Bless the Radiant One

Bless the Lord, O my soul!
O Lord my God, you are very great!
You are clothed with splendor and majesty,
covering yourself with light as with a garment,
stretching out the heavens like a tent.
he lays the beams of his chambers on the waters;
he makes the clouds his chariot;
he rides on the wings of the wind;
he makes his messengers winds,
his ministers a flaming fire.

He set the earth on its foundations,
so that it should never be moved.
You covered it with the deep as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
At your rebuke they fled;
at the sound of your thunder they took to flight.
The mountains rose, the valleys sank down
to the place that you appointed for them.
You set a boundary that they may not pass,
so that they might not again cover the earth.

You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
they flow between the hills;they give drink to every beast of the field;
the wild donke

ys quench their thirst.
Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell;
they sing among the branches.
From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.

You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth
and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine
and bread to strengthen man’s heart.

The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly,
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
In them the birds build their nests;
the stork has her home in the fir trees.
The high mountains are for the wild goats;
the rocks are a refuge for the rock badgers.

He made the moon to mark the seasons;[a]
the sun knows its time for setting.
You make darkness, and it is night,
when all the beasts of the forest creep about.
The young lions roar for their prey,
seeking their food from God.
When the sun rises, they steal away
and lie down in their dens.
Man goes out to his work
and to his labor until the evening.

O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom have you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
Here is the sea, great and wide,
which teems with creatures innumerable,
living things both small and great.
There go the ships,
and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it.[b]

These all look to you,
to give them their food in due season.
When you give it to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.
When you send forth your Spirit,[c] they are created,
and you renew the face of the ground.

May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
may the Lord rejoice in his works,
who looks on the earth and it trembles,
who touches the mountains and they smoke!
I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the Lord.
Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
and let the wicked be no more!
Bless the Lord, O my soul!
Praise the Lord!



A Sunlit Absence

“The practice of contemplation is one of the great spiritual arts,” writes Martin Laird in A Sunlit Absence. “Not a technique but a skill, it harnesses the winds of grace that lead us out into the liberating sea of silence.”

In this companion volume to his bestselling Into the Silent Land, Laird focuses on a quality often overlooked by books on Christian meditation: a vast and flowing spaciousness that embraces both silence and sound, and transcends all subject/object dualisms. Drawing on the wisdom of great contemplatives from St. Augustine and St. Teresa of Avila to St. Hesychios, Simone Weil, and many others, Laird shows how we can uncover the deeper levels of awareness that rest within us like buried treasure waiting to be found. The key insight of the book is that as our practice matures, so will our experience of life’s ordeals, sorrows, and joys expand into generous, receptive maturity. We learn to see whatever difficulties we experience in meditation–boredom, lethargy, arrogance, depression, grief, anxiety–not as obstacles to be overcome but as opportunities to practice surrender to what is. With clarity and grace Laird shows how we can move away from identifying with our turbulent, ever-changing thoughts and emotions to the cultivation of a “sunlit absence”–the luminous awareness in which God’s presence can most profoundly be felt.
Addressed to both beginners and intermediates on the pathless path of still prayer, A Sunlit Absenceoffers wise guidance on the specifics of contemplative practice as well as an inspiring vision of the purpose of such practice and the central role it can play in our spiritual lives.

Why Trees Matter


Helena, Mont.

TREES are on the front lines of our changing climate. And when the oldest trees in the world suddenly start dying, it’s time to pay attention.

North America’s ancient alpine bristlecone forests are falling victim to a voracious beetle and an Asian fungus. In Texas, a prolonged drought killed more than five million urban shade trees last year and an additional half-billion trees in parks and forests. In the Amazon, two severe droughts have killed billions more.

The common factor has been hotter, drier weather.

We have underestimated the importance of trees. They are not merely pleasant sources of shade but a potentially major answer to some of our most pressing environmental problems. We take them for granted, but they are a near miracle. In a bit of natural alchemy called photosynthesis, for example, trees turn one of the seemingly most insubstantial things of all — sunlight — into food for insects, wildlife and people, and use it to create shade, beauty and wood for fuel, furniture and homes.

For all of that, the unbroken forest that once covered much of the continent is now shot through with holes.

Humans have cut down the biggest and best trees and left the runts behind. What does that mean for the genetic fitness of our forests? No one knows for sure, for trees and forests are poorly understood on almost all levels. “It’s embarrassing how little we know,” one eminent redwood researcher told me.

What we do know, however, suggests that what trees do is essential though often not obvious. Decades ago, Katsuhiko Matsunaga, a marine chemist at Hokkaido University in Japan, discovered that when tree leaves decompose, they leach acids into the ocean that help fertilize plankton. When plankton thrive, so does the rest of the food chain. In a campaign calledForests Are Lovers of the Sea, fishermen have replanted forests along coasts and rivers to bring back fish and oyster stocks. And they have returned.

Trees are nature’s water filters, capable of cleaning up the most toxic wastes, including explosives, solvents and organic wastes, largely through a dense community of microbes around the tree’s roots that clean water in exchange for nutrients, a process known as phytoremediation. Tree leaves also filter air pollution. A 2008 study by researchers at Columbia University found that more trees in urban neighborhoods correlate with a lower incidence of asthma.

In Japan, researchers have long studied what they call “forest bathing.” A walk in the woods, they say, reduces the level of stress chemicals in the body and increases natural killer cells in the immune system, which fight tumors and viruses. Studies in inner cities show that anxiety, depression and even crime are lower in a landscaped environment.

Trees also release vast clouds of beneficial chemicals. On a large scale, some of these aerosols appear to help regulate the climate; others are anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral. We need to learn much more about the role these chemicals play in nature. One of these substances, taxane, from the Pacific yew tree, has become a powerful treatment for breast and other cancers. Aspirin’s active ingredient comes from willows.

