Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Who'll Stop the Rain? (updated)

As I lay awake in bed the other night, waiting for sleep to roll out its dark wave, I listened to the rain. I go through periods of mild insomnia, and I’m in one, now. It was past three in the morning - Saturday, I think. The rain was coming down hard, clattering against my window and on the front door next to my bedroom. The rain in Vancouver is normally kind of light, and you get so used to it that occasionally someone will remark, “Gee, is this rain ever going to stop?” and you’ll think, Is it raining?, but that rain on Saturday night was the kind of rain that you notice. It was a rain that soaks your clothes, that washes the last of the rotting leaves down to the bottom of your street — not a deluge, but more than a downpour. It's not our normal rain.

I lay there thinking wow, it’s really coming down, and it occurred to me how much of our rain lately has been like that: so heavy that you wonder what it's going to wash away. I was thinking, too, of that rip in the roof of BC Place Stadium. It wasn’t caused by the weather, but it happened during a windstorm, and the roof collapsed, or it was collapsed on purpose. It doesn’t matter. The thing is, it made me think about how fragile all this — my little world — is.

We’ve had some bad weather over the past three years: rains so heavy that highway off-ramps were submerged, a mudslide in North Vancouver that left a woman dead, and the wind storms, the snow. Heavy rain isn’t so bad in short bursts, but when the bursts increase in duration and intensity, it overwhelms the sewers, it washes contaminants into the drinking water, it washes houses down mountainsides.

Lying there, listening to the rain battering at my window, I got scared. The weather is different. It's not just "unusual" or "outside the norm", it has changed and it continues to change. It may not get back to "normal." "Normal" may be over.


Power was out all over the city again today from a 3pm windstorm. At lunch with a friend, I missed the whole thing, but driving home through the traffic slowed to a crawl, I saw trees blown over, fences broken. We haven't lost power at my house in any of the storms so far. We've been lucky.

If it keeps up, I imagine we'll adapt. We'll get stronger power lines. We'll expand the capacity of our storm sewers. New Orleans is gone and 35,000 died in Europe in the summer of 2003, but we're resilient. Once we're shaken out of our languid stupor, once we get over the comforting idea that it can't happen here, we've got all sorts of things we can do about the The New Weather. Vancouver has an awful lot of trees, though. I don't know what we'll do about all those trees, but we'll figure something out. We always do.

Winds pummel region ... As if the Lower Mainland's winter weather woes couldn't get worse, the region was rocked by another violent windstorm yesterday. By 4:00 p.m., gusts were already being clocked in at upwards of 100 km/h and snow was coming down in some areas. Decimated from earlier windstorms, Stanley Park and the Lions Gate Bridge were closed again after reports of fallen trees on the causeway and parked cars being crushed. A female jogger was struck by a tree and was rushed to hospital with serious injuries. Many trees that survived December's windstorm, but were loosened, weren't as fortunate yesterday. The damage comes only a day after new environment minister John Baird surveyed the damage from December's storm. Buses were rerouted away from Lions Gate Bridge and the park, but that wasn't the only service disruption. Crews struggled to keep SkyTrain service running smoothly after debris, including a satellite dish from a nearby building, covered many areas of the track.
B.C.'s stormy weather cost insurers $80-millionOn Saturday in Vancouver, the Park Board reopened Park Drive in Stanley Park and announced a dedicated Stanley Park restoration team, which will be charged with nursing the park back to health after a Dec. 15 windstorm toppled thousands of trees and washed away parts of the seawall. Park trails and parts of the seawall remain closed.
Battered B.C. tops list of weather stories"In November, we had that wicked month where they had snow at the end and tropical rains at the beginning, along with a tsunami warning," said Phillips. "It was like the world was coming to an end for the West Coast." [J]ust as B.C. residents were recovering from November's devastation, three ferocious wind storms brought more havoc. "Those wind storms brought 3,000 trees down in Stanley Park... it changed that cherished piece of real estate for people in Vancouver.”
Severe weather's here to stay, scientists sayShort sharp bursts of rain are increasing in both frequency and intensity and will lead to even more massive mudslides and floods of the kind seen across southern B.C. Monday, according to researchers at the University of B.C. Their analysis projects plenty more severe weather to come and that could mean trouble as engineers design storm drains, road beds and hillside communities without taking into account recent changes in weather patterns attributed by most scientists to global warming.
Abrupt climate changeOcean and lake sediment data from places such as California, Venezuela, and Antarctica have confirmed that these sudden climate changes affected not just Greenland, but the entire world. And during the past 110,000 years, there have been at least 20 such abrupt climate changes. Only one period of stable climate has existed during the past 110,000 years--the 11,000 years of modern climate.


switters said...


