Thursday, February 27, 2014


Very often we can see the jetstream from here.  Because it's eastbound it boosts an airliner’s speed and fuel use, so we often sight or hear jet planes or notice their vapor trails.  The jet stream in that way is like a current of water full of fish who like where it takes them.  More usually it’s the cloud patterns that reveal what’s happening way up there, like the constant formation of bulging cloud storm shelves building up against the west side of the Rockies where moisture-laden clouds are waiting until they dry out enough to cross over.  And then when they come, we see the familiar “Chinook arch” where high wind is pushing eastside clouds in the middle.

At the Oregon coast, which my family used to prowl in the post WWII years, the Japanese current brought whatever was floating on their coast over to our coast.  We looked for the blue-green glass fishing floats that washed up.  No one does that now: the floats are just plastic.  But we had to be careful then because the Japanese -- in an enemy mode -- sent over fire bombs both by the ocean current and by the air current that followed it.  Now we’re told that Chinese industrial pollutions are raining on us from those air currents.   We muse over the studies of cargos of sneakers and rubber duckies from capsized ships that show where the currents go. 

So the air is moving, the water is moving, and we are also more aware now that the earth is moving, because the melting of polar ice shifts massive weight off of land masses as big as Greenland, which then rise since they themselves are floating on the tectonic plates which are very slowly slipping around on the molten interior of the planet.  It all comes from the spinning and from the solar impact of heat.  It’s three-dimensional chess with living pawns.  They call it “dynamical meteorology” and you can google-up moving maps of air movements because of our satellite systems watching from above them.  Weathermen are just local “dynamical meteorologists.”  They play three-dimensional chess, but without any control, only the hope of detecting patterns -- which is the essence of chess.

I didn’t know until I started researching this morning that the other planets also have jet streams, but that makes sense since they spin, the sun energy hits them, and they have fluid jackets.  The currents on Jupiter are what make those stripes.  Wind currents and water currents are just another element of existence that is always moving but humans can both capitalize on that and resent that.  It’s great to have a strong wind at my back when I’m coming home from the post office, but only the bait of incoming used books keeps me going there when facing the same wind.

The ice skating cleric

Part of my childhood lore was about the “Little Ice Age” that caused the Willamette River to freeze over thickly enough for my great-grandfather to cross it with a wagon and horses.  Formally, the Little Ice Age itself pulsed, driving history as people tried to cope.  There’s a term for that, too: “eco-refugees,” people displaced by local climate change.  Until now, it was a European preoccupation, but today we look at the whole planet and realize our extremely low temps in North America are mirrored by extremely high ones (meaning uncontrollable fires) in Australia where it is summer.

For this reason, any of several dates ranging over 400 years may indicate the beginning of the Little Ice Age:
  • 1250 for when Atlantic pack ice began to grow
  • 1275 to 1300 based on radiocarbon dating of plants killed by glaciation
  • 1300 for when warm summers stopped being dependable in Northern Europe
  • 1315 for the rains and Great Famine of 1315–1317
  • 1550 for theorized beginning of worldwide glacial expansion
  • 1650 for the first climatic minimum.   The Little Ice Age ended in the latter half of the nineteenth century or early in the twentieth century.
Little Ice Age Fruit of the Loom

Some of the human adaptations show up in small material culture inventions.
Antonio Stradivari, the famous violin maker, produced his instruments during the Little Ice Age. The colder climate is proposed to have caused the wood used in his violins to be denser than in warmer periods, contributing to the tone of Stradivari's instruments.  According to the science historian James Burke the period inspired such innovations in everyday life as the widespread use of buttons and button holes, knitting of custom-made undergarments to better cover and insulate the human body, and installation of fireplace hoods to make more efficient use of fires for indoor heating, as well as the development of the enclosed stove, in early versions often covered with ceramic tiles.

My favorite innovations in the present cold winter are manufactured fleece, down-like microfiber, and electrically heated beds.  Piped heating gas is also a winner.  But those all depend upon infrastructures of manufacture and delivery, which depend upon human cooperation.  When one looks at history, the result of severe climate change of any kind means loss of food, which means famine, which means extreme population loss (up to 60% in some times and places), which means political consequences ranging from riots to despots.  Volcanoes get into it by blocking the sun or raining toxic dust on everything the wind visits.  And then there is water.  Ocean currents control fisheries and shipping, but also have a strong impact on weather, for instance the El Nino phenomenon. 

Human populations -- both in numbers and kinds -- interact constantly with the pulsations and fluctuations and swings of weather temps and turbulence.  We all know about the greenhouse effect now.  Some obsess about loss of forest, esp. the broad expanses like the northern boreal trees or the tropical jungles.  Scientists have become more and more ingenious at finding evidence and drawing conclusions about what has happened in the past.  But we still aren’t keeping up with the permutations of human beings, who should probably change more than they do.

It’s suggested that the Black Death that reduced the population of Europe by one-third was a partial cause for climate cooling because the big timber forests grew back a long time (later supplying hulls and masts for sea-going ships).  The removal of so much water from the ocean because of the respiration of trees and thickening ice, made the oceans more salty, which affected the thermohaline circulation of the oceanic conveyor belt currents, the jet streams of the sea that those ships rode across the Atlantic.  In short, bacteria on marmot fleas carried by black rats along the Silk Road to Europe were the ultimate cause of the Native Americans being pushed aside by Europeans.  Everything is connected.

The point of families, tribes, nations, and the other generational sequences of human beings is in part the preservation of knowledge that the previous peoples have accumulated.  But it can also be an engine of change when the younger generation rebels.  Families try to preserve themselves in spite of the tragedies and boom times and dispersals by instilling pride and telling stories and trying hard to form behavior.  But the future always escapes through the young, infusing the genome/culturome with promise and experiments so that it adapts to new conditions, invents strategy previously unknown. 

This is a flight of bats, a key part of ecology that is threatened by the heat wave and conflagrations in Australia.

These are baby flying foxes, the biggest kind of bats, who have been overcome by heat and fallen out of the trees where they sleep and nurse.  People have gathered them up, wrapped them in dust cloths to control them, and will now feed them with eye droppers.

The inventions of the computer and the internet are the kind of particulate -- folks say “granular” now -- accumulation of knowledge that changes the culture which in turn changes the land, air, and water across the planet.  Sometimes the effects are only local and sometimes things suddenly tip and everything changes.  Human populations have been growing and moving, perturbing everything, inventing new molecules.  A new “religion” is growing, the remnants of the old ones still urging migration (we’re looking for planets instead of heaven, building rockets instead of arks) -- which used to work -- while the edges of the new ones plead for reform using modern knowledge.  In the meantime, individuals must do what they can.

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