Monday, March 17, 2008

Climate Change? With Jeffers

“How’s she goin’ Mick”.
“Not too bad, will the day rise?
“It might, it’s getting’ bright at the back a da wind”.
A normal enough ‘start up ‘conversation between any two Irish people, especially those who live in rural areas, for the weather is a constant topic of conservation among those who it affects most. But times are changing and nowadays the weather and its vagaries seem to be a worldwide phenomenon. Pick up a daily paper, tune in to the radio, or turn on the TV and you’ll hear or see a discussion about it. It wasn’t always so, and if by chance there was some talk on the subject of weather it usually emanated from some scientific conference or other, and scientists are often dismissed as a ‘bunch of crackpots’. So why all the hullabaloo now? It’s the ‘climate change’ stupid!
Up until now nobody paid it a mite of attention, especially governments of large countries who are the greatest offenders, when it comes to noxious gas emissions into the atmosphere due to heavy industry and millions of cars and trucks on their highways. The economies of these countries as we all know are heavily dependant on oil and coal to keep the wheels of industry turning, and both products are the main culprits of noxious gas emissions. But all nations, great or small, have a responsibility to face up to the problems that ‘climate change’ now confront us with.
The penny has dropped and conferences are taking place on a world basis as to what or should be done. There are no firm conclusions as yet, but all agree that some remedial action has to be taken before it is too late.
Those of us who are not scientists might well ask, where is the evidence for ‘climate change’? I suppose the most obvious evidence is taking place in the artic regions, north and south. Glaciers are melting at a faster rate than heretofore, and we have seen pathetic pictures of polar bears stranded on ice floes unable to get back to terra firma. The melting of the ice caps in these regions has speeded up. Are there any signs here at home of weather change? Well this year alone, we had summer weather in April, and October was the driest month on record: June and July it couldn’t stop raining, and the winters have definitely got milder and possible wetter. When did we last see a good hard frost, so hard that you couldn’t stick a fork or spade in the ground? When did you last see kids skating on ponds? The last heavy snowfall was in 1983. Surely these are signs of change in weather patterns.
So what’s being done, if anything, to try and put a halt to these changes? Well there’s plenty of talk about utilising the forces of nature, wind and waves, to supply some of our energy needs, but the big talk is bio fuels and not everyone is satisfied that that’s the way to go. The big objection is that oilseed rape, the bio fuel in question takes energy to produce, and also it is replacing grain, so it looks like we’re gaining one at the expense of the other. A neighbour of mine is firing up his central heating plant with oats cutting out the need for oil, but if this takes on will we be running short of rolled oats for our breakfast porridge? You win some you loose some it seems. I wonder what the objection to wind and wave is. At least the energy is there for free and some countries including ourselves, are making efforts in that direction.
Water is another commodity that the world is running short of. Huge underground aquifers, rivers, and lakes, that supply water to cities and agriculture can’t keep up with demand. Some time ago I stood at a lake edge that has been supplying water to the city of Los Angeles since early forties. In typical American fashion, stakes were driven into the ground at intervals, from original lake edge to present one, to mark the fall in water levels. I can’t remember the exact distance, so, speaking from memory the distance was several hundred yards and getting longer. Those marker stakes were telling a stark story; supply was not keeping up with demand. Statistics tell us that over the years the lake has dropped forty feet, and seventeen thousand acres have been exposed. A long running court battle, over twenty years, between those who depend on water supplies from the lake, farmers for irrigation, and small towns and cities along the way, and the city of Los Angeles has at last been settled in favour of those who first laid claim to the water. The distance between Mono Lake, the lake in question, and Los Angeles is approximately four hundred miles, so that gives us an idea of how much demand there is from one lake and the streams that feed it. With Los Angeles cut off the lake level has started to rise!
The shortage of water supplies in southeastern Australia is another trouble spot. Those huge rivers the Darling and the Murray, and all their tributaries that start in Queensland and flow all across New South Wales before they empty their waters into the Southern Ocean near Adelaide is not able to keep up with the demands made on them by cities, towns, and farmers for irrigation. New South Wales is the breadbasket of Australia. Drought has plagued that vast area for some years now and water levels are falling. We are all acquainted with that song sung by Liam Clancy, --‘Waltzing Matilda’, --- ‘from the Murray’s green basin to the dusty Outback’ is a line in the first verse. If things don’t change weather wise that ‘green basin’ will join the ‘dusty outback’.
A slow start has been made to try and rectify a very serious problem and governments are beginning to realise that it can’t be long fingered any longer. Action is called for, not only from governments and large corporations, but also from we individuals. So next time you reach for those car keys ask yourself the question, --- “Is my journey really necessary?” Jeffers.

A GOOD READ with Angie

I had been meaning to read Zadie Smith’s “On Beauty” (Paperback: Penguin: 10.99) for some time, so was delighted when Paula Kavanagh lent it to me. I hadn’t read “White teeth”, also by Zadie Smith, but had heard a serialisation of it on the radio some time ago and considered her to be a fine writer. “On Beauty” tells the story of two families, both with a professor as the man of the house, but radically different in every other way. Howard Belsey is an east ender who has married Kiki, a black American feminist and raised his family in the leafy suburbs of his Bostonian college. Monty Kipps is a black Brit whose choice of partner in Carlene, an afro-Caribbean, stay at home mum, underlines their differing approaches to life and work.

As the plot unfolds the two families become intertwined, in spite of the fierce rivalry between the two academics. The book is humorous and Smith is a lucid and literary novelist who keeps the reader well entertained. Her characterisation is vivid, particularly of the Belsey family children, although the mothers of the two families and their short friendship are by far the most interesting dimension of the story I feel. The context weaves between London and Boston, although I think Smith finds it hard to hide her obvious love of the London landscape which is her home and her depictions of it are beautiful.

I am aware this novel was short listed for the man Booker prize in 2005 and although I found it witty and charming I am afraid I didn’t really consider it to be in the same league as Anne Enright’s recent winner. I think it may have been the fact that the author attempts to depict so many characters that she sacrifices breadth to depth. Even though the portrayal of the two mothers is moving, I still found it incomplete and as we go on to learn more about Howard’s perspective on his various relationships I feel the novel really lacks a central pivotal character. So, a good read, but not a truly memorable one for me.

In the season of self- help and improvement (you know, January…) I came across an excellent little book which is about sport, but can be applied in any walk of life really: “The Inner Game of Tennis” by Timothy Gallwey (Paperback: Pan: 10.99)
It was written by a man who captained the Harvard tennis team whilst a student there in the 70’s, and who was clearly influenced by the waves of humanistic psychology sweeping the States at the time. Gallwey’s book was first published in 1974 and has become a classic, due to it
s many and varied applications (it is also possible to get “The Inner Game of Golf”, which I have heard works wonders for the swing!)

The book sets out a philosophy for approaching challenges in terms of the internal frame of mind we have towards things. Gallwey discusses how we are made up of “two selves” and that when faced with something we want to do well at we often have an inner voice telling us how badly we are likely to do. The author provides some highly plausible and refreshing guidance on how to overcome this self-defeating tendency, which is easy to read and I found to be a great antidote to the often patronizing tone of the best-known “self-help” tomes. Gallwey possesses a wisdom which takes the reader far beyond tennis and psychobabble and provides genuine food for thought. If you are looking for a different frame of mind for this New Year, you could do a lot worse than this book. Good luck.

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