We've had an unusually vast amount of rain down here. The rain woke me up Friday night. We got something like 6 inches. Seriously (I think). Another deluge Sunday. Sheets.

I sleep better when it's raining out for some reason.

I'm fairly skeptical, but I found An Inconvenient Truth absolutely terrifying. Even if only 10% of what Al says is true, we're still fucked beyond belief. And I'm no environmentalist.

Anyways, so it's 71 degrees and humid Sunday; by Monday night it's 43 degrees. And that storm Sunday was a thunderstorm. Thunder. I've been here 10 years and I've never seen a thunderstorm in January. Oh, sure, a little rain here and there, but not a torrential downpour with lightning. (Lightening?)

(Yeah, I don't get it. But thanks. I'm tempted to respond with, "Say, what's more tasteless: 1.) This toppost, or 2.) thinking this toppost was meant to elicit table-slapping uproarious laughter?)

An observation: You seem here of late to be pretty happy with things in your life. I said the same thing to bacon not long ago. And I was right. Here's hoping I'm right again.

Dawn Coyote said...

Well, I took a course at UBC in Earth and Ocean Sciences, called “Earth Systems and Environmental History,” and it made An Inconvenient Truth look like it was soft-pedaling some stuff. Probably because “fucked beyond belief” isn’t a particularly mobilizing thought. People cried in that class.

I am pretty happy, blossom – thanks for noticing. You also seem to have divested yourself of some angst. You seem almost content. I was thinking about what you said to Deej yesterday, about how you spend a lot of time alone. Do you suppose that we who don’t tolerate others well would tolerate each other well? Sometimes I wish we all lived in the same small town. Well—not all of us.

Do you think Jack Dallas is brain damaged? No, wait—that was his heart, wasn’t it?

TenaciousK said...

…Wilder said the trouble with conservationists was that they never considered the costs in terms of jobs and living standards of eliminating fossil fuels or doing something with garbage other than dumping it in the ocean, and so on.

Ed Bergeron said to him, “Good! Then I can write the epitaph for this once salubrious blue-green orb.” He meant the planet.

Wilder game him his supercilious, vulpine, patronizing, silky debater’s grin. “A majority of the scientific community” he said, “would say, if I’m not mistaken, that an epitaph would be premature by several thousand years.” That debate took place… back in 1985, and I don’t know what scientific community he was talking about. Every kind of scientist, all the way down to chiropractors and podiatrists, was saying we were killing the planet fast.

“You want to hear the epitaph?” said Ed Bergeron.

“If we must” said Wilder, and the grin went on and on. “I have to tell you, though, that you are not the first person to say the game was all over for the human race. I’m sure that even in Egypt before the first pyramid was constructed, there were men who attracted a following by saying, ‘It’s all over now.’”

“What is different about now as compared with Egypt before the first pyramid was built…” Ed began.

“And before the Chinese invented printing, and before Columbus discovered America” Jason Wilder interjected.

“Exactly,” said Bergeron.

“The difference is that we have the misfortune of knowing what’s really going on” said Bergeron, “which is no fun at all. And this has given rise to a whole new class of preening, narcissistic quacks like yourself who say in the service of rich and shameless polluters that the state of the atmosphere and the water and the topsoil on which all life depends is as debatable as how many angels can dance on the fuzz of a tennis ball.”

He was angry.

Bergeron’s epitaph for the planet, I remember, which he said should be carved in big letters in a wall of the Grand Canyon for the flying-saucer people to find, was this:


Only he didn’t say “doggone.”

Kurt Vonnegut, Hocus Pocus

TenaciousK said...

Oh, and as far as Switters' post is concerned:

The problem is that you've not recognized the rarefied purity of their outrage. It indicates a moral superiority that obligates them to fiercely respond to the more pedestrian moral outrage expressed by the less enlightened.

The problem, you see, is you’re not taking the nature of moral outrage into account. Moral outrage is a scarce commodity for which competition is fierce and furious. All Ellen, JackDallas and friends are doing is demonstrating the scope and depth of their empathic connection for the troops – a deep and abiding empathy that you’all clearly do not comprehend.

