Monday, January 24, 2011


Thunder Dance
"Thunder Dance" by Charles Frizell

For a New Beginning

In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life's desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

~ John O'Donohue ~

(To Bless the Space Between Us)

Panhala web version here



Extreme weather: the reality of a warming world
Scientists are starting to link natural disasters to rising greenhouse gases.

[UPDATE 24 January 2011: Please check out also this very interesting story from the Center for Environmental Journalism about whether the media should assert a linkage between global warming and extreme weather events before or after there is certainty among the scientists. The dilemma, of course, is that total certainty arrives too late to do anything about it.]

By Solana Pyne via GlobalPost

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — In the past year, every continent except Antarctica has seen record-breaking floods. Rains submerged one-fifth of Pakistan, a thousand-year deluge swamped Nashville and storms just north of Rio caused the deadliest landslides Brazil has ever seen.

Southern France and northern Australia had floods, too. Sri Lanka, South Africa, the list goes on.

And while no single weather event can be linked definitively to global climate change, a growing number of scientists say these extreme events represent the face of a warming world.

“Any one of these events is remarkable,” said Jay Gulledge, senior scientist for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. “But all of this taken together could not happen without the extra heat that’s in the ocean. It defies common sense to overlook that link.”

That link works more or less like this. Concentrations of greenhouse gases are the highest the earth has seen in 15 million years. These gases trap heat, warming both the air and the oceans. Warmer oceans give off more moisture, and a warmer atmosphere can hold more of it in suspension. The more moisture in the air, the more powerful storms tend to grow. When these supercharged weather systems hit land, they don’t just turn into rain or snow, they become cyclones, blizzards and floods.

“There is a lot of tropical moisture in the atmosphere that is getting transported over very long distances and is dropping out in various places around the world in dramatic fashion,” Gulledge said.

Last year tied with 2005 as the warmest on record, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And floods in 2010 weren’t the only extremes.

In Russia, 15,000 people died during a record heat wave. Australia suffered its warmest summer on record. Pakistan witnessed its hottest day in history, as did Los Angeles. The U.S. East Coast has struggled under unusually heavy snows for two winters running. The Brazilian Amazon suffered one of the worst droughts in its history. And even as the Brazilian government recovered the bodies of those killed by record storms in the state of Rio de Janeiro, it trucked drinking water to cities in the north blighted by drought.

Weather like this matches the predictions of numerous recent climate studies. In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change noted that severe droughts and heavy rains were already on the rise in many parts of the world, and linked them to the surge in greenhouse gases. A study published last year by the National Academy of Sciences predicted an increase in heavy rainfall of somewhere between 3 and 10 percent for every Celsius degree of warming. Each additional degree would also cause the amount of area burned by wildfires in North America to double or quadruple, according to the same report.

“If you think it’s bad now — when we’ve had about 0.7 degrees Celsius of warming — wait until we’ve had 3 or 4,” Gulledge said. “There’s absolutely no reason to think it will not continue getting worse and worse and worse.”

Some scientists are starting to worry that natural weather patterns, which played a role in some of the biggest recent flooding, are also showing effects of human-driven climate change. This year’s rainy season in Australia is linked to a phenomenon called a La Nina, which occurs when water in the equatorial region of the Pacific is cooler than normal.

La Nina and its warm-water counterpart, El Nino, are part of a natural pattern of ocean currents and atmospheric winds that redistribute heat by moving it from one part of the world to another. Even as La Nina and El Nino influence the overall climate, much like organs in a body, they may remain vulnerable to system-wide shocks, said Paul Mayewski, director of the Climate Change Institute at The University of Maine.

So far scientists have found no definitive link between rising greenhouse gases and changes to El Nino and La Nina events. But Mayewski thinks that might be changing.

“This is a naturally occurring phenomenon,” Mayewski said. “That doesn’t mean it can’t be impacted by humans.”

He is investigating whether greenhouse gases may have so disturbed the balance of heat that natural patterns, like El Nino and La Nina, may begin to speed up and intensify.

“We may very well be changing this El Nino-La Nina system much faster and more radically,” Mayewski said. “It’s a naturally occurring system that we may be giving a lot more push to.”

And, if he’s right, that could mean even less stable, more extreme weather in the foreseeable future.

For some agencies working to help countries prevent and recover from natural disasters, there’s no question that they’re getting worse.

“There was never any doubt in our mind that, in reality, the frequency and severity and number of people that were affected kept increasing,” said Margareta Wahlstrom, the United Nations' assistant secretary general for disaster risk reduction.

