The water, this morning, is higher than I have ever seen it. A refrain for the near future.
Before it rises further, let’s take a moment to reflect upon the near past.
Halloween, and I am Upstate to visit my grandmother who — having entered the hospital suffering from exhaustion after a minor fall — is now gravely ill, having contracted — owing primarily to medical negligence — iatrogenic sepsis and bedsore. Heartbreaking business-as-usual in America. This is when the news reaches me that there has been a “terror” attack in Manhattan. Terror, because the killer is Muslim, with a truck, not a “mentally ill” white man with an arsenal of automatic firearms.
The next day, I walk, in November warmth, over to the Hudson — that stretch of the riverfront where I go to breathe, which has now become yet another site of mass violence. The Westside Highway is closed south of 14th Street; the targeted bike path has been blocked off in the vicinity of Pier 40. From where I stop to look out over the water, two or three helicopters are visible, audible, hovering.
For a long time, I have seen these roaring airborne vehicles that buzz up and down the Helicopter Highway that is the Hudson River — spiriting the City’s superrich and aspirationally-so from rooftops, Blade terminals, what-have-you, over the heads of plebes stuck in traffic, on to NYC airports, the Hamptons, beyond — for a long time, I have seen these helicopters as “like dragonflies”, but in this moment, they seem, instead, “like locusts”.
The day after, a couple picnics in the grass in Hudson River Park. A young man, about my own age, sits on a bench reading a book with his shirt unbuttoned. I snap the above photo.
In shorts and a T-shirt, my neighbor declares — regarding the “bizarrely warm” weather, upon which I have commented: “I’m not complaining.”
A smiling cashier remarks, “That’s just New York”, and I don’t have the heart to tell her that “New York weather” is rapidly ceasing to signify.
At a sidewalk café, and I overhear strangers laughing, in their summer-wear, “Global warming!”
A colleague, overdressed, like myself, on a mild day, comments, regarding the mildness, “Climate change has its benefits, I guess”, and I respect him enough to differ.
A loved one confides in me that she fears my dire warnings about a climate-fueld risk of human extinction are well-founded before going on to inform me that she plans to buy a new car, a gas-powered one.
Science and Math
As a child, I was schooled to believe that I was good at “science and math.” Global climate breakdown is rapidly destroying our categories; however, it remains the case that certain phenomena are harder to understand if one does not grasp some basic concepts.
“When am I ever going to use this?”
We all know the question and the context. As it turns out, it may be that you are going to use it to understand the threat that non-linear geoclimatic changes now poses to human existence. Temperatures are increasing at an increasing rate. Changes in sea level, ocean pH, and a dizzyingly complex matrix of other indicators are all following suit.
Malcolm Gladwell has made a career of extrapolating simple mathematical concepts in vaguely contrarian ways. I await his take on global climate disruption. I await our climate Black Swan — global climate breakdown, being, after all, the ultimate such event.
On the Subject of Luminaries
I listen to a talk that Dan Doctoroff — former Deputy Mayor under Michael Bloomberg and CEO of Bloomberg LP, and current Chief Executive of Google’s Sidewalk Labs — a luminary of contemporary urban planning, if ever there was one, gave at the Brookings Institution; seeming rather self-satisfied, he remarks of PlaNYC — a “climate change-readiness program” rolled out in 2007 under then-Mayor Bloomberg — that it reduced the City’s carbon emissions by approximately 20% and was “pretty impactful”; he does not address the existential threat that global climate breakdown now poses to New York City, or the fact that New York continues to be the most wasteful mega-city in the world.
Then, this morning, I walk over to the water. The same fishermen who are often out on the Pier seem relatively indifferent to the relative chill in the air. An older jogger, whom I often see out running, passes by even more bundled up than myself against the cold.
The water is higher than I have ever seen it, and — dressed in the blue, standard-issue, prison work release-style jumpsuit of the Doe Fund — a man laughs, in knowing recognition, as I take care not to be splashed where the water rises up from beneath a metal walkway.
“It got chilly”, I say to him.
It is fifty degrees out as we approach mid-November in New York.
“It’s time for it, though”, he replies.
This is the most sensible thing anyone has said to me in a week on the subject of climate and the weather.
It is not too late to prevent, and perhaps reverse, many of the worst impacts of global climate breakdown, and we have an imperative to act now — on the basis of deep education predicated on sound information — to restore and maintain livable balance on planet Earth, while embracing and establishing sane and just ways of being.
Why is it important to understand math?
Imagine someone has fallen off a cliff and doesn’t know about gravity. The first second might be fun. The second thrilling. By the end of the third, the speed is getting a little harrowing. By the end of the fourth, things are very scary.
I would argue that we are through the first two seconds of our descent into global climate breakdown. Consider:
This may feel a bit redundant with last week, but the point is a crucial one. The warming is accelerating. What felt like a gift, in the form — here in New York, for example — of unusually warm November days, may very soon be just as scary as the fourth second — no net, no parachute — of freefall.
The key thing here is to follow the red line. I recommend tracing it for each 20-year period. Bear in mind, we still have three years before we reach 2020.
For effect, I recommend that you also have a quick look at this chart:
The World Meteorological Organization recently announced that 2017 is likely to be among the three hottest years on record. (Note, the year 1998 was witness to an extremely strong El Niño.) Owing to the complexities of the Earth system, the increase in average global temperature cannot be represented by a perfectly smooth trend line, but the overall progression (and acceleration) of warming now appears as unambiguous as it is alarming.
This piece is already longer than I intended it to be. I believe it is important that readers understand the meaning of sources and sinks in relation to carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. The link provides a succinct one-paragraph summary. We will get into this in more detail next week.
If your bank does back fossil fuel (and especially pipeline) projects and companies — which, if you bank, as I do, with one of the major American banks, it almost certainly does — set a deadline to open a new bank account with a (more) conscientious financial institution. Visit Bank on Good to find banking alternatives. I’ve set a deadline for myself of the first week of January.