Saturday, May 11, 2013

400 PPM Milestone Breached - Planetary Healing on the Way?

I love Saturdays. I get to come down and make a pot of coffee and sit at the computer and try to write. It's a routine and routines are comforting. Today my wife is putting away the winter clothes into storage in the attic. That's another comforting routine because it has to do with the seasons and the passage of time but it seems like nothing has changed. The return of things gives us an illusion of control over the constantly shifting backdrop from which soon enough we will depart. There are signs of progress and now they have some procedure which promises the eternal fountain of youth in its ability to reverse grey hair apparently, which I hope they get on the market before there is no hair anymore on my head to reverse. But we all want to leave a mark, and that's why writing and teaching are so similar, both are reaching into the future, either through the direct influence on young people and the ideas they will carry forward, or through stories which will also carry ideas and images into the future. Both crafts rely on routine and repetition that can be comforting for the illusion of control that they bring. Sometimes the illusion gets shattered and your students rebel against a class you were sure would be pleasing and interesting. Or the characters in a story fall flat and refuse to evolve. Then you need to go back to the drawing board, get into some creative destruction and tear things down and start again.
Despite the walls we build against change, one of the more frightening realities is our way of life may be sowing the seeds of our own destruction. This week saw an important milestone reached with the measurement of more than 400 parts per million carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii. Scientists estimate that this is far beyond the safe threshold of 350 ppm and continue to warn that drastic changes in our life patterns are immediately necessary. Not many people still doubt that we need to wean ourselves off fossil fuels in order to avert some unpleasant planetary changes. But the earth may have some surprises in store for us. I read recently about how scientists can now measure the way trees pump out more aerosols in warmer weather to effectively act as a negative feedback in stimulating cloud cover. And a surge of sulfates and other minerals into the upper atmosphere from volcanic eruptions may also act to dampen the effects of climate change. So perhaps the planetary intelligence, of which we are a part, may be acting to heal itself. We can only hope, and continue to hold to the routines that heal us personally and collectively.
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