Friday, December 19, 2014

Scary Numbers

When we talk about whole living, we make some assumptions about the world we live in. One of the assupmptions we make is that the world as we have known it for recorded history -- climate, geography, resources -- will continue to exist in its familiar fashion in the future. We rest our ideas of whole living securely on that assumption. We assume that things will keep on much as they have been for the last six millenia, as we work to make ourselves and our fellow citizens on this spinning ball of hitherto fairly reliable resources and climatic cycles more whole. We envision our children and grandchildren inheriting a world like ours, only better. After all, going green has even become a fashionable marketing idea with the general public. But current science doesn't support that assumption.

I read Bill McKibben's article in the July 19, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone magazine, "Global Warming's Terrifying New Math," a couple of months ago. It's been bouncing around my brain ever since. When I hear something in the news that's pertinent, or a related topic comes up in conversation, the article, the math and the ramifications of it come to mind. The article is part report, part social and political commentary and part prophecy. Threaded throughout the nine pages of text is a no-punches-pulled description of the fossil fuels industry and a scathing rebuke to its greed-driven practices. McKibben never deviates, however, from the core of what drives his article: stark and ominous numbers that, when calculated without bias, equals the impending end of life as we are accustomed to on planet Earth. He relates the data to well-known and undeniable events that should make even the hardliners  among the climate change skeptics take another look.

What's so scary about numbers? Well, to start with, 2 degrees Celsius is the amount of additional warming the planet can withstand before catastrophic climate events drastically alter our way of living, really our ability to live, on Earth. McKibbens notes that initial conjectures of what would happen as the global temperature rose proved to be far too conservative. At the current level of temperature increase, .8 degrees Celsius, extreme weather events and other changes associated with global warming have been much more dramatic than anticipated. McKibben's writes: "Thomas Lovejoy, once the World Bank's chief biodiversity adviser, puts it like this: 'If we're seeing what we're seeing today at 0.8 degrees Celsius, two degrees is simply too much.' ... At the Copenhagen summit, a spokesman for small island nations warned that many would not survive a two-degree rise: 'Some countries will flat-out disappear.'"

The second of McKibben's three numbers is 565 gigatons, the amount of additional carbon dioxide that can be put into the atmosphere before we exceed the 2 degree Celsius increase in temperature that is the currently proposed limit agreed upon by most nations. As McKibben explained, "Since we've increased the Earth's temperature by 0.8 degrees so far, we're currently less than halfway to the target. But, in fact, computer models calculate that even if we stopped increasing CO2 now, the temperature would likely still rise another 0.8 degrees, as previously released carbon continues to overheat the atmosphere. That means we're already three-quarters of the way to the two-degree target."

The third number is 2,795 gigatons. "This number is the scariest of all ..." wrote McKibben. "... The number describes the amount of carbon already contained in the proven coal and oil and gas reserves of the fossil-fuel companies, and the countries (think Venezuela or Kuwait) that act like fossil-fuel companies. ... the key point is that this new number – 2,795 – is higher than 565. Five times higher."

And the mega-wealthy fossil fuel barons are hell-bent on drilling, mining and fracking every last cent they can from the planet, the consequences be damned.  If you haven't already read McKibben's article or the IPCC 2014 Report, I encourage to take a look.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Living to Love

I wrote "Living to Love" quite a while ago, but its lesson has become even more relevant to me in the last several years. Today, December 1, is World AIDS Day and I post it in remembrance of my brother, Nathan R. Goff, who died with AIDS on January 31, 1995, at the age of 32. A short time on this earth, forever in my heart.






Living to Love



Images of Nathan emerge from my memory like pages turning in a mental photo album.
​No, not that one!
I reject a vision of my brother’s disease ravaged body, sallow skin stretched over a frail skeleton.
​   I quickly conjure up another, on a beach. The image crystallizes in my mind, becoming clearer as my memory stretches back in time to grab hold of it. He’s squatting down at the shoreline, sun glinting off his tanned, muscle-toned body. His face has a glow of life and health. Dangling securely from the safety of his uncle’s encircling hands is my infant son.
The memory takes on a life of it’s own now. I hear the breaking of the waves on the shore and the giggles of delight from Josh. He draws up his chubby legs and plunges them back down into the ocean waves foaming over his toes. Nathan is beaming, happy to share this moment of joyful discovery with his nephew.
​   Nathan’s life was not all sunshine and giggles. He knew pain and loss, including our father’s sudden death when Nathan was a small child and the troubled home that resulted. When he was a teenager, an automobile accident killed two of his best friends and left him with permanent injuries. Though it prevented him from achieving his dream of becoming a pilot, he dreamed new dreams and encouraged others to pursue theirs. His generosity and trust often led to being taken advantage of. He suffered unprovoked and unwarranted violence when gay men didn’t even merit a blip on the domestic abuse radar.
​In spite of it all, I never saw him yield to hatred or bitterness. He lifted others up, finding peace in relieving their pain. He loved to make people laugh. The more cruelly the world treated him, the more he looked for ways to show love and compassion to those around him.
Near the end of his short life, he watched with horror and heartbreak as friends lost their careers, homes and then their lives to AIDS. When he became sick himself, barely out of his twenties, he regularly visited the pediatric AIDS ward at the local hospital. He brought stuffed animals to the abandoned babies until he was too weak himself to go anymore.
​   Throughout his life, in the face of betrayal, loss and unjustifiable violence and when mercilessly battered by a vicious and relentless disease, he refused to succumb to bitterness and hatred. And amazingly, after every blow that knocked him down, he would get back up, look inside of himself and find more love to give away.
Nathan has been gone a long time. The nephew he played with on the beach is now a grown man with a wife and child of his own. But no matter how much time passes, the lesson Nathan’s life taught me is always fresh, speaking to my heart when it’s battered and breaking with sorrows, trials and injustices: Refusing to live in self destructive bitterness or paralyzing self-pity – living to love – defies all that is evil in this world.