Once competition ends, of course, there can be only one supreme arbiter of moral outrage: only one who has proven to be sufficiently aggressive and insulting to show the world that they hold the moral high ground, and have license to make pronouncements about the fitness of other people’s behavior – because through their aggression, they have shown themselves to be the most empathic. Please take this into account, when feeling inclined to express your outrage for outrageous behavior or tragic events. You just aren’t aggressive enough to deserve to express sympathy or sorrow.

I expect in the future to see the kind of insulting behavior from the two of you that reveals your true empathic character – just like we see from the ethical giants on the board, who rightly denigrated your pathetic attempt to express shocked indignation for the seemingly banal nature of the oblivious lack of concern our president has for the troops. They know he cares, as his indifference to suffering and persistent lack of outrage at his own behavior provides the most compelling possible evidence of his profound sorrow for the tragic deaths of our soldiers - not to mention the suffering of the Iraqi people.

We enlightened ones know that only a profound indifference is a greater expression of loving compassion, than fury.

Work on it.

topazz said...

I think you have it right, TK, on the mindset behind the outraged replies to switter's Dead GI post.

Dawn, because I live in Pennsylvania - I'm safely sheltered from the extremes of weather & nature that the south and both coasts experience regularly (mudslides, fires, earthquakes, nor'easters, tornadoes, hurricanes, etc.) but having said that, I've noticed a subtle change in weather patterns even here - specifically with rain. We've had 3 rainstorms in the past two years where it rained so hard (like 4 to 5 inches within an hour) and no one was prepared for the subsequent flooding.

The first time it happened, they called it a "hundred year rainstorm" meaning it was the kind that came along once in a lifetime. It makes you stop and wonder what the hell is going on. We have a creek behind our house I've always loved, now every time it rains really hard I'm eyeing it warily, to the point where I'm even thinking about getting sandbags to keep on hand.

switters said...

Sorry to hijack your thread, Dawny sweetie, but my feelings are hurt.

Thanks, TK, for explicating exactly what I've been trying to get my brain around so perfectly. Again.

As for global warming™, why is it so important (and imperative?) for some people (e.g., that baltimore_a person) to try to prove that our climate isn't changing when it obviously is? I love the open of The X Files: Fight The Future, with the cavemen dudes trudging through the snow only to be greased by an alien. Was it a nod to Kubrick's "Bone turns into space station" scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey? I don't know.

But what I do know is that when Vancouver's having a green Christmas while Denver gets 3 blizzards in a row, should that mean we might want to give that whole The Day After Tomorrow scenario another look? (Worst movie you'll ever love.)

A post I won't make: "What's more offensive:
1.) A post about 3,000 needlessly dead kids
2.) 3.000 needlessly dead kids.

(In case you weren't already aware of it, I'm extremely glad you're posting here, topazz. And apropos of nothing, something tells me you're an excellent mom and, at the risk of offending just about everyone, a MILF as well. Own it.)

Oh, and another thing: Thank god for you people (echoing Keifus).

TenaciousK said...

My father remembers once, when he was a kid, it snowed in Sandy, Utah on the Fourth of July - enough to cover the ground (though of course it melted in short order).

The difficulty is, it's easy enough to point at an anomaly, or even a set of anomalies, and argue variously 1) I've never seen it, so it must mean the end of things as we know it, or 2) it's just not all that significant, when you take the long (like, thousands of years) view. Compounding this are the climate models that only seem to be doing a marginal job at prediction up to this point, and the disparity in dire predictions (ice age versus Venutian summer days).

But while I'm sympathetic to the people who (almost invariably rightly) want to resist catastrophization, there is a terrifying danger in routinely dismissing doomsayers - especially when they constitute the vast majority of reputable scientists who know a whit about climatology.

I think people fatigue easily when you confront them with an overwhelming problem they feel powerless to deal with – it’s a too-familiar scenario among us depressives that fosters learned helplessness. If you think about things like catastrophic climate change too much, it sort of saps your motivation to busy yourself in the pesky details of everyday life – like, going to work, paying bills, buying stuff etc. If you ignore them completely, you face an increasingly predictable situation in which you face true catastrophe unprepared.

