Saving the chance to save the world

approvedTwenty or so minutes ago the final draft of the climate change agreement reached in Paris was adopted by the envoys from 195 nations. The news was greeted with a standing ovation. Delegates cheered and hugged each other, happy to have achieved more than any of the previous such conferences that have been held over the past two decades.

Predictably, not everyone else cheered. Protesters in the streets of Paris claimed that the agreement didn’t go far enough, and many global environmental organizations echoed the sentiment. Concern was expressed that the burden of achieving the goals was not fairly distributed. Meanwhile, those who deny climate change even exists began complaining almost immediately about the financial implications. In the U.S., conservative politicians were quick to promise to fight U.S. compliance.

It’s a scary, cantankerous world out there. I am personally amazed that 195 nations could come together and agree on lunch plans, much less agree to commit to keeping the rise in the planets temperature to less than two degrees Celsius. I believe that this is an amazingly hopeful moment for us as a species.

Word has it that one of the major reasons negotiators were able to reach a deal at all was that this time around much of the work was done in advance. Quiet armies of researches and politicians began laying the groundwork for this a year ago, after COP20 in Lima Peru. I happen to know one of these researches, and have followed his journey over the last year as he and many of his colleagues have each played their small roles in making history as they worked hard behind the scenes to bring science and policy together in a positive way.

My own interest in climate change grew when I wrote the book y1, and learned about the effects of rising sea level on the island nations I was writing about. With a background in geology I understand quite well how the earth shifts over time. I also understand the difference between the natural and slow moving processes of the earth, and the unpredictably dangerous rapid changes introduced by the human race. Because of this, I pledged ten percent of my proceeds from y1 to the World Resources Institute, a group fighting to secure a sustainable future for our species. I was pleased to read that Jennifer Morgan, of the World Resources Institute commented that if the Paris Agreement was adopted “then countries [will] have united around a historic agreement that marks a turning point in the climate crisis.”

bolder3So congratulations to the delegates, politicians, and many concerned humans who worked so hard to make the adoption of this agreement happen. Have they collectively saved the world? I don’t think anyone believes that. My favorite quote is from Bill McKibben, the co-founder of the environmentalist group 350.org. He said of the agreement “This didn’t save the planet, but it may have saved the chance of saving the planet.”

Times being what they are, I’m happy with that.

(Thanks to Growing Bolder for the quote above.)

 

 

 

 

Learning as you go

The story of Biafra’s failed struggle for independence moved me so much when I researched my first book, x0, that I spontaneously decided to pledge 10 per cent of x0’s proceeds forever to the international aid organization that was born out of the conflict, known in the U.S. as “Doctor’s Without Borders.”

At the time I was sort of feeling my way along with this whole book writing thing anyway, and with the idea of blogging as well. I made a blog called Face Painting for World Peace to discuss everything from Nigeria to telepathy to, well, world peace. Turns out that I’ve enjoyed keeping up the blog ever since, and been proud to send a couple of checks off to DWB as well.

When y1 came along, it seemed like I needed a second blog. I wanted it to make the URL http://www.tothepowerofone.org to be similar to the x0 website http://www.tothepowerofzero.org. I liked the symmetry. However, that web address turned out to already belong to a non-profit organization dedicated to eradicating poverty throughout the Pacific Islands. Wow. y1 was about Pacific Islands. I decided that was pretty amazing, and meant that ten percent of the proceeds from y1 were destined to be donated to To the Power of One. So while this organization was in no way involved with or endorsed my book, I encouraged the readers of y1 to visit their website and consider supporting them. Because, well, it just seemed to fit.

Healing Light 1Several months ago I finally got around to sending that first check off from my y1 sales. At least I tried to, and was sad to see that To the Power of One had vanished from the web. I was unable to find another organization that they had perhaps morphed into, and concluded that for what-ever reason, the group no longer exists.

It’s not like I have a lot of proceeds from my books to donate. If you know a self-published author you probably realize this. But a promise is a promise and I was determined to send my small check off to someone. But who?

Afi, one of the main characters in the book and Zane’s eventual love interest, is from the islands of Kiribati. These low lying Pacific atolls will likely be one of the first causalities of climate change as rising sea levels submerge an entire nation.

I looked around for a group working to abate climate change in sensible ways and I was delighted to discover the World Resources Institute.

According to their website WRI’s mission is “to move human society to live in ways that protect Earth’s environment and its capacity to provide for the needs and aspirations of current and future generations.” You can hardly quarrel with that. The organization receives top ratings from GuideStar, Charity Navigator, CharityWatch, the Better Business Bureau and Philanthropedia. They organize their efforts not just around climate change,  but also around clean energy, food, forests, water and cities and transportation.

So off my check went, and now I get regular updates (and requests for more money) from them. It’s okay.  I like them and what they do and I like the idea that y1 is in some small way making a contribution. It’s not quite what I had in mind when I started this, but then none of this adventure in writing novels has turned out quite like I expected. I’m learning as I go. I think that’s a fine thing to do.

