Sign about Greta and the children acting more like leaders than adults Climate change Global warming

Greta and Global Warming

Greta Thurnberg speaks at the U.N. about Climate Change  The recipients of this years Nobel prizes have recently been announced. My candidate, Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish girl, was not among them. She received fleeting notice in the press following an impassioned address before the United Nations in which she shamed we “adults” for our failure to seriously address the issue of climate change. She was sharply critical of those who consider only economic factors in the face of 30 years of science warning of the consequences of greenhouse gas emissions, which she says has resulted in the world to be now in the “early stages of a mass extinction.”

 

Greta was an unlikely person to become a world-famous climate activist. She was socially awkward and extremely shy, which is not unusual in cases of Asperger’s syndrome, especially for Greta who was further afflicted with Selective Mutism. However, Greta has refused to see herself as disabled and regarding her diagnoses says: “It makes me see the world differently. I see through lies more easily. I don’t like compromising. To be different is not a weakness. It’s a strength in many ways, because you stand out from the crowd.” This is a link to Greta’s biography.

 

Indeed, this remarkable young person has stood out in a crowded world. In addition to her U.N. speech her accomplishments include inspiring children’s uprisings throughout the world including the September 20th “School Strike for Climate” involving an estimated 4 million people world-wide which had preceded her address at the U.N.

Greta was born into an apparently supportive and relatively affluent family along with a younger sister. There is little information available as to her early childhood. However, one could assume there were the usual problems associated with the presence of an autistic spectrum child in the family. Her mother is an opera singer, who is famous throughout Europe, and her father is an actor. From what I could ascertain, it appears her parents have been supportive of Greta in her political activities. From the available history, it appears that Greta was not in special classes, but preferred to sit silently in the back of the classroom. At the age of 8, her class was shown a series of documentaries about climate change that would change her life.

 

She became obsessed with the climate issue, or in Greta’s words: “those pictures were stuck in my head,” which is a common problem for those with Asperger’s Syndrome. Three years later, she had become severely depressed, and unable to function. “I kept thinking about it (climate change), and wondered if I am going to have a future.” She was finally able to overcome her Selective Mutism, and confess to her Mother how the obsession had come to dominate her thinking and crowd out every other thought. Should Greta’s mother ever lose her voice and be unable to sing, I suggest she might find a promising career as a psychotherapist as her response was exactly what was needed. She listened attentively, and acknowledged the seriousness of the issue without the hollow reassurances and platitudes we are often tempted to issue in such situations.

 

For Greta, this was an “ah-hah” moment. After listening to her recitation of all the facts that Greta had collected regarding climate change, her mom was converted on the spot to a full-fledged environmentalist. Eventually, she would even stop traveling by air, install solar panels on their home, and join Greta as a vegetarian. Apparently, Greta was inspired by her parents’ response and began to think she might be able to influence others to share her concerns about climate change. “That’s when I kind of realized that I could make a difference.”

 

At age 15, Greta entered a climate writing competition held by the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, and was declared a winner. Her essay titled ‘We know – and we can do something now’ was published which brought her to the attention of an activist who mentioned the strike by the Parkland Florida students who were seeking to change gun laws. She liked the idea of a school strike, and immediately set out to recruit fellow students. She was not deterred when none would join her, but found an old board on which she painted ‘Skolstrejk for Klimatet’ (school strike for climate). Equipped with her sign and some hand written flyers, she initiated her one-person strike by sitting alone outside the Swedish Parliament building.

One of the news people covering parliament paused to interview her and wrote a brief article. The following day Greta was joined by others in her strike and the numbers continued to grow for the next 21 days until the Swedish national elections took place. The story was picked up by other news outlets, and social media. As a result of her rapid rise

to fame, Greta was invited to speak at a climate rally in front of thousands of people. Her parents were reluctant to allow her to do it due to their concerns about her selective mutism. However; Greta was adamant that she must speak out and said of her disorder: “Basically it means I only speak when I think it’s necessary. Now is one of those moments.” The speech was delivered in flawless English and declared a rousing success.