In an increasingly urbanized world, people, goods and infrastructure are concentrated, meaning that each natural disaster has the potential to cause an unprecedented amount of damage.

“The losses are increasing very rapidly,” Wahlstrom said. “Today is decision time. We know what the risks are. We can see the trends.”

With the effects of global warming already manifest, Wahlstrom said, countries need to improve disaster preparation even as they negotiate to cut emissions that cause the problem in the first place.

For a country such as Brazil, that means developing early warning systems for heavy rains and better evacuation plans, as well as moving people out of the most vulnerable neighborhoods. The government has pledged to do just that in response to the recent tragedies.

Tackling the problem after the fact is devastatingly expensive. Officials in cities destroyed by the floods here say it will take a decade and hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild. And a recent study predicts that a warming climate could cost Latin American countries about 1 percent of their GDP every year from now until 2100.

While natural disasters tend to be more deadly in developing countries, this last year has shown extreme weather can strike planet-wide.

“The attitude that many of us probably have lived with for decades, because we’ve lived in fairly safe countries, is that disasters are something that happens to others,” Wahlstrom said. “That is no longer viable.”

Saturday, January 22, 2011



Heaven and earth unite: the image of PEACE.

From the I Ching

Heaven and Earth embrace, giving birth to Peace.
The Superior Person serves as midwife, presenting the newborn gift to the people.

The small depart; the great approach.
Good fortune.

And, thus, a new walk begins in deep gratitude.

Monday, January 17, 2011



To the New Year

With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself
to the hush of the morning

so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible

~ W.S. Merwin ~
(Present Company)

Read at the conclusion of a memorial service in Tucson
this past weekend.

from Panhala


It sure would be nice to imagine that we and those whose future we carry will find a good way through the current crunch and crisis.


The role of near-record sea surface temperatures

Via Climate Progress

16 January 2010

Torrential rains inundated a heavily populated, steep-sloped area about 40 miles north of Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday and Wednesday, triggering flash floods and mudslides that have claimed at least 511 lives. Rainfall amounts of approximately 300 mm (12 inches) fell in just a few hours in the hardest-hit regions, Teresopolis and Nova Friburgo. Many more people are missing, and the death toll is expected to go much higher once rescuers reach remote villages that have been cut off from communications. The death toll makes the January 2011 floods Brazil’s worst single-day natural disaster in its history. Brazil suffers hundreds of deaths each year due to flooding and mudslides, but the past 12 months have been particularly devastating. Flooding and landslides near Rio in April last year killed 246 people and did about $13 billion in damage, and at least 85 people perished last January during a similar event.
Following fast on the heels of another extreme drought hitting the Amazon comes devastating Brazilian floods.  According to scientists, this climate-whipsawing from mega-drought to mega-flood will become increasingly common as human emissions intensify the hydrological cycle (see Study: Global warming is driving increased frequency of extreme wet or dry summer weather in southeast, so droughts and deluges are likely to get worse).  Indeed, it’s just happened to both Australia and this country (see “Hell and High Water hits Georgia“).

In this Wunderblog repost, Meteorologist and former hurricane hunter Dr. Jeff Masters has the story — and an analysis of the “departure of temperature from average for the moisture source regions of the globe’s four most extreme flooding disasters over the past 12 months”

Role of near-record sea surface temperatures in Brazil’s flood

This week’s heavy rains occurred when a storm system crossing from west to east over southern Brazil drew in a moist southerly flow air off the Atlantic Ocean over southern Brazil. Sea surface temperatures along the Brazilian coast are at near-record warm levels, which likely contributed to the heavy rains. Record rains are more likely when sea surface temperatures over the nearby moisture source regions are at record high levels. This occurs because increased amounts of water vapor evaporate into the atmosphere from a warm ocean compared to a cold one, due to the extra motion and energy of the hotter water molecules.

According to an analysis I did of the UK Met Office Hadley Centre sea surface temperature data set, December 2010 sea surface temperatures in the 5×5 degree region of Earth’s surface along the Brazilian shore nearest the disaster area, 20S to 25S and 45W to 40W, were the second warmest on record since 1900. Temperatures were 1.05°C (1.9°F) above average in this region last month. Only 2007, with a 1.21°C departure from average, had warmer December ocean temperatures.

Meteorologist Eugenio Hackbart, with the Brazilian private weather forecasting company Metsul, wrote in his blog today, “Heavy rains early this year coincide with the strong warming of the Atlantic along the coasts of southern and southeastern Brazil. With waters up to 2°C warmer than average in some places, there is a major release of moisture in the atmosphere essential for the formation of storms.”

