Feeding the fires of revolution

Australia, Bangladesh, Great Britain, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Chile, Brazil, California, France, Tennessee. Now familiar figures confirm that recent years go down as the more remarkable years in the annals of climatology. Record snows, records heats, record floods, record death of coral reefs. Nine of the ten warmest years on record in 2011 have occurred since early 2001. Global warming? Or nothing new? Climate change? True? Not true? It is a subject raising high emotional tides left and right. If I listen to Jane Koger, who by now has worked some thirty years as a “grass growing cattle rancher” in one and the same area of Kansas, and who kept track of the local weather careful enough to detect weather patterns, “especially in the past ten years, the changes were so remarkable.”

Jane has kept note of the weather since she first started ranching. In the distant past, abundant rainfall could be measured in the Flint Hills only once or twice a year and the yearly amount of precipitation seldom exceeded 32 inches. Then came years of prolonged drought and, “come August, the prairie would have lost its green colors. Yet in four of the last seven years there was abundant rainfall, up to 56 inches a year, although I didn’t feel the weather was excessively wet because most rain then dropped in just a few days. That, in my experience, is the big difference: we receive more rain in the few hours when it’s really pouring than in the many rainy days of the past. In 2009, on two days in May, we got almost 9 inches, that’s more than 22 cm. After that came a period of drought before it started pouring again. We received another bucketful in a very short time.”

Statistically it may be called a drought because of the long periods between precipitation; yet the same statistics may prove it is a very wet year. Jane: “In 2010, the grass remained green and abundant until late October, while we were experiencing a drought practically since July.” Little snow fell on the Flint Hills in the winter of 2010 / 2011. Fact is, I myself experienced the same sort of dryness in my nose and of my skin as was common in the high desert of New Mexico.

A similar story to Jane’s of personal experience of changing weather patterns comes from elsewhere in the Midwest. It was written for The New York Times by farmer Jack Hedin from southern Minnesota. Four years of heavy rains and flash flooding left him worrying about the future of his farm and of agriculture in America’s grain belt in general. He had read all the predictions, but “seeing (these weather patterns) unfold on our farm has been harrowing nonetheless.” His great-grandfather left memoirs in the 1930s in which he described tornadoes, droughts, and other extreme weather. But even he would be surprised by the ferocity of the storms of the past decade.

2007: 23 inches of rain in 36 hours, that’s more than half of a meter (the flooding that followed essentially erased Hedin’s farm from the map).

2008: torrential rains and flash flooding.

2010: 20 inches of rain in June and July.

In July, a moisture-fueled disease swept through the fields.

In September, more than 8 inches of rain.

The debris lies piled up, fields are washed out, harvesting equipment sits idle, nutrients are leaching, organic matter depletes, erosion accelerates. “The evidence of loss is everywhere.”

Hedin recognizes, just as his great-grandfather did, that “weather is never perfect for agriculture for an entire season.” A good farmer learns to cope with ill-timed and significant fluctuations in temperature and precipitation. But in the past decade “the weather in our area has become demonstrably more hostile (…) and all signs are that this trend will continue.” Three what they call “(once in a) thousand year rains” –true deluges– have occurred in the past seven years alone. Says Hedin: “The future of our nation’s food supply hangs in the balance.”

One fellow-Kansan who isn’t worried at all is David H. Koch from Wichita, oldest of two billionaire brothers who are waging a war against President Obama if not against each and everyone who threatens the profits of their kingdom, Koch Industries, a conglomerate with annual revenues estimated to be over 100 billion dollars. The Kochs are to be seen as “libertarians” who believe in drastically lower taxes, minimal social services, and no oversight of industry. They hate environmental regulation. Of course they do, for they are amongst the top ten air polluters in America. They are “kingpins of climate science denial” (Greenpeace), fighting any legislation related to climate change by underwriting a huge network of “independent” foundations, think tanks, and political front groups. The list of their spending is endless — and they spend hundreds of millions to right-wing causes each year, wrote Jane Mayer in a scary article in The New Yorker flowing over with ugly details and large dollar amounts.

