CLIMATE INTRO - John Wawrzonek


TWELVE YEARS AGO I read my first news item about global warming. It spoke about various positive feedback mechanisms that could accelerate warming such as the melting of the tundra which would give off methane, a more powerful but shorter lived greenhouse gas. Additionally the melting of snow and ice, which reflect sunlight but when melted expose darker ground that absorbs heat from the sun rather than reflecting it. I knew what positive feedback could do, one example is to make sound amplifying systems squeal when the sound from the loudspeakers feeds back into the microphones. It turns out there are many mechanisms of positive feedback in climate change and whenever the atmosphere gets a bit warmer another one may kick in.

TWENTY YEARS AGO, Jim Hansen had testified before congress on the dangers of global warming, that the burning of fossil fuels would affect the earth for centuries to come. Prior to that in 1977 the National Academy of Sciences warned that average temperatures may rise 6 degrees Celsius by 2050 due to the burning of coal. More recently the International Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, in its fifth assessment report wrote in the report's final paragraph: "There is alarming evidence that important tipping points, leading to irreversible changes in major ecosystems and the planetary climate system, may already have been reached or passed. Ecosystems as diverse as the Amazon rainforest and the Arctic tundra, may be approaching thresholds of dramatic change through warming and drying. Mountain glaciers are in alarming retreat and the downstream effects of reduced water supply in the driest months will have repercussions that transcend generations."

FIVE YEARS AGO I registered several internet domain names among which was Since then I have dwaddled while the news about the climate got worse and worse. Each report I read was more pessimistic than the one before. One that has stuck in my mind wasof a scientist visiting Greenland one year after predicting the rate at which it would melt and saying that his jaw nearly hit the ice when he observed what was actually happening. It is, in fact, melting faster every year. There is an existential terror that runs through my mind and conscious almost continually. I also read avidly about cosmology, the beginning of the universe with the big bang (which I prefer to call the Grand Singularity, singularity being the mathematical name for this type of event) and it has slowly penetrated my consciousness that we have almost certainly destroyed one of the ultimate grand products of the Grand Singularity, our own Earth.

IF ONE STUDIES the "time-line" of the universe, the sequence of events since the birth of space and time in the singularity makes the creation of earth(s) and sentient, conscious beings such as we are the inevitable outcome of the laws of physics. To me, human life and the existence of the Earth seem like miracles for the joy I experience from this creation seems to me a miracle. And it seems to me that few people "get it," that we are perpetuating a destruction of cosmic proportions and don't realize it. Worse, our president and our new EPA director are driving us backwards, accelerating us to the most cosmic tragedy that will ever befall this planet.

WHY? I do not belong to any particular religion, nor do I "believe in" a god, for that just strikes me as another name for a cause we do not understand, but perhaps as a result of enough biblical exposure as a youth I feel an indescribable magnificence of the creation as I try to express in the slide show that follows.THE EXPERIENCES where this magnificence comes to life for me are in relationships, music, art, and creativity and simply enjoying the planet. A stunning performance I heard just three nights ago of the Bach Goldberg Variations transcribed for string quartet was one of less than a handful of peak musical experiences of my life. When I dwell on what it had taken for the Boromeo Quartet to realize that experience I come up with at least a dozen life's work of composer, teachers, musicians, instrument makers and their teachers.

TO ME THIS IS A REWARD for the 13.82 billion years since the Grand Singularity and it was beautiful beyond description. My enjoyment of the planet has become something especially important since I changed careers from engineering (and marketing) to landscape photography that mostly turns up in healthcare facilities. I try to capture the big picture there also, but always combined with the little picture, the details and textures that, when all works well, are both grand and intimate.

BUT EVEN IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD, the landscape has changed. There is little color in the fall and it almost seems not to be there. There is no cold and miserable November to divide autumn from winter. It just seems that summer slides into a relatively mild winter. Now I mostly photograph the flowers Susan grows, but in my studio.

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