Archive for January, 2006

Simplicity and Elephants

Monday, January 30th, 2006

Life is meant to be lived from a Center, a divine Center—”a life of unhurried peace and power. It is simple. It is serene. It takes no time, but it occupies all our time.

Thomas R. Kelly, Testament of Devotion, 1941 p.124

A life centered in God will be directed toward keeping communication with God open and unencumbered. Simplicity is best achieved through a right ordering of priorities, maintaining humility of spirit, avoiding self-indulgence, resisting the accumulation of unnecessary possessions, and avoiding over-busy lives.

From Pacific Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) 2001 Faith and Practice

I have recently been thinking about the elephant in the room. It interferes with simplicity, the ability to hear God’s voice, the ability to choose out of joy rather than out of fears and neediness.

It’s not just in the room but sitting on our chests, an elephant of fear, despair, grief, resentment, a cauldron of negativity. We know there is something wrong with the way we live in the US. You hear it all the time — what could I possibly do? No way I can change because— It’s not individual choices that will solve climate change, but changes in government policy. It’s in the tone of voice, the attempt to make what I say sound rational when I feel irrational with all that is happening.

It is true in part that government policy changes are a large part of the way to go, but new directions in government policy are much more likely to be pushed by people who are changing themselves. And we are pretty aware that changes in public policy alone will not suffice.

Most of us have the experience of resisting change, and finally we do it and what occurs is – joy! The relief of all that weight off our shoulders, the joy of becoming more a person we are happy with.

From Faith and Practice:

..over the margins of life comes a whisper, a faint call, a premonition of richer living which we know we are passing by. Strained by the very mad pace of our daily outer burdens, we are further strained by an inward uneasiness, because we have hints that there is a way of life vastly richer and deeper than all this hurried existence, a life of unhurried serenity and peace and power. If only we could slip over into that Center! … There is a divine Abyss within us all, a holy Infinite Center, a Heart, a Life who speaks in us and through us to the world.

Thomas R. Kelly, 1941

For those wanting more Kelly, one of my favorites is Holy Obedience. He discusses the weight of and joy of obedience. It is time for me to reread.

Antarctica and Other News

Sunday, January 29th, 2006

Comments that go beyond praise and nays Johan adds information about Antarctica and why the British are worried — Antarctica is not an island with ice, it’s a continent with ice. Apparently the balance between melting in one area and more ice being deposited in another area may no longer be holding. When I find more information on this, I’ll post myself.

In a January 19 post on his own blog, Johan discusses this further. His blog is always interesting, check it out generally.

The always excellent Juliet Elperin in today’s Washington Post looks at some of the concerns being strongly expressed in the scientific community about how rapidly people need to cut back carbon use (half in 50 years, even as population and per capita consumption continue to rise). As I understand it, there are a range of estimates coming from the science and energy policy communities, and many recommend much more rapid and sharp reductions in carbon use, but the article doesn’t reflect that there are pessimists involved in climate and energy policy more pessimistic than those cited.

Major point: we are looking at creating a Earth widely different from the one we currently live on, just as this Earth is very different from 20,00 years ago, think ice several km thick over Wisconsin. This new Earth may occur in the lifetime of many people who are alive today.

Also discussed is the Bush administration’s attempt to muzzle one of the most respected people studying climate change, James Hansen of NASA. This is a clever tactic, encouraging news sources and blogs that only cover controversy to cover climate change as well. The result is that Bush doesn’t get any kudos from any source, but the information is more widely spread.

But not widely spread enough. Think how slowly Americans responded to information about tobacco. We don’t have that amount of time, apparently, to respond to climate change.

Real Climate looked more than a year ago at What does the lag of CO2 behind temperature in ice cores tell us about global warming? While the numbers appear to be slightly different from what I heard John Harte say (preceding blog), the concept is the same: normally orbital changes cause the Earth to start warming, more carbon dioxide is produced, and the Earth warms much more than can be explained by the orbital changes alone.

Climate Change is a Food Issue

Saturday, January 28th, 2006

John Harte from UC, Berkeley spoke to Berkeley Friends (Quakers) Thursday night. I’ve altered what he said very slightly.