Trees are greatly underutilized as an eco-technology. “Working trees” could absorb some of the excess phosphorus and nitrogen that run off farm fields and help heal the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. In Africa, millions of acres of parched land have been reclaimed through strategic tree growth.

Trees are also the planet’s heat shield. They keep the concrete and asphalt of cities and suburbs 10 or more degrees cooler and protect our skin from the sun’s harsh UV rays. The Texas Department of Forestry has estimated that the die-off of shade trees will cost Texans hundreds of millions of dollars more for air-conditioning. Trees, of course, sequester carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that makes the planet warmer. A study by the Carnegie Institution for Science also found that water vapor from forests lowers ambient temperatures.

A big question is, which trees should we be planting? Ten years ago, I met a shade tree farmer named David Milarch, a co-founder of the Champion Tree Project who has been cloning some of the world’s oldest and largest trees to protect their genetics, from California redwoods to the oaks of Ireland. “These are the supertrees, and they have stood the test of time,” he says.

Science doesn’t know if these genes will be important on a warmer planet, but an old proverb seems apt. “When is the best time to plant a tree?” The answer: “Twenty years ago. The second-best time? Today.”

Jim Robbins is the author of the forthcoming book “The Man Who Planted Trees.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: April 21, 2012


An earlier version of this essay referred incorrectly to one of the greenhouse gases that are warming the planet. It is carbon dioxide, not carbon.


Not Even Close: 2012 Was Hottest Ever in US

Article taken from the New York Times. Read full story


The numbers are in: 2012, the year of a surreal March heat wave, a severe drought in the Corn Belt and a huge storm that caused broad devastation in the Middle Atlantic States, turns out to have been the hottest year ever recorded in the contiguous United States.

How hot was it? The temperature differences between years are usually measured in fractions of a degree, but last year’s 55.3 degree average demolished the previous record, set in 1998, by a full degree Fahrenheit.

If that does not sound sufficiently impressive, consider that 34,008 daily high records were set at weather stations across the country, compared with only 6,664 record lows, according to a count maintained by theWeather Channel meteorologist Guy Walton, using federal temperature records.

That ratio, which was roughly in balance as recently as the 1970s, has been out of whack for decades as the country has warmed, but never by as much as it was last year.

“The heat was remarkable,” said Jake Crouch, a scientist with the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., which released the official climate compilation on Tuesday. “It was prolonged. That we beat the record by one degree is quite a big deal.”

Scientists said that natural variability almost certainly played a role in last year’s extreme heat and drought. But many of them expressed doubt that such a striking new record would have been set without the backdrop of global warming caused by the human release of greenhouse gases. And they warned that 2012 was probably a foretaste of things to come, as continuing warming makes heat extremes more likely.

Even so, the last year’s record for the United States is not expected to translate into a global temperature record when figures are released in the coming weeks. The year featured a La Niña weather pattern, which tends to cool the global climate over all, and scientists expect it to be the world’s eighth- or ninth-warmest year on record.

Assuming that prediction holds up, it will mean that the 10 warmest years on record all fell within the past 15 years, a measure of how much the planet has warmed. Nobody who is under 28 has lived through a month of global temperatures that fell below the 20th-century average, because the last such month was February 1985.

Last year’s weather in the United States began with an unusually warm winter, with relatively little snow across much of the country, followed by a March that was so hot that trees burst into bloom and swimming pools opened early. The soil dried out in the March heat, helping to set the stage for a drought that peaked during the warmest July on record.

The drought engulfed 61 percent of the nation, killed corn and soybean crops and sent prices spiraling. It was comparable to a severe drought in the 1950s, Mr. Crouch said, but not quite as severe as the legendary Dust Bowldrought of the 1930s, which was exacerbated by poor farming practices that allowed topsoil to blow away.

Extensive records covering the lower 48 states go back to 1895; Alaska and Hawaii have shorter records and are generally not included in long-term climate comparisons for that reason.

Mr. Crouch pointed out that until last year, the coldest year in the historical record for the lower 48 states, 1917, was separated from the warmest year, 1998, by only 4.2 degrees Fahrenheit. That is why the 2012 record, and its one degree increase over 1998, strikes climatologists as so unusual.

“We’re taking quite a large step above what the period of record has shown for the contiguous United States,” Mr. Crouch said.

In addition to being the nation’s warmest year, 2012 turned out to be the second-worst on a measure called the Climate Extremes Index, surpassed only by 1998.

Experts are still counting, but so far 11 disasters in 2012 have exceeded a threshold of $1 billion in damages, including several tornado outbreaks; Hurricane Isaac, which hit the Gulf Coast in August, and, late in the year, Hurricane Sandy, which caused damage likely to exceed $60 billion in nearly half the states, primarily in the mid-Atlantic region.

Among those big disasters was one bearing a label many people had never heard before: the derecho, a line of severe, fast-moving thunderstorms that struck central and eastern parts of the country starting on June 29, killing more than 20 people, toppling trees and knocking out power for millions of households.

For people who escaped both the derecho and Hurricane Sandy relatively unscathed, the year may be remembered most for the sheer breadth and oppressiveness of the summer heat wave. By the calculations of the climatic data center, a third of the nation’s population experienced 10 or more days of summer temperatures exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Among the cities that set temperature records in 2012 were Nashville; Athens, Ga.; and Cairo, Ill., all of which hit 109 degrees on June 29; Greenville, S.C., which hit 107 degrees on July 1; and Lamar, Colo., which hit 112 degrees on June 27.

With the end of the growing season, coverage of the drought has waned, but the drought itself has not. Mr. Crouch pointed out that at the beginning of January, 61 percent of the country was still in moderate to severe drought conditions. “I foresee that it’s going to be a big story moving forward in 2013,” he said.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: February 7, 2013


A map on Jan. 9 with an article about record-breaking heat in 2012, using information from Accuweather, erroneously included one city among those whose average temperature in 2012 ranged from -1 to + 1 degrees from normal. Phoenix should have been in the +1 to +2 degree range.


