"Nothing will get better until we get rid of our materialistic thinking. If our sacred glacier cannot survive, how can we?”
-- Jia Son, Tibetan farmer commenting on the catastrophe unfolding above his Chinese village in the glacier which gives him and his people water (National Geographic, April 2010, "Water, Our Thirsty World").
How ironic that a lowly farmer living below a disappearing Himalayan glacier "gets it." How is it so many supposedly intelligent, supposedly educated people in developed nations cannot see the connection between mighty glaciers disappearing and our materialistic, wasteful, over-consumptive lifestyles? For some years now, astute, trained climate scientists have been warning us that we must change our lifestyles, especially involving energy use, or we will suffer the consequences.
Melting glaciers and melting ice caps, severe storms on land and on sea, deep droughts afflicting parts of several continents, and weird weather were all predicted to be a part of the world we now live in. Across the globe, throughout the world, every week, there is more news of catastrophic events involving water and impacting thousands of human beings.
At the beginning of May, Tennessee and surrounding areas were hit with unheard-of flooding involving thousands of square miles. (Ironically, the devastatingly tragic Gulf oil disaster on April 20 was such a huge media event that the Tennessee disaster was smothered. We heard little about it.)
Dr. Joseph Romm, physicist and climate scientist, has reported in Climate Progress on May 22, on a blog by Eric Hormand of Tennessee:
"The rain began falling on the morning of Saturday, May 1, and by the time it was finished, approximately 36 hours later, it had dumped record rainfall of between 12 and 20 inches across Middle and Western Tennessee, devastating 52 of Tennessee’s 95 counties. Rivers that normally spanned 100 feet across swelled to a half-mile or more, flooding cities, towns, and roadways, washing away homes and bridges, destroying businesses and infrastructure, and leaving thousands homeless. At least 33 people died across Tennessee, Mississippi and Kentucky, some while trapped in cars on flooding interstates, others who were swept away from flooding homes by the raging waters, while thousands more were left stranded in remote communities without power or communications for days. Water plants were decimated, the Grand Ole Opry and many other historic buildings and icons damaged or destroyed, and more than $1.9 billion of damage had been sustained to the private sector in Nashville alone.
" ... The city of Clarksville, some 80 miles to the northwest of the capitol, was also particularly hard hit, with dozens of small businesses under one to five feet of water. An AT&T call center was flooded, rendering 1,400 people out of work indefinitely, and two weeks after the disaster, one neighborhood of homes was still under water ...
"This is the worst disaster to hit the state of Tennessee since the Civil War and all these statistics and facts don’t even begin to paint the picture of the loss and suffering had by many ... Thousands of damaged or destroyed homes and businesses were not in flood zones, leaving many with mortgages on structures that no long exist, and without insurance money to rebuild. Thousands have lost their jobs and livelihoods. Communities and infrastructure have been damaged or destroyed over an area that spans thousands of square miles, with the totality of destruction still yet unknown."
How are we as a country going to cope with such continuing disasters, all tied to changing global climate? They are sure to come, just as scientists have predicted.
Tornado season has hit tornado alley with loss of life and property following almost every one. Hurricane season is a dreaded unknown.
Meanwhile glaciers are melting and receding around the world, including our own Wind River Mountains. Glacier National Park faces a future without glaciers. Glaciers melting at an alarming rate are threatening Bolivia’s two largest cities with complete loss of water.
Our economy is on the ropes, joblessness is rampant, and we owe great sums of money to China, Japan, and other debt holders. Our natural capital is running low but we go on living as if there were no tomorrow. When are we going to awaken to reality and change our lifestyles so we can live within our means?
Tom Bell is a disabled World War II veteran, a scientist, a rancher, a writer, and founder of the High Country News. He lives in Lander.