Theirs is “a grassroots citizens’ movement brought to you on the sly by billionaires,” said one of Obama’s advisers. Of course the Kochs are also behind the Tea Party and behind “training sessions” pushing for similar populist uprisings. David Koch started the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, is financing Texans Defending the American Dream, helped launch the Cato Institute, and is the hidden backbone of many other organizations that are “taking back America” and “engaging in the epic fight of our nation!” Their battle cry: “Unite and fight the armies of the Left! Victory, or death!” Most often their connections are carefully kept in the dark, yet “to call them under the radar is an understatement. They are deep underground,” said one political analyst. “They are smart, this redneck stuff works for them, they see this as a way of getting things done without getting dirty themselves.”

K.I.’s founding father Fred Koch was one of the original members of the John Birch Society, who considered Dwight D. Eisenhower a Communist agent and wrote admiringly of Benito Mussolini, and once said: “The colored man looms large in the Communist plan to take over America.” His sons’ goal is, “to tear the government out at the root,” to abolish the FBI, the Security and Exchange Commission, the Department of Energy; to end Social Security, to end minimum wage law, to end gun control; and to leave the government one function: the protection of individual rights. Koch Industries lead all other energy companies in political contributions. K.I. gave and gives millions of dollars to nonprofit groups that criticize environmental regulation and support lower taxes for industry. Its role in terms of financial commitments is just staggering. One watchdog group described the Koch foundations as being totally self-serving. “These guys support anyone who can and will help impact their profit margin.”

The Cato Institute was instrumental in spreading the fake Climategate Scandal; more Americans than ever are now convinced that scientists are exaggerating the seriousness of global warming. The Koch-supported, if not instigated, Heritage Foundation, Independent Women’s Forum, Citizens for the Environment, Economic Education Trust, and Mercatus Center (their prime lobbyist in D.C. and “a means of laundering economic aims”), all oppose the presentation of global warming as a scientific fact in American schools. David Koch told one newspaper: “The heating of the planet will be beneficial, resulting in longer growing seasons and a greater land area being available to produce food.” The U.S. Government’s Environmental Protection Agency is targeted constantly in attack ads in states where Koch Industries do business. “Smog-free skies will result in more cases of skin cancer.” “Acid rain is a myth.” Koch Industries produce 2.2 billion pounds of known carcinogen formaldehyde a year and pays big money to members of Congress to prevent formaldehyde from being classified. Yet David Koch sits princely on the National Cancer Advisory Board …

Enough already. I am almost falling into the trap The New Yorker couldn’t escape from, which is getting madder and madder while discovering more about the Kochs, and wanting to know more and more details, then sharing all the facts with everyone and begging them to spread the word.

It is time to add a balanced professional opinion. Dr. Beth Holland is a buddy from Boulder, Colorado, a long-time climate change expert who is a member of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel (IPCC), which, with Al Gore, was rewarded with the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Her relationship with an organization as the U.N., and being a bloody Nobel laureate too boot, wouldn’t mean much to deniers such as the Kochs –would in fact rather speak against her– but I trust her, oh yeah. We first met in Abiquiu, where I found land for her to buy. Now she owns the portal to Cañones Canyon, 40 acres of a high ridge and a deep and wide saddle and a small peak, where she intends to build an off-the-grid green house, from which she will have unbelievably sensational views, to one side of the whole Piedra Lumbre Basin with abundant red rock formations in the distance, to the other side into the canyon and toward its ancient Pueblo Mesa. I envy her this location, and she knows it. Beth works out of the National Center for Atmospheric Research; she directed the NATO Advanced Study Institute on Soils and Global Change (not exactly one of Koch’s “armies of the Left,” one would say); she has taught in Oxford, Stanford and Berkeley; and may soon be connected with at the University of the South Pacific. “I have been offered a position as Professor of Climate Change. It is all very exciting since the islands in the South Pacific are at the front lines of climate change and the Institute where I will be working is tasked with capacity building the development of climate change action plans in fifteen communities in fifteen nations throughout the South Pacific within three years. An example of the difficulties is that Tokalau and Tuvalu now have to import water since the rainfall has declined so much during the current La Nina.” As I said, an expert.