How Green Was My Lawn

Article Taken from the New York Times. Read Original


How Green Was My Lawn


Stony Brook, N.Y.

FIFTY years ago this month Rachel Carson, already a best-selling writer, published “Silent Spring,” the book many credit with inspiring the modern environmental movement. Nowadays, when environmental causes are often under political siege, it bears remembering that they were once extraordinarily popular, especially where both the book and the movement were born: in the suburbs.

As modern environmentalists like to remind us, the issue is a global one: climate change, pollution and nuclear radiation know no boundaries, and Public Enemy No. 1 is often the car-centric suburban lifestyle. But anyone trying to bring new energy to the movement could learn a lesson from how activists of the 1950s and ’60s picked up on, and played off of, concerns about pollution and preservation that pervaded suburban lives and neighborhoods.

Carson’s book had deep roots in the angst and activism that stirred in the postwar Northeast suburbs, in particular a 1957 lawsuit by 13 Long Island residents over DDT spraying. In 1966, academics and a lawyer sat down in a Long Island living room with a high school teacher, students and housewives to plan the trial that would give birth to the Environmental Defense Fund.

In 1970, only eight years after “Silent Spring” appeared, Americans ranked pollution as the country’s No. 1 problem, outpolling worries about Vietnam and civil rights. And worsening pollution registered most strongly neither in rural areas nor even in cities, but in suburbs.

What drove the movement’s early suburban success? It started with activists picking up on local issues like drinking-water safety and smog, concerns that directly affected suburban dwellers but had been largely overlooked by civic leaders, from health and planning experts to homeowner associations to conservation groups.

At the same time, the movement’s early leaders didn’t see themselves as working outside the suburbs; in fact, they saw themselves as coming from traditional professional realms like medicine and science, as well as the home, into neighborly civic engagement.

They then honed a nature advocacy that was pitched not just to suburban elites, but to those in mass suburbs like Levittown, and even to those in blighted downtowns. Because they could understand the environment as an intimate part of their own lives, these suburban activists could recognize nature in places where it seemingly wasn’t — the air in slums, the soil in decrepit industrial zones — and work to protect it.

By the first Earth Day, in 1970, activists in places like Long Island and suburban Los Angeles were consolidating a popular new movement with its own distinctive agenda and name.

Today, however, climate change, perhaps the most important environmental issue of our time, rarely polls among voters’ top five concerns. One reason may be that its patently global character has enervated support at environmentalism’s suburban grass roots. But it doesn’t help that blanket condemnation of suburbs as hopelessly dependent on fossil fuels comes all too easily.

Many of today’s environmental leaders have thus steered their imaginations and energies away not just from where their own movement was born, but from where a still-growing majority of Americans actually live.

Today’s movement, then, should reframe climate change as a local issue, one in which even suburban homeowners have a vital and actionable stake.

It’s not as far-fetched as it might sound. Already, one can find suburban households, churches and homeowner associations interested in how to do things “greener,” whether it’s recycling or landscaping. The trick will be finding concerns that spark imaginations and mobilize group energies at this local level, and working from there.

True, one barrier to recapturing such civic energies and innovations is the growing fragmentation of our suburbs by class and race, which has produced a yawning “nature” gap. It’s easier for wealthier neighborhoods, interwoven with green open space, to equate nature advocacy with neighborhood defense, while more easily affording the extra costs of green buildings and organic food, than it is for poor neighborhoods, whether in the city or the suburbs.

And yet this disparity offers an avenue for a revivified, close-to-home environmental altruism. Slums and industrial zones, so often the exclusive focus of environmental justice advocates, could also attract attention from newly energized activists in the suburbs, where these types of sites are increasingly found.

Wherever today’s activists choose to take the environmental movement, if the causes it espouses are to achieve the popularity they once enjoyed, then a return to its suburban foundations is absolutely vital. Taking a page from the origins of “Silent Spring” would be a good start.

Christopher C. Sellers is an associate professor of history at Stony Brook University and the author of “Crabgrass Crucible: Suburban Nature and the Rise of Environmentalism in Twentieth-Century America.”



Is This the End?

Article Taken from New York Times. Read Original




Is This the End?


WE’D seen it before: the Piazza San Marco in Venice submerged by the acqua alta; New Orleans underwater in the aftermath of Katrina; the wreckage-strewn beaches of Indonesia left behind by the tsunami of 2004. We just hadn’t seen it here. (Last summer’s Hurricane Irene did a lot of damage on the East Coast, but New York City was spared the worst.) “Fear death by water,” T. S. Eliot intoned in “The Waste Land.” We do now.

There had been warnings. In 2009, the New York City Panel on Climate Change issued a prophetic report. “In the coming decades, our coastal city will most likely face more rapidly rising sea levels and warmer temperatures, as well as potentially more droughts and floods, which will all have impacts on New York City’s critical infrastructure,” said William Solecki, a geographer at Hunter College and a member of the panel. But what good are warnings? Intelligence agents received advance word that terrorists were hoping to hijack commercial jets. Who listened? (Not George W. Bush.) If we can’t imagine our own deaths, as Freud insisted, how can we be expected to imagine the death of a city?

History is a series of random events organized in a seemingly sensible order. We experience it as chronology, with ourselves as the end point — not the end point, but as the culmination of events that leads to the very moment in which we happen to live. “Historical events might be unique, and given pattern by an end,” the critic Frank Kermode proposed in “The Sense of an Ending,” his classic work on literary narrative, “yet there are perpetuities which defy both the uniqueness and the end.” What he’s saying (I think) is that there is no pattern. Flux is all.

