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How Efficiency Maximizes Catastrophe
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Tomgram: Chip Ward, How Efficiency Maximizes Catastrophe
It's true that no single incident or development -- no matter how out of the ordinary or startling -- can straightforwardly be attributed to climate change. Nonetheless, it seems strange that the massive flooding in England, of a sort last seen more than 60 years ago, led the TV news and made front pages here with hardly a mention of global warming. You certainly won't see a headline like this one from the British Telegraph: "Floods show global warming is here."
And yet this has been "the wettest May to July period for England and Wales since records began in 1766." The recent "Great Flood of July" in southern England followed a somewhat similar June event in the north. As parts of the country are still submerged in the wake of torrential, tropical-style deluges (a month's worth of rain fell in a few hours), while record extremes of heat "roast" central and southern Europe, the subject of climate change is certainly on European minds -- and a group of scientists are evidently going releasing a study in the journal Nature this week that claims "more intense rainstorms across parts of the northern hemisphere are being generated by man-made global warming."
No American media figure, for instance, has wondered publicly whether, someday, England could become, in Gore-like "inconvenient truth" terms, the partially sunken Florida of Europe (along undoubtedly with Holland and other low-lying areas of the continent). It's no less true that a season of startlingly widespread and fierce wildfires, based on long-term drought in the West, Southwest, and Southeast has been a news leader for months -- the TV news just adores the imagery of storms and fires -- again, most of the time, with little linkage to larger possible changes underway. We are, it seems, a resistant species when it comes to thinking about the need to truly reorganize ourselves on this fragile, but resilient, planet of ours.
And yet, even when no good TV images are produced and the changes are far more subtle, climate chaos is already pushing stressed ecosystems in new and unpredictable directions. It seems indisputable that, if we are going to weather (literally) the punches Mother Nature throws our way, we will need to do more than improve evacuation routes when storms hit or put more firefighters on the line when parched lands ignite. We will also have to reconsider how we deal with the natural world -- at present, largely as a collection of commodities to be endlessly manipulated for profit and convenience or as a set of touring destinations.
So think of Chip Ward's essay that follows as a challenge to just such thinking. It might as easily have been entitled, "Why the Organizing Principle of Industrial Civilization Is Just a Big Misunderstanding." Taking up a recent, startling development in the commercial world of nature -- the collapse of bee colonies across the U.S. -- it explores ways in which our cult-like devotion to the notion of making all things efficient has become dysfunctional, even dangerous.
Ward, whose most recent Tomdispatch essay on the homeless world of the public library created a modest sensation -- he was then just retiring as a library administrator -- is well-known in his area as a grassroots activist working on toxic and radioactive waste issues. His early writing, especially his book Canaries on the Rim: Living Downwind in the West, focused on how to make polluters accountable. Recently, he moved to the remote wilds of southern Utah where he has had to cope with some of nature's inevitable disturbances -- wildfires and flashfloods -- that have made him think about how recovery from such disturbance happens and how we might help recovery along (and so help ourselves as well). Tom

Diesel-Driven Bee Slums and Impotent Turkeys
The Case for Resilience
By Chip Ward
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