Beth’s work focuses on “interrelated objectives: to better understand how our planet works; and to ensure that science serves the society that supports it. The links between the chemistry of the atmosphere, climate change, and ecosystems are a good example of how intriguing and complex the sustenance of our planet is. The climate system, air pollution and terrestrial ecosystems all interact to impact one another.” Her third goal, she adds with dreamy eyes, is “to get lost in the beauty and magic of the doing of science.” Her scientific passion has been to understand the nitrogen cycle and how it interacts with the carbon cycle and how both are affected by climate and the changing water cycle on a variety of scales, thus building on her early work focused on microbes living in soils.

“Speaking from both my personal and scientific views, global warming is unequivocal. There is no longer any question that the globe is warming. We scientists are remarkably unified on this point, and scientist are known to love to argue. The carbon dioxide we are emitting to the atmosphere today will have an impact on the climate for 1,000 years or more. The scientific community is increasingly convinced that human activity is driving the changes in global climate. From a personal point of view, I worry about the planet that we are leaving to our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The problems are serious and will not go away in our lifetime, and will get worse in our grandchildren’s lifetimes. The longer we wait to stop climate-changing emissions of greenhouse gases, the worse the changes to the climate system will be. The thing that worries me the most is that we may have missed an important feedback that would amplify climate changes.  Science is full of surprises, and human beings, especially scientists, are inherently conservative.”

Beth is also working with the Navajos of Arizona and New Mexico and with other Native Americans because, “I think partnerships between scientists and others with a vision beyond today’s money are critical to the future of the planet.” And she makes clear she is very worried about future water availability in the changing climate for the Southwest, Indian Country, and the Abiquiu area in northern New Mexico including the future domicile of her dreams, Cañones.

Just over 200 years ago an Icelandic volcano erupted over an eight-month period with catastrophic consequences for weather, agriculture and transportation across the northern hemisphere. Benjamin Franklin wrote of “a constant fog over all Europe, and a great part of North America.” The eruption is now thought to have disrupted monsoon cycles and the economy all over Europe. The ensuing bad harvests and food poverty helped build up to the French Revolution.

Jack Hedin said above: “The evidence of loss is everywhere.” Beth Holland adds: “I think the scientific community as well as the political community cannot avoid being stunned by the accumulating body of evidence and how convincing it is. Now we have so many pieces of the puzzle in place, the evidence of global warming is compelling in a way that it never has been before.”

More volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, deluges, landslides and tsunamis, in short many “hazardous responses from the geosphere” (Bill McGuire in a Royal Society paper) will be triggered by rising global temperatures. They will have serious effects on food production, health, global economy, international relationships; they will seriously affect human well-being. Maybe this will ultimately lead to a new revolution. Maybe revolution is the only way to break the negative forces of the Kochs and the likes … under the sharp knife of a 21st century’s guillotine. For as Thomas Farrar said, “The struggle between lust of dominion (…) and mercantile avarice on the one hand, and true humanity, justice and sympathy on the other, goes on like the fight between the devil and the angel for the soul of man.”

Farrar said this in 1883 when criticizing the utterly selfish behavior of Anglo entrepreneurs in colonial India. These guys, by the way, had an insatiable appetite for titles and precedence, such as membership of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George, whether as CMG (also called “Call Me God”), KCMG (“Kindly Call Me God”) or, for the top tier, GCMG (“God Calls Me God”). David Koch is one of those who behave as if they rightfully received a GCMG already. By the way: The problem with justice, of course, is its interpretation. Sometime ago “close ties” were discovered between the Kochs and the U.S. Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia. Here we go again …

Ton Haak,
Matfield Green, KS, February 2011