Last month’s “weather event” should have taught us that. Whether in 50 or 100 or 200 years, there’s a good chance that New York City will sink beneath the sea. But if there are no patterns, it means that nothing is inevitable either. History offers less dire scenarios: the city could move to another island, the way Torcello was moved to Venice, stone by stone, after the lagoon turned into a swamp and its citizens succumbed to a plague of malaria. The city managed to survive, if not where it had begun. Perhaps the day will come when skyscrapers rise out of downtown Scarsdale.

Humans are ingenious. Our species tends to see nature as something of a nuisance, a phenomenon to be outwitted. Consider efforts to save Venice: planners have hatched one scheme after another to prevent the city from sinking. Industrial development has been curtailed. Buildings dating from the Renaissance have been “relocated.”

The most ambitious project, begun a decade ago, is the installation of mobile gates in the lagoons. Known by the acronym MOSE — the Italian name for Moses, who mythically parted the Red Sea — it’s an intricate engineering feat: whenever the tide rises, metal barriers that lie in concrete bunkers on the sea floor are lifted by compressed air pressure and pivoted into place on hinges.

Is the Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico — the project’s official name — some engineer’s fantasy? It was scheduled for completion this year, but that has been put off until 2014. Even if, by some miracle, the gates materialize, they will be only a stay against the inevitable. Look at the unfortunate Easter Islanders, who left behind as evidence of their existence a mountainside of huge blank-faced busts, or the Polynesians of Pitcairn Island, who didn’t leave behind much more than a few burial sites and a bunch of stone tools. Every civilization must go.

Yet each goes in its own way. In “Collapse,” Jared Diamond showed how the disappearance of a civilization has multiple causes. A cascade of events with unforeseen consequences invariably brings it to a close. The Norse of Greenland cut down their trees (for firewood and other purposes) until there were no more trees, which made it a challenge to build houses or boats. There were other causes, too: violent clashes with the Inuit, bad weather, ice pileups in the fjords blocking trade routes. But deforestation was the prime factor. By the end, no tree fell in the forest, as there was none; and there would have been no one to hear it if it had.

“Some say the world will end in fire, / Some say in ice,” declared Robert Frost. Another alternative would be lava. Pliny the Younger’s letters to Tacitus described the eruption of Mount Vesuvius: A plume of dirt and ash rose in the sky; rocks pelted Pompeii; and then darkness arrived. “It was not like a moonless or cloudy night, but like being in an enclosed place where the light has been doused.” Who did this? It must have been the gods. “Many were raising their hands to implore the gods, but more took the view that no gods now existed anywhere, and that this was an eternal and final darkness hanging over the world.” But of course it wasn’t the end of the world: it was just the end of them.

Contemplating our ephemerality can be a profound experience. To wander the once magnificent Roman cities strung along the Lycian coast of Turkey — now largely reduced to rubble, much still unexcavated — is to realize how extensive, how magisterial this civilization was. Whole cities are underwater; you can snorkel over them and read inscriptions carved into ancient monoliths. Ephesus, pop. 300,000 in the second century A.D., is a vast necropolis. The amphitheater that accommodated nearly 25,000 people sits empty. The Temple of Artemis, said to have been four times larger than the Parthenon, is a handful of slender columns.

YET we return home from our travels intoxicated by beauty, not truth. It doesn’t occur to us that we, too, will one day be described in a guidebook (Fodor’s North America 2212?) as metropolitans who resided in 60-story towers and traveled beneath the waves in metal-sheathed trains.

It’s this willed ignorance, I suspect, that explains why it’s difficult to process the implications of climate change for New York, even in the face of explicit warnings from politicians, not the most future-oriented people. Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has been courageous to make global warming a subject of public debate, but will taxpayers support his proposal to build a levee in New York Harbor? Wouldn’t it be easier to think of Sandy as a “once in a lifetime” storm? Even as Lower Manhattan continues to bail itself out — this time in the literal sense — One World Trade Center rises, floor by floor. The governor notes that “we have a 100-year flood every two years now,” which doesn’t stop rents from going up in Battery Park City.

Walking on New York’s Upper East Side, I was reminded by the gargantuan white box atop a busy construction site that the Second Avenue line, first proposed in 1929, remains very much in the works. And why not? Should images of water pouring into the subway tunnels that occupied our newspapers a few weeks back be sufficient to stay us from progress? “I must live till I die,” says the hero of a Joseph Conrad novel. The same could be said of cities.

When, on my way home at night, I climb the steps from the subway by the American Museum of Natural History — itself a monument to transience, with its dinosaurs and its mammoth and its skeleton of a dodo bird, that doomed species whose name has become an idiom for extinction — I feel more keenly than ever the miraculousness, the improbability of New York.

Looking down Central Park West, I’m thrilled by the necklace of green-and-red traffic lights extending toward Columbus Circle and the glittering tower of One57, that vertical paradise for billionaires. And as I walk past the splashing fountain in front of the museum’s south entrance on West 77th Street, I recall a sentence from Edward Gibbon’s ode to evanescence, “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” in which “the learned Poggius” gazes down at the remains of the city from the Capitoline hill: “The public and private edifices, that were founded for eternity, lie prostrate, naked, and broken, like the limbs of a mighty giant; and the ruin is the more visible, from the stupendous relics that have survived the injuries of time and fortune.”

This is our fate. All the more reason to appreciate what we have while we have it.

James Atlas is a contributing opinion writer and the author of a forthcoming book about biography.



Heat, Flood or Icy Cold, Extreme Weather Rages Worldwide

Article taken from the New York Times. Read Original


Heat, Flood or Icy Cold, Extreme Weather Rages Worldwide


WORCESTER, England — Britons may remember 2012 as the year the weather spun off its rails in a chaotic concoction of drought, deluge and flooding, but the unpredictability of it all turns out to have been all too predictable: Around the world, extreme has become the new commonplace.