 

Since that first debut, her speeches and interviews have gained huge audiences. As with this most recent rendering, she speaks on her subject with authority and nary a slip of the tongue. Her English is impeccable without a trace of an accent. The U.N. speech was a climax to the worldwide school strike, but she was not done yet for the next day she announced on twitter: “I and 15 other children from around the world filed a legal complaint against 5 nations over the climate crisis through the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. These 5 nations (France, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, and Turkey) are the largest emitters that have ratified the convention.” During that U.N. visit, she traveled to Washington, D.C., to speak to the U.S. Congress Committee on Climate Issues. She bluntly told them, I don’t want you to listen to me, I want you to listen to the scientists and take real action as she explained why she was attaching the The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report on Climate Change to her testimony.

 

It appears to me that the world has taken little note of what Greta and her buddies have accomplished, but then I guess it is not considered as newsworthy as a Trump tweet. In like fashion, it seems that the climate gets little notice in spite of all the bad news that seems to confirm the accuracy of climatologists’ frightening predictions. If anything, all that bad stuff they have been talking about for years is taking place more rapidly than predicted. In the U.S., our most recent crisis involved flooding in the northeast and fires in the west, but there is no place in the world left unscathed.

  • Some examples include Venice where the current flooding is the worst ever recorded.
  • There is also the Amazon rain forest still ablaze with nearly 3800 square miles destroyed in the past year compliments of Brazil’s president Bolsonoro, a rightwing climate change denier. This is a triple whammy, for in addition to its role in producing oxygen, it sequestered large amounts of CO2 which is released back into the atmosphere as it burns.
  • We just experienced the warmest July ever recorded while 24 billion tons of ice melted in Greenland.
  • With an ice sheet in some places nearly 2 miles thick, there is enough ice there that when melted will raise sea levels 23 feet.
  • Michael Bevis, lead author of a recent publication by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science states that we are now at a tipping point beyond which there will be no stopping the melt which is now increasing at 4 times the rate which had been predicted. If that trend is not reversed many coastal cities throughout the world will soon be immersed, resulting in mass migrations from our most densely populated areas.
  • It has recently been determined that the arctic permafrost is now melting much faster than had originally been predicted and liberating methane, an even more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. It has long been known that warming oceans contribute to more violent storms, but recent studies have shown that they are becoming acidic due to absorption of CO2, threatening not only reefs but all manner of marine life on which millions depend for sustenance. It has been said that the major grain producing areas of the world are particularly vulnerable to drought and even becoming deserts.

 

The news is not all bad however. I have heard that some renewable sources of energy are now less expensive than fossil fuels. How ironic it would be if pursuit of the mighty Dollar, which led us down this rabbit hole, would ultimately be our salvation. If we make more money using other energy sources, the fossil stuff will be left in the ground where it belongs. As for me, I put my hopes on Greta and her several million friends although She has said: “I don’t want you to be hopeful, I want you to panic.” Her wish may be coming true for Time has recently published a story about a world wide epidemic of “eco-anxiety.”

 

Greta Thunberg: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic”

Most would agree that Greta is different. Unfortunately, “different” is often used with a negative connotation. Perhaps, we should use another adjective, such as special, extraordinary, bold, courageous, dedicated, to describe those who are “different” for throughout history we have seen many who were saddled with the label of “different” accomplish amazing things. In some whom we call savants we witness areas of genius in the face of severe limitations.  Greta, realized that she was not ordinary and said: “That’s when I realized I could make a difference”, and she has.  You go Girl!

Editor’s Note: While editing eshrink’s blog, I found this blog post from Scientific American that previews a book written about scientists actually underestimating the rate of climate change and what can be done about it.

 

Sign about Greta and the children acting more like leaders than adults Climate change Global warming

Mother Earth from Space

Global warming and climate change continue to affect our habitat. Mother Earth will survive. Humans may not. ALWAYS LOVE YOUR MOTHER!

 

Farm Life

While on my way to visit kids and grandkids recently, I passed through some of the most lush farmland in the country.  In western Ohio and eastern Indiana one can see for miles in all directions for the land is tabletop flat, and the soil is nearly black.  Early settlers must have concluded that they had indeed reached the promised land.  It is difficult to imagine an area on the planet more suitable for farming, and it has been utilized as such for two hundred years or more.

During the last forty years of traveling this route, there have been dramatic changes in the landscape for this is the age of corporate agriculture with its
“factory farms”.  Gone are the fences, farmhouses, barns, silos and houses that identified family farms.  In their place are huge expanses of unadorned land reaching almost to the horizon with a lone house and machinery shed surrounded by shiney metal granary bins visible in the distance.

