A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Mesmerized by Global Warming

My friend the Anchoress now also writes columns under her own name, Elizabeth Scalia, over at Pajamas Media. Her latest is titled: Psychologists Want to Purge Your Brain of Un-Green Thoughts. In it she says this:

These experts have made the staggering observation that negative feedback breeds a bit of spite; if you tell people they are pigs who are killing the earth, people will raise an eyebrow and defiantly throw their candy wrappers on the ground, but if they are “invested in the environment” and lauded for that, they will keep the candy wrappers in their pockets....


That’s just what Americans need — more scolding. We don’t get enough from the press, the political parties, and the establishment moralists; now we need to scold each other. Presumably, the next step after finger-wagging at our neighbors for their environmental failings will be informing on them — especially if we’re suspected of not being “green enough” ourselves.

All of this manipulation and social engineering is necessary, you understand, because we’re facing a “crisis.” The environmental “crisis” is the mother lode of guilt-tripping; if it is successful — if people can be made to accept the unprovable theory that humankind, not nature, is responsible for “climate change” — then the tentacles of the nanny state will be able to reach into every aspect of every life.

I don’t have to be mesmerized by psychologists to believe the climate is changing. I’m watching it happen before my eyes year by year every time I step out my door. It’s real. And it’s manmade. It’s too much and too fast to be anything else.

There’s no ideal temperature for the Earth, but below about 27F deciduous ornamental plants die back to the ground, above 86F those same deciduous plants will go dormant and stop growing, and the coldest temperatures of Winter will determine which plants will live to regrow the next year, as "perenials", and which won't and will have to be replanted, as"annuals".

Plants not hardy enough will die completely. Fiddle around with those numbers in your neighborhood and you eventually end up with different plant life and different animal behavior.

Global Warming does not have the same effect in different places. Anyone who lives within fifty miles of so of an ocean, is far less likely to see the changes than someone living in the interior of the United States. People who live in mountainous regions are less likely to see major changes than people on the plains, as are people who live along the bottom land of major rivers such as the Ohio or the Mississippi.

All of these microclimates have distinct moderating effects due to the presence of water acting as a heat sink or of differences in land altitude. What happens in Central Ohio will not be the same as what happens on Long Island, in Phoenix, or in Silverton, Colorado.

Global Warming's greatest effects are on the average low temperatures, occurring very early in the morning when most people are in bed. The average high temperatures are what we actually experience and judge as a “hot summer”, or a “colder winter”, and these are what almanacs and TV weather persons use to judge this, too. So mere casual encounters with the heat of Summer and the cold of Winter tell us little of the underlying changes that are occurring.

So far, we have not seen enough change to affect the highs. But that may be coming.

The effects of average low temperatures have a direct impact on plant hardiness and animal behavior, so if you want to see the real changes, as opposed to mere temperature measurements, that is where you have to look. This is an unequivocal difference. The plant is either dead or not.

Why does this change animal behavior? This changes the number of days that rivers and streams freeze solid and the amount of both drinking water and forage that is available. Waterfowl and songbirds need these to winter over and survive. This is also an unequivocal difference. The birds are either there or not.

The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map shows 10F interval temperature zone boundaries of the coldest temperature of Winter based on averaged weather station data from 1960-1990. The Arbor Day Foundation published a new such map a couple of years back based on the temperatures recorded from 1990-2005.

A larger version of this can be found here. The specific effect measured is the coldest temperature on the coldest day of Winter. Nothing else. This is objective information that nobody is cooking up; people use it to plant trees and ornamentals, and if its wrong, plants die.

I live in one of the places, Central Ohio, where the impact of Global Warming has been the greatest. In fifteen years, the average annual lowest temperature has risen a full 10F where I live. That is one full hardiness Zone, from Zone 5 to Zone 6. I can personally assure you that no such abrupt changes occurred here between 1960 and 1990.

Not only that, as you can see on the maps, the old boundary between Zone 5 and 6 was about 25 miles to the south of me around Circleville, OH. The new boundary is up in Saginaw, MI. The boundary in question is between the dark green and the light green band. Before, my location was on one side of it, now it is on the other. This is a shift of 300 miles in 15 years!

Words cannot express how large and how fast a change has taken place. Short of something like a volcano eruption, nature simply does not change that much, that fast. There are no volcanos in Ohio. Nature works in centuries and incrementally. Man made changes happen suddenly and in decades or less. Throughout most of human history, real climate changes like this, and their effects on plants and animals, could be directly observed only by the oldest man in the town or village, a man of 80-90 years.

Consider the European Little Ice Age:

A very cold climate between 1560 and 1850 brought dire consequences to its peoples. The colder weather impacted agriculture, health, economics, social strife, emigration, and even art and literature. Increased glaciation and storms also had a devastating affect on those that lived near glaciers and the sea.

Lamb (1966) points out that in the warmest times of the last 1000 years, southern England had the climate that northern France has now. For example, the difference between the northen-most vineyard in England in the past and present-day vineyard locations in France is about 350 miles. In other terms that means the growing season changed by 15 to 20 percent between the warmest and coldest times of the millenium. That is enough to affect almost any type of food production, especially crops highly adapted to use the full-season warm climatic periods.

Those countries that continued to try to rely on wheat and rye for bread as their main carbohydrate staple crop experienced routine and widespread famines in the coldest years. France was particularly hard hit throughout this period. The Irish shifted to potatoes, which form below the ground and are cold tolerant. They had regular and reliable carbohydrates for their people throughout most of this period. It ended for them only with a blight that wiped out the only potato variety that they grew. I believe it is still available today as “Irish Cobbler”.