Especially lately. China is enduring its coldest winter in nearly 30 years. Brazil is in the grip of a dreadful heat spell. Eastern Russia is so freezing — minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and counting — that the traffic lights recently stopped working in the city of Yakutsk.

Bush fires are raging across Australia, fueled by a record-shattering heat wave. Pakistan was inundated by unexpected flooding in September. A vicious storm bringing rain, snow and floods just struck the Middle East. And in the United States, scientists confirmed this week what people could have figured out simply by going outside: last year was the hottest since records began.

“Each year we have extreme weather, but it’s unusual to have so many extreme events around the world at once,” said Omar Baddour, chief of the data management applications division at the World Meteorological Organization, in Geneva. “The heat wave in Australia; the flooding in the U.K., and most recently the flooding and extensive snowstorm in the Middle East — it’s already a big year in terms of extreme weather calamity.”

Such events are increasing in intensity as well as frequency, Mr. Baddour said, a sign that climate change is not just about rising temperatures, but also about intense, unpleasant, anomalous weather of all kinds.

Here in Britain, people are used to thinking of rain as the wallpaper on life’s computer screen — an omnipresent, almost comforting background presence. But even the hardiest citizen was rattled by the near-biblical fierceness of the rains that bucketed down, and the floods that followed, three different times in 2012.

Rescuers plucked people by boat from their swamped homes in St. Asaph, North Wales. Whole areas of the country were cut off when roads and train tracks were inundated at Christmas. In Mevagissey, Cornwall, a pub owner closed his business for good after it flooded 11 times in two months.

It was no anomaly: the floods of 2012 followed the floods of 2007 and also the floods of 2009, which all told have resulted in nearly $6.5 billion in insurance payouts. The Met Office, Britain’s weather service, declared 2012 the wettest year in England, and the second-wettest in Britain as a whole, since records began more than 100 years ago. Four of the five wettest years in the last century have come in the past decade (the fifth was in 1954).

The biggest change, said Charles Powell, a spokesman for the Met Office, is the frequency in Britain of “extreme weather events” — defined as rainfall reaching the top 1 percent of the average amount for that time of year. Fifty years ago, such episodes used to happen every 100 days; now they happen every 70 days, he said.

The same thing is true in Australia, where bush fires are raging across Tasmania and the current heat wave has come after two of the country’s wettest years ever. On Tuesday, Sydney experienced its fifth-hottest day since records began in 1910, with the temperature climbing to 108.1 degrees. The first eight days of 2013 were among the 20 hottest on record.

Every decade since the 1950s has been hotter in Australia than the one before, said Mark Stafford Smith, science director of the Climate Adaptation Flagship at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization.

To the north, the extremes have swung the other way, with a band of cold settling across Russia and Northern Europe, bringing thick snow and howling winds to Stockholm, Helsinki and Moscow. (Incongruously, there were also severe snowstorms in Sicily and southern Italy for the first time since World War II; in December, tornadoes and waterspouts struck the Italian coast.)

In Siberia, thousands of people were left without heat when natural gas liquefied in its pipes and water mains burst. Officials canceled bus transportation between cities for fear that roadside breakdowns could lead to deaths from exposure, and motorists were advised not to venture far afield except in columns of two or three cars. In Altai, to the east, traffic officials warned drivers not to use poor-quality diesel, saying that it could become viscous in the cold and clog fuel lines.

Meanwhile, China is enduring its worst winter in recent memory, with frigid temperatures recorded in Harbin, in the northeast. In the western region of Xinjiang, more than 1,000 houses collapsed under a relentless onslaught of snow, while in Inner Mongolia, 180,000 livestock froze to death. The cold has wreaked havoc with crops, sending the price of vegetables soaring.

Way down in South America, energy analysts say that Brazil may face electricity rationing for the first time since 2002, as a heat wave and a lack of rain deplete the reservoirs forhydroelectric plants. The summer has been punishingly hot. The temperature in Rio de Janeiro climbed to 109.8 degrees on Dec. 26, the city’s highest temperature since official records began in 1915.

At the same time, in the Middle East, Jordan is battling a storm packing torrential rain, snow, hail and floods that are cascading through tunnels, sweeping away cars and spreading misery in Syrian refugee camps. Amman has been virtually paralyzed, with cars abandoned, roads impassable and government offices closed.

Israel and the Palestinian territories are grappling with similar conditions, after a week of intense rain and cold winds ushered in a snowstorm that dumped eight inches in Jerusalem alone.

Amir Givati, head of the surface water department at the Israel Hydrological Service, said the storm was truly unusual because of its duration, its intensity and its breadth. Snow and hail fell not just in the north, but as far south as the desert city of Dimona, best known for its nuclear reactor.

In Beirut on Wednesday night, towering waves crashed against the Corniche, the seaside promenade downtown, flinging water and foam dozens of feet in the air as lightning flickered across the dark sea at multiple points along the horizon. Many roads were flooded as hail pounded the city.

Several people died, including a baby boy in a family of shepherds who was swept out of his mother’s arms by floodwaters. The greatest concern was for the 160,000 Syrian refugees who have fled to Lebanon, taking shelter in schools, sheds and, where possible, with local families. Some refugees are living in farm outbuildings, which are particularly vulnerable to cold and rain.

Barry Lynn, who runs a forecasting business and is a lecturer at the Hebrew University’s department of earth science, said a striking aspect of the whole thing was the severe and prolonged cold in the upper atmosphere, a big-picture shift that indicated the Atlantic Ocean was no longer having the moderating effect on weather in the Middle East and Europe that it has historically.

“The intensity of the cold is unusual,” Mr. Lynn said. “It seems the weather is going to become more intense; there’s going to be more extremes.”