So I guess I’m not surprised to see people coming down on all sides of this issue – it’s so human. On the other hand, the climate models seem to be saying that, if there’s anything productive to be done, it’s going to require a vast, coordinated effort. Given the variety of dysfunctional coping strategies being expressed and the manner in which this interferes with cooperative, organized response, the more thoughtful and educated among us are getting more and more depressed about the whole problem (when they allow themselves to think about it at all). Well, and those survivalists up in Montana are starting to make all kinds of sense to a much wider variety of people than I even anticipated – leading to a real-estate boom thereabouts, I’m sure, and inflationary pricing on things like water purifiers, solar panels and 50-gallon drums of wheat.

Perhaps most distressing to me is the smug attitude of some of the same Christians who seem almost happy about the perpetual unrest in the middle-east; it’s all happening just like they said it would, in the bible (as though predicting future catastrophes without timeframes would ever prove to be false – duh). This also interferes with effective problem-solving, though it does seem to vindicate the Mormons, who’ve been extolling the virtues of having a year’s supply of food etc. ever since they were starving in great numbers, out on what used to be an arid plain.

Oh, and believing that Jesus was coming again, well, like next week. I’m sure it was an attractive fantasy, given living conditions at the time.

While it’s encouraging to think (as B-A would point out with smug satisfaction, I’m sure) that humans, more or less, have been around for several million years, and there’s no reason to think we’ll be extinct very soon, the rational comeback is that there’s also no reason to think we can reasonably expect to survive in large numbers, should the dreaded catastrophe actually strike. Which it will – because even if the climate models prove inexplicably wrong, eventually a meteor will hit, or nuclear war, or something, if only we wait long enough (Evangelical Christians take heart!).

So, I try not to think about it too much. And though I try in small ways to behave in a responsible manner, I’m not over-estimating the miniscule impact I could have on any global phenomenon. It’s not like I can afford to quite driving, or anything, and as environmentally unconscionable as it might be – I like the air conditioning in my house.

I’m not sure that the current events, even in the face of likely impending catastrophe, really change things as much as it might seem anyway. Frankly, we’ve always lived on borrowed time, under the threat of our eventual personal extinction, and facing the real, rarely acknowledged possibility of widespread catastrophe.

Existentialism never made as much sense as it does right now. We should be trying to find solutions to problems, instead of ignoring them, and helping each other out as much as we can, because it is an intrinsically worthwhile set of activities to be engaging in. If there’s any hope for humanity at all, it’s that enough people will continue to view such things as inherently worthwhile, instead of being lulled into paralysis by the belief that destruction is inevitable (or might be a good thing), or denial.

As Vonnegut so aptly notes, we’ve just lost the luxury of not knowing what’s actually going on, which is no fun at all. It’s a good time to appreciate what we have, and busy ourselves trying to preserve it.

Same as it ever was.

I think I'll go post this on my blog, and do my own little part in helping save the world.


PS. What Switters and Keifus said.

Keifus said...

TK: You nailed that one. I was gonna (but dinnit) respond to Jack and the boys with some sarcasm about how convenient it is to have inviolable paragons to employ at any hint of criticism. (What stopped me was that the technique hardly stops with the war-hungry right.)

Climate: How quickly we forget, eh? My good mother, from whom I gathered my early sense of environmentalism, was skeptical with me a few months ago about the dire necessity of it all. "Things turned out just fine after the seventies," she opined (reflecting on gas prices, I think). If we're off by thirty or even fifty years, does it really make it that much less dire? We do have a lot more people, and a lot more of them need gas to survive. (No exaggeration: for an idea of what would happen if we lost our oil-fueled ag tech, look at N. Korea.) Shit, I have a good chance of living 50 more, and my kids almost certainly will. (and you know, I feel responsible and stuff.)

And thanks, swit. Beats the usual echo. (This thing on?)

Dawn: glad you're feeling generally happier. It does show, now that it's been brought up.

(Not well edited, but must get back to my crappy job now.)


rundeep said...

Hi all! Nice post DC, and I second what TK, topazz and Keifus said on switters, and what switters and TK said about global warming, and topazz and I both have streams in the yard.

Do you have a feeling sometimes like you're the only one who hears the drumbeats? You and a few other non-pod-dwellers?

I'm back to work too. Best.

Schadenfreude said...

Dear Echo Chamber Love-Festers:

Did it ever occur to any of you that:

1) it is perfectly legitimate to be offended by switters' post?

2) nasty weather is not evidence of anything related to global warming caused by human activity?

You make me want to puke.

PS. Fuck word verification.

topazz said...

Dear Mr. Snotnose:

Did it ever occur to you that:

1. We love talking about global warming just for the sake of it?

2. You really ought to get that puking problem taken care of, before people start thinking you're just another skinny girl

symbnt said...