 

Kiribati, Peru and a review of “Interstellar”

11116389_sToday I learned of a short, moving post called “The Last Generation of Kiribati“. It’s a beautifully done look at how climate change is destroying the small island nation I wrote about in y1, and how it is doing so in a time frame in which natural geological changes simply do not occur. Parents in Kiribati are literally looking for foreign countries to take in their children before the oceans rise too high, and hoping they will be granted at least refugee status over the next several years as their island nation ceases to exist.

I seldom speak of my family on these blogs, but those who know a little about me know that my fictitious family of reluctant superheroes was loosely modeled after my own. The son who inspired the character Zane never worked in pharmaceuticals, and as far as I know he has never shape-shifted, but he does labor in the arena of mitigating climate change. As I write this he is in Peru, part of a massive congregation of concerned citizens of earth trying to nudge the world’s governments towards addressing the fact that seven billion people can and are affecting the life support system on which we depend.

Which brings me to the last time I saw my son. We share a love of science fiction and saw “Interstellar” together at an Imax theater. Let me rephrase that. We both enjoy good science fiction, and share a distaste for the unbelievable disaster movies that climate change has inspired, from the plot holes in Waterworld to the science holes in The Day After Tomorrow.

There are some of both in Interstellar, too, but I found the devastation of the blight and dust storms convincing. Growing up in Western Kansas may have helped, but honestly, as far as threats to the human race go, the slow destruction of crops and a growing inability to feed the world felt plausible.

7267479_lI pretty much forgive anyone who introduces worm holes so that the plot can include space travel. Come on, if you want your folks to get out of the solar system you’ve got to let your writers have worm holes, so no quarrel there. I even gave the movie points for creative use of a strong gravity field and for having the plot revolve around how heavy gravity effects the speed at which time passes. Even the acting and dialog weren’t bad. It was a solid B+ in my opinion.

In fact, I only had one persistent quarrel with the movie and it was the underlying premise. I do love the idea of going to strange new worlds and settling them. In fact, my chief career ambition for most of my childhood was to become a science officer on the star ship Enterprise. So I studied science, and learned what a delicate balance it is that sustains us. Nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide. Temperature and pressure. Tiny micro-organisms and worms and bugs. There is a whole complicated ecosystem that gets the food on our tables and keeps our hearts and lungs working for a lifetime. I wish that if this planet fails us — or more accurately if we fail it — that we could simply pack our bags and start elsewhere, just like they do in the movie.

But I fear that isn’t so. We don’t just need dirt to make a world, or air we can mange to breathe for awhile. Our body’s long term survival depends on the complex inter-related support of millions of creatures that all evolved here, on this particular planet. Everyone one of them needs things to be pretty much they way they are here. We can’t all pack up and go. Not nearly that easily at least.

I studied geophysics at a school that supplies talent to much of the oil industry, but we’re not all climate change deniers with our heads buried in the in the sand, and some of us have been on board with concern for decades. My adviser had a poster featured in his office. It was a picture of the earth from space with the caption “Good planets are hard to find.” And so they are.

Light Within 1Tonight, I think of that poster and the movie “Interstellar” and the feature on Kiribati. I think of my son and all the nations represented and the politicians and agendas and posturing that is going on in Lima. I hope, against much evidence to the contrary, that common sense will prevail.

Meanwhile, I did learn to love Kiribati from my research and after I finished writing y1 I resolved to go visit it someday. It looks like I better hurry.

 

Sailing over the North Pole?

santaFire dancer Afi has more reason for concern about global warming than most in the novel y1.  His home nation of Kiribati is composed of a series of atolls that rise only a few meters above sea level in the very middle of the vast Pacific Ocean. Sea level rise that is too rapid to allow coral to respond naturally means that Kiribati, Tuvalu and several other countries face becoming totally submerged over the next several dozen years. This is in real life, you understand, not fiction from the book

However, word today is that there will be new places to sail.  According to a study conducted at UCLA, by 2050 the Arctic ice sheet will be thin enough for icebreakers to carve a path between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and to possibly allow commercial craft to travel right over the north pole.

According to the USA Today the new research is being published online in the journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The earliest that sea routes would go directly over the North Pole would be in the 2040s, according to Laurence  Smith, a geography professor at UCLA who headed the study, and who notes that this scenario is likely to occur at this point whether global warming is curbed soon or allowed to continue to increase.

PangeaOf course, the earth has and will continue to undergo radical changes in the shape of its continents and oceans. About 200 million years ago all the continents got together for awhile and had a party that we refer to as Pangaea.  However, the earth does have its own pace. It took tens of millions of years for that that party to end.

The UCLA study notes that this unexpected effect of global warming would make for significantly shorter shipping routes but would also obviously raise a host of political and ecological issues.  Not to mention the fact that we will need to find a new remote location for Santa Claus.