In Britain, where changes to the positioning of the jet stream — a ribbon of air high up in the atmosphere that helps steer weather systems — may be contributing to the topsy-turvy weather, people are still recovering from the December floods. In Worcester last week, the river Severn remained flooded after three weeks, with playing fields buried under water.

In the shop at the Worcester Cathedral, Julie Smith, 54, was struggling, she said, to adjust to the new uncertainty.

“For the past seven or eight years, there’s been a serious incident in a different part of the country,” Mrs. Smith said. “We don’t expect extremes. We don’t expect it to be like this.”

Reporting was contributed by Jodi Rudoren from Jerusalem; Irit Pazner Garshowitz from Tzur Hadassah, Israel; Fares Akram from Gaza City, Gaza; Ellen Barry and Andrew Roth from Moscow; Ranya Kadri from Amman, Jordan; Dan Levin from Harbin, China; Jim Yardley from New Delhi; Anne Barnard from Beirut, Lebanon; Matt Siegel from Sydney, Australia; Scott Sayare from Paris; and Simon Romero from Rio de Janeiro.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: January 14, 2013


An article on Friday about extreme weather conditions occurring around the world misstated part of the name of a group in Geneva whose data management applications division chief commented on the phenomenon. It is the World Meteorological Organization (not Association). The article also misspelled the location in Cornwall, England, where a pub owner closed his establishment for good after it flooded 11 times in two months. It is Mevagissey, not Megavissey.



Burning Love


DECEMBER 5, 2011

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Americans have never met a hydrocarbon they didn’t like. Oil, natural gas, liquefied natural gas, tar-sands oil, coal-bed methane, and coal, which is, mostly, carbon—the country loves them all, not wisely, but too well. To the extent that the United States has an energy policy, it is perhaps best summed up as: if you’ve got it, burn it.

America’s latest hydrocarbon crush is shale gas. Shale gas has been around for a long time—the Marcellus Shale, which underlies much of Pennsylvania and western New York, dates back to the mid-Devonian period, almost four hundred million years ago—and geologists have been aware of its potential as a fuel source for many decades. But it wasn’t until recently that, owing to advances in drilling technology, extracting the gas became a lucrative proposition. The result has been what National Geographic has called “the great shale gas rush.” In the past ten months alone, some sixteen hundred new wells have been drilled in Pennsylvania; it is projected that the total number in the state could eventually grow to more than a hundred thousand. Nationally, shale-gas production has increased by a factor of twelve in the past ten years.

Like many rushes before it, the shale-gas version has made some people wealthy and others miserable. Landowners in shale-rich areas have received thousands of dollars an acre in up-front payments for the right to drill under their property, with the promise of thousands more to come in royalties. A new term has been invented to describe them: “shaleionaires.”

Meanwhile, some of their neighbors—who are, perhaps, also shaleionaires—have watched their tap water turn brown and, on occasion, explode. Shale gas is embedded in dense rock, so drillers use a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals to open up fissures in the stone through which it can escape. (This is the process known as “hydraulic fracturing,” or, more colloquially, “fracking.”) In the 2005 energy bill, largely crafted by Vice-President Dick Cheney, fracking was explicitly exempted from federal review under the Safe Drinking Water Act. As a result of this dispensation, which has been dubbed the Halliburton Loophole, drilling companies are under no obligation to make public which chemicals they use. Likely candidates include such recognized or suspected carcinogens as benzene and formaldehyde.

Shale gas is found deep underground; most of the Marcellus Shale sits a mile or more beneath the surface, far below the level of groundwater. Industry officials argue that the depth of the formations makes it impossible for fracking to pollute drinking-water supplies. “There have been over a million wells hydraulically fractured in the history of the industry, and there is not one—not one—reported case of a freshwater aquifer having ever been contaminated,” Rex Tillerson, the chairman and C.E.O. of ExxonMobil, declared at a congressional hearing last year.

Nevertheless, as the Times recently reported, contamination with fracking fluid has occurred. (Details of contamination cases are difficult to get, because most of the records have been sealed in litigation.) And, just a few weeks ago, the Environmental Protection Agency reported that drinking water in Pavillion, Wyoming, contained a chemical that is commonly found in fracking fluid, although the agency has not yet determined whether fracking was the source. The E.P.A. is also investigating several cases of suspected contamination in the town of Dimock, Pennsylvania.

Shale gas itself presents another potential problem. A recent study by researchers at Duke University showed that methane frequently leaks into drinking water near active fracking sites, which probably explains why some homeowners have been able to set their tap water on fire. Yet another possible source of contamination is so-called “flowback” water. Huge quantities of water are used in fracking, and as much as forty per cent of it can come back up out of the gas wells, bringing with it corrosive salts, volatile organic compounds, and radioactive elements, such as radium. Citing public-health concerns, Pennsylvania recently asked drillers to stop taking flowback water to municipal treatment plants.

New York State currently has a moratorium on fracking permits, pending the adoption of new regulations. Anxiety about New York City’s drinking-water supply has prompted the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation to recommend, in a set of draft rules, that the practice be prohibited in the city’s upstate watershed. (The department is holding a hearing on the proposed regulations this week in Manhattan; a similar hearing, held earlier this month in Binghamton, drew nearly two thousand people.) There is also a moratorium on fracking in the Delaware River Basin, which spans parts of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania and is the source of drinking water for fifteen million people. The Delaware River Basin Commission, the body charged with protecting water quality in the region, was expected to lift that moratorium last week; however, the decision was put off after Delaware’s governor, Jack Markell, a commission member, announced that he would vote against the move. “Once hydrofracturing begins in the basin, the proverbial ‘faucet’ cannot be turned off, with any damage to our freshwater supplies likely requiring generations of effort to clean up,” Markell wrote in a letter explaining his decision.

