Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Riding the Rugged Raging River of Climate Change

By Bob Ferris

My wife and I met and married in Santa Barbara, California.  We wed on the beach in January and had little trouble convincing folks from across the country to shed their overcoats and show up.  We have since moved several times, but this lesson was not lost on us so we make every effort to revisit Santa Barbara or some other place that is warm on or near our anniversary.  The last two years we have been able to visit Santa Barbara.  We did so by train coming down from Oregon so we get a full view of the Golden State basically from top to bottom.

Southbound near Santa Barbara on Amtrak.
In January 2014 when we were near San Luis Obispo I had dozed off a little as the sun was washing the hills and the side of my head.  I looked up upon arousing to see a deer stumbling clumsily across a denuded hillside.  In my drowsiness my immediate thought was: late summer and no food.  I had seen this often enough during my deer research in the mid-1980s.  But then it struck me that this was January.  This made California’s drought more tangible to me as did walking in the dry bed of Mission Creek behind the Natural History Museum  where I had once stood with former California Assemblyman Pedro Nava celebrating progress made in the return of native steelhead.

This past holiday season we went down again.  But this time we watched with jaws dropped the flooding around Sacramento where Carlene spent her teen years—water, water everywhere.  My sense is that some will grab on to these two diametrically opposed happenstances and try to use them to make some specious arguments about climate change or the California drought—in spite of the fact that San Francisco recently reported no measurable rain during the month of January for the first time in 165 years.  Santa Cruz, where I lived for years, was rain-less too.

The prospect of dealing with the above nonsense makes me a little crazy as this whole climate change here for some insights on this and other societal disconnects with science).  This sort of throwing-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater approach because of contradictory anomalies brings to mind another activity that Carlene and I enjoy: River running.  Why?
Carlene and I traveling in a calm patch on a river.
denial zombie has persisted long past its rational expiration date (see

We, and others, like running rivers because there is a certain level of risk and excitement with every set of rapids.  This unpredictable nature is brought on by fluctuating flow rates, rocks, differential erosion, log jams and all sorts of other related phenomenon that create eddies, waves, holes, slack water and a variety of course-altering forces.
“Rather, researchers report in Nature, these computer simulations just struggle to predict “chaotic” (or random) short-term changes in the climate system that can temporarily add or subtract from CO2 emissions’ warming effects.”  in “No, climate models aren’t exaggerating global warming” Washington Post February 4, 2015
Sometimes you are going up or down very rapidly or pushed left or right and even backwards or sucked under.  Yet nowhere in this grand and chaotic riverine experience does your mind disconnect from the fact that you are generally headed in a downstream direction.  Climate deniers would have you believe that weather anomalies—the functional equivalent of a river’s eddies, waves, holes and slack waters—alter the reality of the overall trend in the larger system.

Now I am not naïve enough to think that this analogy will convince many who do not willingly gravitate to reason.  That said, I am hoping that more and more of those who might will eventually realize that these weather anomalies, much like a spinning leaf caught in a tiny vortex near river’s edge, indicate very little about climate trends but there are those putting considerable effort and resources into telling you they do.

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