Brazil’s previous worst natural disaster: the March 18, 1967 flood

The previous worst natural disaster in Brazilian history occurred on March 18, 1967 when a tsunami-like flood of water, mud and rocks swept down a hillside in the coastal city of Caraguatatuba, near Sao Paulo, killing 300 – 500 people.

According to meteorologist Eugenio Hackbart with the private Brazilian weather company Metsul, a rainguage at nearby Sao Sebastao measured 115 mm (4.5″) on March 17, and 420 mm (17″) on March 18. Hackbart puts the death toll from the 1967 disaster at 300 – 500, and refers to it as Brazil’s deadliest single-day natural disaster in history. Heavy rains at other locations in Brazil that month caused additional mudslides and flooding deaths, and Wikipedia lists the total death toll for the Brazil March 1967 floods at 785.

I looked at the sea surface temperatures for March 1967 to see if unusually warm ocean waters may have contributed to that year’s flooding disaster. Sea surface temperatures in the 5×5 degree region of Earth’s surface nearest the disaster site (20S to 25S, 50W to 45W) were 0.24°C (0.4°F) above average, which is not significantly different from normal.

So, we can get record rains and flooding when sea surface temperatures are near normal, and it is possible that this week’s catastrophe was not significantly impacted by the exceptionally warm water near the coast. However, heating up the oceans loads the dice in favor of extreme rainfall events, and makes it more likely we will have an unprecedented flood.

If we look at the departure of temperature from average for the moisture source regions of the globe’s four most extreme flooding disasters over the past 12 months, we find that these ocean temperatures ranked 2nd or 3rd warmest, going back through 111 years of history:
  • January 2011 Brazilian floods: 2nd warmest SSTs on record, +1.05°C (20S to 25S, 45W to 40W)
  • November 2010 Colombia floods: 3rd warmest SSTs on record, +0.65°C (10N to 0N, 80W to 75W)
  • December 2010 Australian floods: 3rd warmest SSTs on record, +1.05°C (10S to 25S, 145E to 155E)
  • July 2010 Pakistani floods: 2nd warmest SSTs on record, +0.95°C (Bay of Bengal, 10N to 20N, 80E to 95E)
The size of the ocean source region appropriate to use for these calculations is uncertain, and these rankings will move up or down by averaging in a larger or smaller region of ocean. For example, if one includes an adjacent 5×5 degree area of ocean next to Brazil’s coast that may have also contributed moisture to this week’s floods, the SSTs rank as 7th warmest in the past 111 years, instead of 2nd warmest. It would take detailed modeling studies to determine just how much impact these near-record sea surface temperatures had on the heavy rains that occurred, and what portion of the ocean served as the moisture source region.

There's more information and discussion at Climate Progress

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Brazil Dam Protest
Indigenous women protest against the construction of the Belo Monte hydropower dam in Altamira, 
Brazil, May 20, 2008. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

As Brazil rises into the status of a world power and endeavors to provide a better life for its peoples, development and environment are on a collision course with nothing less than the Amazon Forest and the role of its water cycle in global climate hanging in balance. For years the iconic struggle over the proposed Belo Monte dam has provided both the symbols and realities of this difficult situation.

Brazil's environment chief resigns over controversial Amazon dam

via Mongabay

The president of Brazil's environmental agency IBAMA has resigned over pressure to grant a license for the Belo Monte dam, a hydroelectric project on the Xingu River that faces strong opposition from environmental groups and indigenous tribes, reports O Globo.

Abelardo Bayma Azevedo, the head of IBAMA, reportedly refused to grant the license due to environmental concerns. Azevedo was said to be under pressure from the country's Ministry of Mines and Energy to approve the license.

Azevedo's resignation is strikingly similar to Marina Silva's resignation as Minister of Environment in 2008. She too was pressured by development interests intent on expanding dams and mining in the Amazon.

Belo Monte is among the most controversial of some 146 major dams planned in the Amazon basin over the next two to three decades. The dam, which will be the world's third largest, will flood 500 square miles of rainforest and displace at least 12,000 people in the region. Scientists say the dam will block a critical corridor for migratory fish and trigger greenhouse gas emissions from rotting vegetation. $17 billion project is fiercely opposed by indigenous groups, which say it will destroy livelihoods and ruin their way of life.

Here's an excellent background video...

You can take take action with an international English language petition prepared by Amazon Watch or with a Portuguese language petition prepared by Avaaz.

There's more in-depth analysis of the current political situation at the International Rivers blog of Zachary Hurwitz and more background information at o eco Amazonia.