Every kind of energy extraction, of course, poses risks. Mountaintop-removal mining, as the name suggests, involves “removing” entire mountaintops, usually with explosives, to get at a layer of coal. Coal plants, meanwhile, produce almost twice the volume of greenhouse gases as natural-gas plants per unit of energy generated. In the end, the best case to be made for fracking is that much of what is already being done is probably even worse.

The trouble with this sort of argument is that, in the absence of a rational energy policy, there’s no reason to substitute shale gas for coal. We can combust them both! The way things now stand, there’s nothing to prevent us from getting wasted mountains and polluted drinking water, and a ruined climate to boot.

In the coming decades, ever-improving technologies will almost certainly make new sources of hydrocarbons accessible. At some point, either we will outgrow our infatuation or we will burn our way to a very dark place. ♦

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Swallowing Rain Forest, Cities Surge in Amazon

Swallowing Rain Forest, Cities Surge in Amazon


PARAUAPEBAS, Brazil — The Amazon has been viewed for ages as a vast quilt of rain forest interspersed by remote river outposts. But the surging population growth of cities in the jungle is turning that rural vision on its head and alarming scientists, as an array of new industrial projects transforms the Amazon into Brazil’s fastest-growing region.

The torrid expansion of rain forest cities is visible in places like Parauapebas, which has changed in a generation from an obscure frontier settlement with gold miners and gunfights to a sprawling urban area with an air-conditioned shopping mall, gated communities and a dealership selling Chevy pickup trucks.

Scientists are studying such developments and focusing on the demands on the resources of the Amazon, the world’s largest remaining area of tropical forest. Though Brazilian officials have historically viewed the colonization of the Amazon as a matter of national security — military rulers built roads to the forest under the slogan “Occupy it to avoid surrendering it” — deforestation in the region already ranks among the largest contributors to global greenhouse-gas emissions.

Brazil has shifted away from colonization, but policies that regularize land claims by squatters still lure migrants to the Amazon. And while the country has recently made progress in curbing deforestation, largely by enforcing logging laws and carving out protected forest areas, biologists and other climate researchers fear that the sharp increase in migration to cities in the Amazon, which now has a population approaching 25 million, could erode those gains.

“More population leads to more deforestation,” said Philip M. Fearnside, a researcher at the National Institute for Amazon Research in Manaus, an Amazonian city that registered by far the fastest growth of Brazil’s 10 largest cities from 2000 to 2010. The number of residents grew 22 percent to 1.7 million, according to government statistics.

Of the 19 Brazilian cities that the latest census indicates have doubled in population over the past decade, 10 are in the Amazon. Altogether, the region’s population climbed 23 percent from 2000 to 2010, while Brazil as a whole grew just 12 percent.

Various factors are fueling this growth, among them larger family sizes and the Amazon’s high levels of poverty in comparison with other regions that draw people to the cities for work. While Brazil’s birthrate has fallen to 1.86 children per woman, one of the lowest in Latin America, the Amazon has Brazil’s highest rate, at 2.42.

Then there is the region’s economic allure.

Sinop, a city of 111,000 people in Mato Grosso State, grew about 50 percent in the past decade as soybean farmers expanded operations there. Fiscal incentives for manufacturing promote growth in Manaus and satellite towns like Manacapuru and Rio Preto da Eva. Logging still provides the lifeblood for growing towns along BR-163, an important Amazon highway now being paved.

Elsewhere in the Amazon, the biggest linchpins for the fast-growing cities are major energy and industrial projects. The construction of dozens of hydroelectric projects, including sprawling dams that have drawn protests, are luring manual laborers from around Brazil to cities like Pôrto Velho, in Rondônia State, and Altamira, in Pará.

Here in Parauapebas, also in Pará, an open-pit iron ore mine provides thousands of jobs. Plans for additional mines here, supported largely by forecasts of robust demand in China, have lured many to this corner of the Amazon in search of work. Just since the 2010 census, the city’s population has swelled to an estimated 220,000 from 154,000.

“This entire area was thick, almost impenetrable, jungle,” said Oriovaldo Mateus, an engineer who arrived here in 1981 to work for Vale, the Brazilian mining giant. That was about the time that the authorities cut a road through the forest, making the settlement of Parauapebas feasible. By the early 1990s, he said, it had muddy roads, brothels and more than 25,000 people.

“Now, Brazil’s future is in Parauapebas and other cities of the Amazon,” said Mr. Mateus, 62, who heads the city’s business association and owns a company that leases mining equipment. He boasted that on some frenetic days, as many as two homes are built each hour to meet surging demand in the city’s settlements.

Indeed, the streets of Parauapebas pulse with vitality. People shout to be heard along Rua 24 de Março, a traffic-clogged thoroughfare reverberating with the buzzing of motorcycle taxis, Pentecostal preachers bellowing warnings of sin and car stereos blaring eletromelody, the thumping electronic music style popular in this part of the Amazon.

Venture to the outskirts of Parauapebas, and slums of wooden shacks stretch to the horizon. One area where squatters have put down stakes is called Nova Vitória. With about 1,200 such homes, it is a magnet for strivers.

“I came here because the economic conditions are strong,” said Francisco Amorim da Silva, 20, who arrived in August from Marabá, another Amazonian city. Already, he has a small store selling basic foods like rice and beans and household items like laundry detergent.

Asked how much investment it takes to start such an operation, Mr. Amorim da Silva whipped out an iPhone and did the math, calculating the cost of a barren lot, building materials and a bit of start-up capital, which he said he obtained from selling a used Honda motorcycle. “Four thousand reais,” he replied, or about $2,000.