On this trip, I noticed a bulldozer in one of those fields which was in the process of demolishing a house.  It had also attacked a group of trees surrounding the house and there was no evidence of the barn and silo which must have once resided there.   I wondered about the family who had lived in that house and worked that soil.  I wondered about how many generations had lived there and how many kids grew up there.  I wondered about what had led them to sell out.  Was it the amount of money offered, poor management, crop failure, or simply a lack of interest by the kids and their desire to pursue an urban life?

Whatever the history of that house, I felt sad to see that it would soon be obliterated for it provided further evidence that a way of life which had existed for thousands of years would soon be gone.  200 years ago more than 90% of people were involved in farming while today it is less than 2%.  Early on man learned that planting his own crops and domesticating animals was more efficient and less risky than hunting for food.  As he became more proficient he was able to barter and later sell what was left after he fed his family, a tradition which survived until recent times.  In the last century that system was turned on its head as farmers joined the evolving culture of specialization.  Rather than growing food for his family and selling what was left, he sold what he produced and bought food for his family with the proceeds.

During my adolescence I was fortunate enough to spend a year living on my Grandparents farm.  It was small, and operated primarily as a source of food for the family; consequently it was diversified with cows, chickens, pigs, a huge vegetable garden, and a field of corn large enough to feed the animals.  Although they did sell some eggs and milk the primary fruits of their labor was to provide food for the family.  To live there was to be in harmony with nature.  I found it very satisfying to eat what I had labored to help nature produce.  I have been a “city slicker” all my life, but I still cherish that year I spent learning the most important lessons of my life.

With the age of specialization such farms as my Grandad’s are seen as very inefficient.  Consequently we now have chicken farmers, turkey farmers, hog farmers, dairy farmers, grain farmers, fruit farmers, beef farmers, truck farmers (vegetable growers for you who are unenlightened) and even fish farmers.   Furthermore many of these may be even more specialized producing a particular species of animal or variety of vegetable or fruit.

After a group of investors buy several adjoining farms and clear them of obstructions like buildings and fences, one man on a huge air conditioned tractor can till, sow, fertilize, and reap more crops than could all of the previous occupants combined without even breaking a sweat.  The weed problem was long ago solved by soaking the ground with chemicals which prevent unwanted vegetation from appearing, so forget those long days in the hot sun hoeing a field of corn one stalk at time.

Much about these changes are laudable for in a world in which the World food Program reports 795 million people do not get enough to eat, food production needs to be done as efficiently as possible. Another statistic that floored me was that while we struggle with the problem of childhood obesity 100 million children in developing countries are underweight, and malnutrition is the norm.

There is much about the demise of the family farm, and proliferation of large corporate farms which causes concern for many of us.  Farm subsidy programs are a major source of contention which not surprisingly are popular with farmers, but not so much with others.  In these programs, crazy as it may seem farmers are sometimes paid for not growing crops.  This costs taxpayers 25 billion dollars a year, most of which according to an article in the February 14, 2015 issue of the Economist “goes to big rich farmers…..”.   As nearly as I can tell, this is designed to protect farmers from price fluctuations by limiting production.   What a comfort   to know your business is insured against losses by the federal government.  That type of business welfare appears to be even better than the type enjoyed by “big oil”, or Wall Street.  Little wonder that “agribusiness” has expanded rapidly.   I can’t help but wonder if that subsidy money might be better spent by paying farmers to grow stuff and using the surplus to feed those kids who go to school hungry.  25 billion dollars should buy a lot of corn flakes.

Environmentalists are also in a tizzy over modern farming techniques with good reason.  In 2015 there were 190.4 million tons of fertilizer used worldwide with its runoff causing all kinds of problems.  For example, in my area of the world it is deemed responsible for the pollution of Lake Erie with toxic algae affecting the fishing industry among other things.  There are reports of so called “dead zones” in streams where fertilizer run off is said to reduce oxygen levels to a level incompatible with the life of fish and other aquatic organisms.

The debate over other health issues which may be associated with fertilizers rages on between the environmental community and the major chemical companies.  There is also speculation about impurities such as heavy metals which could have a more long lasting effect on the soil.   However there seems little doubt these chemicals have had a major effect in increasing food production.