For the first time people can alter the Earth at a global scale, rather than just polluting locally. In the 1960s, when Harte began work, there was still discussion as to whether the cooling effect of particulates being added to the atmosphere via coal, oil, and wood or the warming due to the greenhouse gases would dominate, but by the early 1970s, it was clear to pretty much everyone that greenhouse gases would dominate. By the mid-20th century, we should see warming on the same scale as from the depth of the ice age to now.

Scientists don’t prove anything, not gravity, not evolution, not climate change. What they do is amass more and more evidence until alternative explanations are disproved. The following is not proven, but there is enormous evidence: lots of validating data, and no contradicting data.


More Factoids

Monday, January 23rd, 2006

from the (US) Transportation Energy Data Book.

For Americans who believe that the way we grew up was anywhere approaching normal:

US percentage of world cars

1950 76%
1960 65%
1970 46%
1980 38%
1990 31%
2000 23%

Factoids from Transportation Energy Data Book

Monday, January 23rd, 2006

The (US) Transportation Energy Data Book is full of gems. Here are some factoids from early in the book.

• The cost of oil U.S. dependence is estimated to have been $7 trillion dollars (in 1998 dollars) over the last 30 years (assume population averaged 250 million, 30 years, almost $1,000 per person per year.)
• Between 1991 and 2002, heavy truck energy use grew at a faster rate than for any other mode.
• The energy/passenger mile for automobiles is less than for the average transit bus. There is a great deal of variability across metropolitan areas in the efficiency of transit systems.
• Vehicles per thousand people varies greatly by region of the world
• SUVs accounted for 6.8% of all light vehicle sales in 1990 and 27% in 2003
• Between 1969 and 2001, the number of vehicles per licensed driver rose from 0.70 to 1.06
• The average new car price in 2002 was $21,440 (imported cars were $27,524 and domestic cars were $19,126)

[Lest there be any doubt that the world I grew up and live in is privileged]

US petroleum consumption:

1960 9.80 million barrels per day 45.9% of the world share
2003 20.04 million barrels per day 25.3% of the world share

We Could Be Ignoring the Biggest Story in Our History

Thursday, January 19th, 2006

David Ignatius in today’s Washington Post provides an explanation for my last post:

One of the puzzles if you’re in the news business is figuring out what’s “news.” The fate of your local football team certainly fits the definition. So does a plane crash or a brutal murder. But how about changes in the migratory patterns of butterflies?

Scientists believe that new habitats for butterflies are early effects of global climate change — but that isn’t news, by most people’s measure. Neither is declining rainfall in the Amazon, or thinner ice in the Arctic. We can’t see these changes in our personal lives, and in that sense, they are abstractions. So they don’t grab us the way a plane crash would — even though they may be harbingers of a catastrophe that could, quite literally, alter the fundamentals of life on the planet. And because they’re not “news,” the environmental changes don’t prompt action, at least not in the United States…

The best reporting of the non-news of climate change has come from Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker. Her three-part series last spring lucidly explained the harbingers of potential disaster: a shrinking of Arctic sea ice by 250 million acres since 1979; a thawing of the permafrost for what appears to be the first time in 120,000 years; a steady warming of Earth’s surface temperature; changes in rainfall patterns that could presage severe droughts of the sort that destroyed ancient civilizations. This month she published a new piece, “Butterfly Lessons,” that looked at how these delicate creatures are moving into new habitats as the planet warms. Her real point was that all life, from microorganisms to human beings, will have to adapt, and in ways that could be dangerous and destabilizing.

So many of the things that pass for news don’t matter in any ultimate sense. But if people such as [Thomas E.] Lovejoy [who fears that changes in the Amazon’s ecosystem may be irreversible] and Kolbert are right, we are all but ignoring the biggest story in the history of humankind. Kolbert concluded her series last year with this shattering thought: “It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.” She’s right. The failure of the United States to get serious about climate change is unforgivable, a human folly beyond imagining.

Comments that go beyond praise and nays John comments on North Europe Cooling? that North Europe experienced important climate changes in the past few centuries. His point is important, that climate change doesn’t have to be a world disaster to have large local consequences.

Obstacles to Work on the Environment

Wednesday, January 4th, 2006

In two interesting conversations this last week about the environment, I heard about the difficulties of taking on the environment as a concern. My answers are partial, even after a few days to reflect and add to them. I am very interested in what you can add or shift in my response.

