Friday, February 4, 2011

Global "weirding"

The weather in Waco, Texas, has been strange. Last weekend it was sunny and balmy, with highs in the 70s. This week we've had four days in a row when the temperature never rose above freezing. Last night, dry powdery snow began to fall, and quickly coated the frozen ground. Today everything slowed to a halt as we enjoyed a "snow day."

And there the story might end except for some oddities. I've lived here for seven and a half years. My first year, it snowed about half an inch on Valentine's Day. The Texans went crazy; our next-door neighbor's teenage son made a snow angel in the lawn - shirtless! A friend of my son, who was nine years old that year, said it was the first time he had ever seen snow. Since then, we have had many snowfalls here, including a freak one in early April a few years ago and a mini-blizzard last year that dumped nearly 7 inches. The fact that literally every single last sign of that snow was gone by the next day is an indication of what's really happening. The weather is getting weird. Overall, this has been a warm winter, even for Texas. Now we're in the deep freeze while people in Anchorage, Alaska, are baking - at least by Alaska standards.

A lot of people have been deeply inspired this week by the courage of the protesters in Egypt, and I am among them. The most inspiring moment of my week, though, came last night during a concert at Baylor by the St. Olaf's College choir. Anton Armstrong, the director of the choir, is well known here. A few years ago, he won Baylor's Cherry Award for distinguished teaching, so he spent an entire semester on our campus. He is acknowledged both for his consummate musicianship and for his deep religious faith. He is a Lutheran (and showed up unannounced for a service at our little Lutheran church here, much to the consternation of our choir director), but he seems to relate well to the Baptists at Baylor. He includes a hymn at every concert, and invites the audience to sing along. He knows how to talk religion to Texans.

That's why his speech in the middle of last night's concert was so stunning. The choir was about to sing a piece whose text, in the African Sahel dialect, means "the earth is tired." Dr. Armstrong stepped up to the microphone and told the audience that the music they were hearing spoke of the immensity of God's creation, and of the truly humbling gift we have received in being entrusted to care for it. He then told us, with no holds barred, that the strange weather that had followed the choir down from Minnesota to Waco means that we are failing. "You know it's not supposed to be like this here," he said. It's up to us, for the sake of the young people in the choir and others like them, to do a better job of preserving the world that we all have to live in.

The audience was perhaps a bit flummoxed, and might not have applauded as loudly as they could have at the end of the piece, which included groaning noises to reflect the earth's suffering. Nevertheless, they clearly heard him, and the message was reinforced by having to drive home in the snow - which was coming not down from the north, but up from the Gulf of Mexico, as the general heating of the earth's atmosphere continues to add more moisture than has been there for many thousands of years.

I've written about this before on Facebook, but I'm going to say it again. Some people in our government appear to be taking this problem seriously, but they are being blocked in every conceivable way by the vast money resources of the big oil companies. The government will not do enough, and will not do what little it can in a timely enough manner. That's why I'm not calling for a government solution. I'm calling on us. If you agree with me that we are gearing up for the largest man-made catastrophe in recorded history, and have barely any time to start taking drastic measures, please join me in doing the following:

• Refuse to buy a car that gets less than 35 miles per gallon. Better yet, demand one that gets 50 or more.

• Cut down on meat, especially red meat. Clear-cutting of rain forests for grazing cattle, and for growing grain to feed them, is one of the leading contributors to rising CO2 levels. I eat no red meat at all, and have many vegetarian meals.

• Buy your electricity from a company that uses only renewable energy sources. If you live in Texas, I recommend Green Mountain Energy. If you don't have this option in your state, demand it.

• Buy an electric lawn-mower. Two-cycle internal combustion engines, which are used on most power mowers, are grossly inefficient. Mowing the average lawn adds as much CO2 to the air as driving nearly 200 miles.

• Recycle everything you can. Bring canvas bags to the grocery store. Refuse to use wasteful packaging.

I could go on, but studies show that people change most readily when they aren't confronted with an overwhelming array of choices and action points. Just bear in mind that even if we all do everything we possibly can - and we're nowhere even close - 100 years from now what we're seeing at present will look like only the beginning of a growing, world-wide disaster of unimaginable proportions. And that's if we *do* act now.


  1. As if on cue, while I was finishing this post, a pipe in my ceiling broke and flooded my kitchen. Buildings in Texas were built with no consideration of the possibility that the temperature could stay below freezing for four days in a row.

  2. "Refuse to buy a car that gets less than 35 miles per gallon. Better yet, demand one that gets 50 or more."

    Better yet, don't drive when you don't need to. Walk, bicycle, or take public transportation whenever you can. When you have no other choice but to drive, route yourself so you save the most driving time you can. Don't drive to the corner convenient mart just to pick up something you forgot or need for a recipe; do without, or walk or bicycle to the store.

    Keep your car tuned up and keep the tires at the proper air pressure. This will save gasoline. Learn driving habits that will help save fuel, such as coasting to a red light and avoiding sudden stops and "jack-rabbit" starts.

    Write your representatives and insist that they should start spending more money on rail and other public transit and they should stop spending on new highways. We should maintain the ones we have and not build any more.

    "Buy an electric lawn-mower."
    I did one better: I bought a newly-designed push mower from Fiskars. It runs on muscle power alone and doesn't use electricity or fossil fuel.

  3. "enormity of God's creation"

    Given that the first two definitions of enormity are:

    1: an outrageous, improper, vicious, or immoral act, and

    2:: an outrageous, improper, vicious, or immoral act,

    I think "immensity" might have been a better choice of words.

    Otherwise, good advice.

  4. Paul Krugman, as usual, is right on the money.

  5. Yes, Krugman is absolutely correct.