Some researchers have argued that in addition to allowing migrants to raise their living standards, migration to cities in tropical countries might actually reduce forest loss by depopulating certain rural areas, allowing tropical forests to regrow. But others contend that the migration may increase deforestation by permitting cattle ranchers, already responsible for razing big portions of forest, to acquire lands held by small cultivators.

The soaring population growth in some cities in the Amazon — called the “world’s last great settlement frontier” by Brian J. Godfrey, a geography professor at Vassar College who is the co-author of “Rainforest Cities” — is intensifying an urbanization that has been advancing for decades. For more than 20 years, a majority of the Brazilian Amazon’s population has lived in urban areas.

“It’s great that people are moving out of poverty, but one of the things we need to understand when people move out of poverty is there is a larger demand on resources,” said Mitchell Aide, a University of Puerto Rico biology professor, whose research has shown that deforestation has occurred on a larger scale than reforestation in Brazil’s Amazon over the past decade.

Such environmental worries seem far from the minds of those who arrive here in Parauapebas. These days, a train comes three times a week from Maranhão in northeast Brazil, delivering hundreds of people each time. On a recent humid night, Maria Antonia Santos, 34, arrived with her six children from Zé Doca, a city more than 16 hours away.

As she lugged her family’s possessions in plastic bags, she explained her motivation: “I was told this is the best place in Brazil to start on life again.”

Taylor Barnes contributed reporting from Rio de Janeiro.


Climate Change What To Do?

Many of us already know enough about Climate Change to start now to reverse it before it is too late to prevent immense loss of life, which many scientists assert may well occur during this century, with grave consequences for our children and grandchildren.


The question is: How we can halt and reverse Climate Change, given the great economic and political power of the two groups of Americans who support it, namely:

  1. The small percentage of the population who reap immense profits from the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. This includes not only oil, coal and gas companies but also utilities, airlines, car companies, railroads, the defense industry and food (especially meat) companies, as well as virtually all other large companies. After all, their profits are made possible by the burning of fossil fuels, and profit is the be-all and end-all of their lives.
  2. The great majority of the population, who drive cars, use electricity, fly on planes, eat meat, depend on products moved by trucks, railroads and ships, and in various ways use products and services that depend on the burning of fossil fuels, all of which make their lives comfortable and relatively free of hardship.


Even a brief glance at these two groups reveals the great difficulty of our task:

  • American corporations run most of the economic system which determines and shapes the lifestyles of most Americans who want only to see their lifestyles improved, and therefore support the work of those corporations. They use their almost unlimited finances to control all three branches of the federal government, making it difficult for us to persuade our elected representatives to bring corporations to seek the common good. Their control of the federal government includes the military, the FBI, the NSA and the CIA, making it difficult for us to take to the streets in protests. Their ownership of most of the mainstream media makes it difficult for us to place valid information in the hands of the public.
  • The primary goal of most of the second group is to enjoy a good life – job, family, friends and home. They are very happy with the fruits of the Industrial Revolution and have no desire to surrender them.


In spite of these obstacles, some of us are acutely aware of the impending catastrophes from Climate Change and are looking for an effective process to avoid them as far as possible.


An essential element of that process is community because community involves the mutual support, trust, exchanges of resources and information and joint action that are needed for persistence and effective action.


One form of community is Small Groups, perhaps 10-20-30 members in each. The Small Group will choose its initial activities, and gradually add on additional ones based on its members’ interests, needs and resources.


The first task therefore for us is to form a Small Group by inviting some individuals we know – relatives, friends, neighbors, business associates – or an existing group e.g. a college or a church or a community group, to get together to discuss Climate Change and to plan a course of action. The Coalition will be happy to suggest ample resources for these discussions.


That Group’s activities will be aimed primarily at grappling with Climate Change, but in alliance with similar nearby Groups it may choose to use some of its time and energy to work toward a more just, caring and democratic society. To achieve both objectives, members of the Groups will:

  • Keep aware of current economic and environmental conditions.
  • Use their power of the vote to elect and reelect responsive politicians and keep before the eyes of the public the records of politicians’ performance.
  • Patronize companies that operate in an economically and environmentally just manner and shun those that do not so operate.
  • Start worker-owned companies that operate in an economically and environmentally just manner, the best example of which is the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation in Spain.
  • Create self-reliant metropolitan areas with respect to housing, jobs, transportation, energy, food, education, health care and other basic needs.
  • Reach out to others to invite them to participate in this effort. They will place in their hands valid and credible information about Climate Change. If those others understand that their very survival is at stake, as well as that of their families, present and future, many of them will listen carefully to this information, take it seriously and respond to the appeal for action in Small Groups.
  • Engage in social activities that promote mutual friendship, trust, comradeship and solidarity.

What is required for success is ultimately many Small Groups (ultimately hundreds of thousands) that focus not only on Climate Change, but also on economic injustice, imperialism and lack of democracy. Many Americans are not initially disposed to work on the economy or imperialism or government but will work on Climate Change because it focuses on survival, which virtually everyone values for themselves, their children and their grandchildren. These Small Groups will be interconnected and will work together.


With respect to Climate Change, our primary task is to acquire and use economic and political power to engineer a major reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, through an extraordinary increase in conservation and the use of renewables – solar, windpower, hydropower, geothermal, biofuels.


Saul Alinsky once said that the two routes to power in the U.S. are organized money and organized people. In this case, more than a few organized people, because a few simply don’t have enough economic and political power to change group #1 above and prevail over group #2 above. We’ll never be able to reverse Climate Change until we bring together a great number of caring people in community. Of course, individuals should engage in appropriate personal lifestyle changes, but such actions are far from sufficient to reverse Climate Change.


When several Small Groups have started, we shall invite their members to come together periodically in several regional centers e.g. New York, Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Los Angeles etc.


Grassroots Coalition for Environmental and Economic Justice

21431 Marlin Circle   Shade Gap PA 17255