Saturday, April 26, 2014


Front yard  4/26

Back yard  4/26

This morning the cats and I rose to discover that the white stretch limousine parked across the street as part of preparations for prom night in Valier was covered with snow and the trees and bushes everywhere were bowed over with their snow load.  I knew the forecast, had seen the building cloud snow-shelf behind the Rockies, and have lived through many of these Spring monsoon snows, but I was still startled.  It’s not cold and the snow is already melting enough to chute off the trees and roofs.  Soon it will be only ermine trim, like that on the theatrical homemade crowns for the prom King and Queen.  

People who haven’t lived here long will joke about global warming (bring it on!) and the farmers will smile about the moisture.  When I drove to Cut Bank a few days ago in a howling, pounding high wind, there was one section where a newly plowed field was so dry that it was blowing so much dirt across the road that the road was hard to see.  The topsoil of that field is now in Minneapolis.

On the environmental listserv for the organization called the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment, a professor has posted a question both ethical and strategic.  She wants to know how to handle the teaching of research and empirically-based thought in general writing courses when the topic is climate change.  Because her community adamantly and sometimes angrily opposes the idea.  

The list, for all its sophistication, calls it “global warming” but it is far more than that when one gets into research about what many people now call "global climate change".  It’s even more than that.  Heat=energy and it is the retention and driving convection of that energy that interacts with geology to create the mammoth planetary currents of air and water through the oceans and across the continents.  You've heard of the Japanese current?


Coping with the rise in sea level caused by melting of ice at the poles will be major, because humans have always built along waterways and some countries (Bangladesh) will disappear underwater.  Already villages in Alaska have had to move.  Loss of permafrost, the depletion of the glaciers that feed major rivers, general shifting of tornado "alleys" and increased intensity of droughts and hurricanes, deaths of forests, expanding territories for disease and their vectors, extinction of species like polar bears and penguin, loss of fish due to the failure of water column turnover -- it’s enough, as one of the respondents said, “to make semi-grown men cry.”  And that happens.  I’ve seen it.  Of course, grown men and women often fly into a rage when they realize the real nature and dimension of the problem.

ASLE conference panel

The inquiring professor wanted to know how she could keep from being shifted from classification as a dependable teacher to being considered a trouble-making activist and therefore losing her job, as well as short-changing the education of the students.  Those latter may not give up the pursuit of money and refocus on saving the world, but they will be a different kind of voter.  That will make some politicians very angry.

Therefore, I will shield the identity of the professor who said, “If institutional priorities . . . can [make] top-down changes in curriculum occur which would make GW education more than optional, and I don't know what to do about this, particularly in regions where a) the majority culture is skeptical of or indifferent to GW and b) where the institution wants/needs as many enrollees as possible to generate funds, and therefore seeks to exclude all Negativity.

“Your questions bring up lots of other thorny issues, e.g., what channels of future activism can the teacher actually offer the motivated student?  What psychological effect will a continual focus, however realistic, on a problem generating hopelessness have on the person "just starting out" in adulthood (I assume here the "traditional" student)?  As we sing 'roun here, "Everybody wants to go to heaven/But nobody wants to die."  For this innerness of global warming awareness I strongly recommend the new book by Steven Pavlos Holmes, exploring personal responses to gw.”   

Steven Pavlos Holmes, Independent Scholar

“Facing the Change: Personal Encounters with Global Warming” by Steven Pavlos Holmes.  On Amazon for about ten bucks or Kindle.  I ordered a used paperback, my usual standard.  I had thought that this climate change was moving slowly enough that at 75 years old, I would be gone.  I don’t have children.  Now it appears that the beginning has already begun.  Just not this snowstorm, not even this dust storm, and the snowpack on the Rockies is “normal”-and-above for the time period in which we’ve been keeping records.  But there are other things to consider.

An Australian fire whirl

If something drowns Bangladesh, if something forces an Alaskan fishing village to move, if something caves off the sides of mountains and changes the intensity of cyclones in Kansas and turns Australia into a holocaust -- it changes me, too, because everything is connected.  This is grain country and we know that the profit of our grain depends on the world climate -- not just in terms of rain and sun, but also in terms of politics.  What happens to the Ukraine happens to our wheat elevators.   The markets are the same. 

One of the first responses is to compensate by evading expensive regulations, particularly when owners are faraway (not in physical danger) and workers are local (in danger), which is the case with many of the services in our area.

“A Minnesota-based agriculture company was fined $211,000 by federal safety regulators who said Wednesday it had repeatedly failed to ensure workers weren't exposed to grain-dust hazards in Montana.
“CHS Inc. was cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for 19 workplace safety violations at grain elevators in Cut Bank, Glendive, Denton and Valier. A company spokeswoman said CHS will challenge the violations.
“Three were repeat violations, including failing to test the air quality in work spaces for potentially explosive grain dust, hazardous gases or lack of oxygen, regulators said.
“Dust from grain in elevators is considered highly combustible and can be more explosive than coal dust, Funke said.
“Fourteen of the violations alleged against CHS were classified as serious, meaning there was a substantial probability of a worker death or injury.”

Another consequence is a deepening wedge between two demographics in a state where liberal populations are concentrated in the scenic and university towns and conservative people are spread across the rural landscape.  So there are climate rallies to support clean-energy in 13 communities today: Bigfork, Billings, Bozeman, Columbia Falls, Great Falls, Hamilton, Helena, Kalispell, Lame Deer, Missoula, Pablo, Red Lodge and Whitefish.  NOT Cut Bank, Glendive, Denton and Valier.  (The rumor that a coal company arranged for this snowfall is only a bitter joke.)  

From my point of view it's a very interesting development that the Native American people, who have been scorned in small town settings but championed by universities and environmentalists, are now arriving at a position where they can provide payback politically.  Consider the impact on negotiations over irrigation water rights to Birch Creek, which divides Valier from the Blackfeet Reservation.  Consider frakking.  Consider wind farms.

Prom tonight -- then what?

As is often remarked, the only real constant is constant change and as grain farmers know, life is always a trade-off between givens and surprises.  Culture can foster collaborative changes in attitude or it can ignite wars.  Both are happening.  This is not a simple squabble over where to set the planetary thermostat.  

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