re being asked to do. One a calm, sunny day, the communities shown in the green may be, in fact, above water. But take a look at what happened during the Louisiana non-hurricane – before any further sea-level rise at all:

picture1

Lafayette was inundated. Baton Rouge was a virtual island, with flooding on all sides. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way, was it? New Orleans would slip away first, and Mardi Gras would set up shop Baton Rouge. Except Baton Rouge was flooded out first. (And that’s with today’s sea levels, not an extra couple of feet.)

The Carolinas tell a similar story. After Tropical Storm Matthew slipped past, Goldsboro and Lumberton – each about 80 miles inland from the Atlantic beaches – were completely awash, together with hundreds of other inland communities.picture2

For nearly ten years now, we’ve been warning our fellow beach-lovers: Visit as often as you like, enjoy the sun and surf. But please, please, don’t invest the nest egg in sea-side property. Even now, that’s probably sound advice. But the picture is actually much worse. In a world of increasingly dire climate chaos, you’re hardly safe in low-lying inland communities either.

What should you do? Well, what if we started by living like people who understand that the future of our world, and especially our children’s, depends on lower carbon emissions. Cut our carbon footprint, and offset what we can’t cut.

But whatever our individual efforts, there are many things that we can only accomplish together — as a country, or as an entire world. We can each drive smarter, but most of us can’t develop our own electric car. We can insulate the house, but most of us can’t build our own wind farm. These things depend on concerted national action. So find out what your Congressional representative is doing about climate change. And look at where the Presidential candidates stand.

The consequences of ignoring climate change may seem to be a long way off. But for many on our lowland coasts, they’ve already arrived.

Reader’s Poll: What January’s Record NYC Snowstorm Tells Us

During the three days from January 22nd to the 24th, a mammoth blizzard paralyzed New York City with 27.5 inches of snowfall – the city’s biggest snowstorm since record-keeping began in 1869.1171676_630x354

Beloved Planet wants to know what you think about this. Please choose the answer that most closely reflects your response to this news:

  • Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe and his Congressional allies are right in dismissing climate change as “a massive hoax” perpetrated by greedy scientists getting richer and richer.
  • NASA, NOAA and the EPA are right in stating that “as temperatures rise and the air becomes warmer, more moisture evaporates  into the atmosphere. More moisture in the air means we can expect more rain and snow.”
  • Yet another example of President Obama’s feckless leadership. Thanks Obama!
  • The square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides.
  • It’s mainly Elsa’s fault, with all that stuff about “I don’t care what they’re going to say. Let the storm rage on ….”