One person found that reading newspaper articles on the environment put her into a space of fear rather than love.

Being with the pain is an act of love. We don’t just love people when they are happy. That said, if we are to actually be constructive, we need to find or create ways to shift us from fear to love, for ourselves, but also for the work that needs to be done. Creating such a space for ourselves and others may be the most constructive work we can do today.

Another found concerns about the science, generated by people immersed in the details, too abstract compared to what he could understand about the destructive effects of oil in Nigeria and Colombia.

This is a challenge for all of us, to shift from what we are comfortable with, problems that follow our heart, to listening to the voice that asks us to change our priorities. This is difficult no matter how important our current work is, and addressing the destructive effects of oil on a culture and the environment is important work indeed. But it may be less our work, due to the immediacy and magnitude of the response required of us if we are to address climate change.

There is much important work to do today, and not nearly enough workers. To slow down climate change and its companion problems — the Earth’s degrading ability to supply food and clean water, and biodiversity loss — will require so many of us to help if we are to find our way to solutions. How do we as individuals decide if this is to be just one of the projects needing attention, or one of major importance to us?

Please comment!

Climate Change Class in Berkeley

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2006

I will be teaching a continuing class on the science of climate change, individual behavior, and policy issues on Thursdays at the North Berkeley Senior Center beginning January 12, from 1 to 3:30. The climate change portion will last about two months, then we’ll segue into other environmental topics, as the class chooses. Call 981-5190 to express interest or sign up at North Berkeley Senior Center.

I would love to see some blog readers there! Send me your ideas now for possible environmental topics: water, population, etc.

Meeting Our Needs

Monday, January 2nd, 2006

I just returned from a retreat at Ben Lomond Quaker Center, How Much is Enough? We examined this along with how much is plenty, how much is too much.

It occurred to me that we often ask if activities and possessions give us pleasure, whether they enrich us, rather than asking a much more fundamental question: who do I want to be?

Starting at the basic question has freed me to choose somewhat better the activities and possessions that help me become that person.

A man driving me to another Ben Lomond event years ago said that he loved the way he lived with a car, what he was able to do. He loved as well the activities he had chosen when he was without a car, in an earlier time. He loved better what he did without a car than the choices he made with a car.

Jon Carroll, a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, had a similar column years ago. He loved having fun in Central America, where fun meant going to a party where someone would play a guitar. He loved having fun in the US, driving to an expensive restaurant. The simpler fun nourished and pleased him more.

Once we know better what we want, the choices we make are more likely to satisfy us. Like these two men, we can choose not just what gives us pleasure, but we can consider shifting to a way of being and living that more often meets our needs.

It occurred to me recently that I really need to be an extrovert, but that’s hard for me. I became increasingly deaf beginning in 1992 (right ear) and 1994 (left). A cochlear implant was activated September 13, 2004; my nerves gradually become healthier, my brain gradually figures out how to sort noise from signal, how to understand speech over a wide range of loudness levels. But it’s still pretty difficult to be in multi-person conversations — because so many people remember to speak clearly only when they respond to me, I miss out on the give and take that doesn’t come directly from/to me. I have a headache during the conversation, as my brain struggles to keep up.

I’ve chosen other activities that give me pleasure, but they aren’t satisfying this real need in me. As my hearing continues to improve, the problem will go away to some extent. But I now realize that it’s worth headaches to be more often with groups of people, not just people one on one, for the pleasure that provides.

Examples of other needs, or strong wants: family and friends who love me and whom I can love in return, community, a way to contribute to the universe, a way to continue learning. My house as a means of hospitality. Planned serendipity: walking around to do errands allows me to run into people and taking the bus allows me to meet people and ideas I might not ever meet on a plane. Nearby stores so that buying food is a chance to walk and relax, not a major event. A big increase in bicycling, as I’ve lost in the past few years the sense that my body can take me where I want to go. A sense that my way of living and consumption patterns are more in line with the Earth’s ability to provide, so that people (and other species!) might all share more equally. A sense of fullness and joy that over the last few years has gradually replaced what was too often a sense of neediness in my activities.

What are your needs?