As you can see, changes of the size that were spread over centuries in Europe, have taken a mere 15 years in my own back yard. It is this speed and strength that is the most compelling argument for the current changes being man-made. The difference is perfectly plain on this chart:



Ducks, Geese, and Robins now routinely winter in Central Ohio when they did not before. The spring flowering tree cycle from forsythia to Dogwoods and Lilacs has now compressed into three weeks where it used to be three months. At the end of this period, they are all blooming at once, which never occurred in my youth here. Not once. And if we get a hot enough week in mid-April, all the trees can be in bloom in a week. None of this was the case before 1990.

There used to be two hard killing freezes in Spring, and maybe a couple of milder frosts. In about 4 years out of 5, one freeze would get the Magnolias, the other the early tulips. My family grew both, so I know. Common folklore stated that three frosts occur after the forsythias bloom. All of this is gone.

And in the Fall roses now bloom and tomatoes now ripen routinely into November-December instead of being killed in a hard freeze in October-November. Fruit set in tomatoes is controlled by length of daylight, not temperature. So you can no longer eat the traditional batter-fried green tomatoes the day after the first freeze of Fall here. But you can pick a big bouquet of roses where it used to be.

Roughly 1/3 to 1/2 of the continental United States has experienced these changes. If anyone reading this knows a long-time nurseryman, hunter, birder, or avid gardener over the age of 50, ask them to tell you what it was like to practice their hobby or business in 1975 and then in 2005, and whether they think Global Warming is real. Odds are 1 in 3 that they’ll confirm what I have said.

I have sometimes been rather tart in my comments about the relation of conservatives to verifiable facts, but with evidence like this for massive climate change, can you blame me?

You do not see the effects of Global Warming in a heated and air conditioned office, nor in a parking garage, nor at home staring at your computer screen, nor under your electric blanket at night. Most conservatives that I read on the net seem to reside only in those places.

You only see such changes by getting outside, staying outside, looking at what is happening, and noting the changes over time–and not just where you live, because the effects might not show up where you are. If you live in Boston, for example, you will have to go to Northhampton or Pittsfield to see it.

Most of our major cities are near water. If the sea level continues to rise, at what point do we surround Manhattan with levies like New Orleans? At what point do we abandon Miami Beach? Do we delay simply because of Libertarian scruples?

If the corn and soybean belt moves to around Saskatoon and the winter wheat belt to the upper reaches of the Western Canadian provinces, what will we grow to replace the lost silage for our beef and pork? Or who will we buy it from at what price? A two month increase in the American growing season might just cause such a shift.

The time to begin adapting is before things get out of hand. It can only be done through collective consensus and popular will, and only governments, state and federal, can organize it and make it happen. And, of course, all this is anethema to almost all over at Pajamas Media.

We are already incredibly insulated in a organized cocoon of safety from our government. So much so that we really don’t know its even there or understand how much we depend on it. Consider the Federal Aviation Administration: a couple of weeks back some of their radar computers went down and the traffic controllers had to halt most takeoffs, put everybody up in the air on a holding pattern, and bring those planes down a little at a time. There were hundreds of them up there, slowly losing fuel, circling around or backing down their airspeed to slow their arrival–a map of the United States on the television news that displayed this looked like the inside of a beehive at swarm. Thousands of people were at risk. Who got them down without a casualty?

The government.

I was in New Mexico about 20 years ago when young healthy Navajo men and women on the Big Rez started catching what looked like a bad case of the flu and then simply dying. Who finally identified the problem as the Hanta virus, the carrier as mice droppings, and developed a protocol to keep it from spreading throughout the Southwest?

The government.

Specifically, the Center For Disease Control. It was particularly chilling to me because my shabby student rental had plenty of mice. There are currently two highly drug resistant strains of tuberculosis spreading wildly through the old Soviet Union. Sooner or later they will be here, so I don’t think we’d better defund the CDC just yet.

Who pays you back dollar on the dollar when your accounts and CD’s vanish as your bank collapses under its bad mortgage debt?

The government–the FDIC and the FSLIC.

Who issues the tornado, hurricane, and severe thunderstorm alerts? The National Weather Service, i.e, the government. Who organizes rescue and relief efforts when people can’t get out of the way? The government.

Who do small craft sailors turn to when the get in trouble? The United States Coast Guard.

Who maintains regular watch for forest fires and coordinates their containment? The US Forest Service, a part of the government.

Two hurricanes have hit New Orleans in the past five years. One killed a huge number of people, the other merely a handful. The reason for this was cooperative preparation and government planning before the second hurricane hit. So who arranged an orderly evacuation of New Orleans instead of a stampede and melee?

The government.

I could go on and on, but the real question is simple. Do we really want all of this to go away? Do we really want our family and friends to “adapt” to all of these problems on their own and without help? Are wethat confident in the spirit of freedom and rugged individualism to take on these things all by ourselves?

If we live as government service free as the people of Bangladesh, Somalia, or Myanmar, we and our families will have no greater level of personal safety and comfort than the people do there.

Those who despise “the government” should take a little time away from like minded blogs, like minded talk radio, like minded print media, and really learn what the government actually is and how much it really does for us [rather than just to us] every moment of every day of our entire lives. And then they should ask themselves how much of it they really want to do on their own.

Global Warming is not occult. It is perfectly visible, and shockingly so, if you know where and how to look. But to see it you have to actively and honestly look for it. Honesty is the hardest.

For as Sherlock Holmes remarked, “You see, Watson, but you do not observe.”

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