Dear Shad: Word Verification

Others: Follow the link to see “Search WikiFray”. I suspect an occasionally useful tool.

switters said...

Well, it may or may not be an echo chamber. But if it is, you have to admit it's a pretty damn good one.

rundeep said...

Well, Schad's got a point. Here's where I am, and where I perceived at least TK to be: we don't like the war. We don't support it. We don't like that there are 3,000 dead soldiers. We recognize that switters doesn't like it either, and that's what that post was intended to convey. Whether it was effective at conveying that is another question entirely. That people were offended because they thought he was exploiting their deaths is not incomprehensible. That they would filet him nastily and assume that he actually hates the sacrificed should have been expected, I suppose, but somehow we, no I, still long for and anticipate civilized discussion and treatment even of sensitive issues.

And I didn't think that DC intended in a post on a blog to connect all the dots from anecdote to global warming. But at some point, anecdotal evidence starts building up and looking more like circumstantial evidence. I don't know very many people who haven't had global warming cross their minds in this warmest winter we've ever had in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Maybe we all are wrong, and it's the result of millions of people farting across North America as South Beach, Atkins and other fiber-happy diets become widespread.

Anyway, point taken.

Dawn Coyote said...

topazz: we had a few rainstorms like that last year. One time, I got off the highway and came back home, canceling a meeting rather than trying to drive in it. Maybe it’s something about getting older, but 100 years just doesn’t seem to be as long as it used to be.

switters: Vancouver usually has a green Christmas, actually. We typically get snow twice a year. It’s snowing right now, for the third time in a month – big, fluffy flakes piling up in inches. Purty. Last Thursday, when I took out the garbage, the night was balmy and I could almost smell the scent of Spring on the air. Friday we had a windstorm followed by a dump of snowy slush that blocked up the storm drains and left the roads awash. Over the weekend it melted away so it was all green grass again, and then yesterday we had another big windstorm, and now lots of snow. It’s supposed to get cold, so I imagine the snow will be here until Monday, anyway.

Loved your reply to Jack. I, for one, hope no one you love dies either violently or prematurely.

TenaciousK: I think the paralysis will subside as people start to have their own “Katrina moments’, and then they’ll do what humans do best: they’ll make things happen, but I don’t think they’ll do it before they feel a personal imperative. I hope that once we do get mobilized enough to really push for change, the changes will be radical enough to make a difference. I hope it won’t be too late. As Tom Petty says, the waiting is the hardest part.

Keifus: Oh, do I have some articles for you. I’ll post them later this week. And thanks.

Schad, I’m not trying to confirm global warming through my observations about local weather – I’m really talking about my own, personal “Katrina moment”.

Surely you didn’t mean to say that global warming won’t affect the weather? Or is there something here that I’m missing: Global Warming and the Hydrologic CycleNumerous empirical observations and models of the global climate confirm the hypothesis that global warming enhances the global hydrologic cycle. For instance, a global warming by 4°C (7.2°F) is expected to increase global precipitation by about 10 percent. Models suggest that the increase is more likely to come as heavier rainfall, rather than as more frequent rainfalls or falls of longer duration.

And see: hydrologic cycle global warming

I find it sorta funny and interesting that people are offended by switters’ post on the 3000th dead soldier, but it doesn’t bother me. I did, however, take real offence to this.

Also, I realize you’d prefer it if we all came back to BOTF, but BOTF became consistently disappointing. I imagine it will get back up to speed eventually, but for the moment, I’m enjoying this. The blog has a different ecology, which is both interesting and challenging to me. I hope we can continue to disagree here, though, and not become an echo chamber. As for word verification: it was annoying when I had to do it, but hardly as annoying as the technical problems on the fray. I’m betting Ender’s new search engine will work better, too. If you’d like to avoid word verification, Ender’s invited you to become a member. I wouldn't support you becoming an admin., though, as you’ve made your ambivalence toward the blog quite clear, and since you deliberately got a whole bunch of our history flushed on the fray, I wouldn’t assume you’d not show the same disregard for WikiFray.

rundeep: The friend I had lunch with yesterday was out here from Ottawa, where I grew up. She said there are buds on the trees, and the Rideau Canal hasn't frozen. If it were only this year, I wouldn't be concerned, but those drummers have been at it for awhile. Still, concern is one thing, using the level of public concern to get around to some lobbying is another.