Even more contentious are the disagreements as to the effect of insecticides and herbicides.  These substances are after all powerful poisons which are spread over wide areas.  Many entomologists believe that one type of bug killer (neonicotinoids) is largely responsible for the demise of large numbers of bees which are so necessary to pollinate many of our fruits and vegetables. . Neonicotinoids are still widely used in the U.S. while they have been banned in Europe, enough for a cynical old tree hugger like myself to lose even more confidence in the EPA. It also seems logical that the widespread use of weed killers could adversely affect wildlife populations.  Once again, skeptical me does not find the reassurances of giant agribusiness companies that these substances are innocuous very comforting.

Livestock farms pose even more disturbing scenarios.   The December issue of Scientific American published an expose of the effects of antibiotic use in livestock “the looming threat of factory farm superbugs”.  Animal rights advocates have  long complained about the policy of close confinement of animals and chickens in order for them to require less feed and gain weight faster.  The author of this article visited a hog farm to find 1100 pigs housed in a 40 x 200 foot building, which allowed them little room to move or to avoid lying in their own excrement.  Such conditions raise the risk of infections which could decimate the herd, the solution for which is to give them antibiotics.

blog-pigs

Recently researchers have found evidence of drug resistant bacteria in these animals.  In one study 70% of pigs tested were positive for MRSA, the drug resistant staphylococcus which has become a major problem for hospitals nationwide, and now shows signs of entering the population at large.  They have also found those same organisms in workers on these farms.   In addition to the risk from undercooked pork, the bacteria can also be transmitted from handling raw meat from infected pork, chicken, or beef.  With that in mind it is important for those preparing meats to wash their hands thoroughly after handling them.

In most cases the format for the pork factories is different than for grain farms.  It appears that in most cases, the company does not own land, but pays a farmer to raise their pigs until they are old enough to butcher.  What is most disturbing about the Scientific American piece is their assertion that researchers who wish to investigate this problem have been denied access to these farms on orders by the corporations who own the pigs. This prompted Dr. James Johnson at the University of Minnesota to say “Frankly, it reminds me of the tobacco, asbestos, and oil industries”.  “We have a long history of industries subverting public health”.  The response to this potential epidemic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been tepid at best, while the Netherlands and Denmark outlawed such animal antibiotic use years ago.  The mantra that business is over-regulated in the U.S. does not seem to apply in this case.

There is also the   problem especially in the pork business of what to do with the manure.  It doesn’t take much imagination to understand that raising 30 or 40 thousand pigs a year in one spot could result in a lot of pig poop.  The problem has been solved by building “lagoons” in which to dump it.  Believe me if any of you have ever had a whiff of pig shit, you will know that lagoon is not a very appropriate designation for these super cesspools.

blog-water

It does not take a high powered scientist to understand that odor might be the smallest part of the problem.  The leak into an aquafer for example could not be very healthy for those downstream.

Last but not least is the issue of genetically modified organisms (GMO) about which there does not seem to be a consensus.  There are those who think foods from these seeds may be unhealthy, and others who express concern over the dangers of tinkering around with DNA apparently concerned that some Frankenstein plant form might evolve.  Those on the other side of that fence point out that we have been doing genetic engineering for many years, by creating hybrids, selective breeding, or by grafting one part of a plant on to another.  They also suggest we look at dogs who exist in hundreds of varieties, who although genetically different from each other all have the wolf as their ancestor.

One very promising development of this science has been the ability to develop plants which are drought resistant.  It is also reported that it may be possible to produce plants which are unaffected by pests.  If that were to come to pass we might be able to eliminate the use of some of those pesticides which certainly would not be a bad thing.  On the other hand, once again we face that same old conundrum, forced to decide if the good resulting from the implementation of a new technology outweighs the bad.  Unfortunately, we are often unable to anticipate the bad.

At this point you may be thinking that many of these thoughts are colored by the nostalgic meanderings of an old man, and of course you would be correct.  Although I am saddened by the losses of a subculture, I am heartened and amazed at the scientific achievements witnessed during my lifetime.  One of these is how it has been made possible to yield so much food from our soil.  My grandfather would be amazed to learn that his one acre which had produced 50 bushels of corn could now yield three times that much.

So far innovations in farming have allowed us to increase food production to grow at a faster pace than the world’s  population; therefore refuting Malthus’s prediction of world -wide starvation.   The big question that remains open is whether such innovations will be able to keep up with a continued increase in world population especially while facing the challenges of climate change, if we will be able to do this without killing the goose that lays the golden egg.