|Weird is the New Normal||04.09.14|
When the only Constant is Change...Brian and Pam Crissey
In the second edition of Common Sense in Uncommon Times: Survival in a Changing World, authors Brian and Pam Crissey bring us up to date with the global changes that are affecting our climate and the stability of world systems. This excerpt establishes that Weird is the New Normal and discusses the underlying causes of climate change, which may not be exactly as you have been told.
In late December, 2004, a massive Indian Ocean earthquake released the equivalent energy of 23,000 Hiroshima bombs. The resulting tsunami surprised coastal residents, killing 150,000 and displacing millions more in 11 countries. Brian’s daughters lived in Phuket, Thailand, then. The eldest, fortunately, was stateside for a holiday, while the other, following some unspoken inner guidance, moved inland and upstairs just before the event. She survived, but those living where she used to did not. It makes you stop and pause.
In August of 2005, Katrina bore down on New Orleans, breaching ancient levees, stranding people on rooftops, changing the city forever; and people said, “How weird!”
In late 2006, the always-dependable American housing market began to cool. Soon, the sub-prime mortgage market collapsed as home owners walked away from newly unaffordable variable-rate loans, and by mid-2008, after the worst economic collapse since the 1920s, housing prices had declined in almost every US city, and the economy was in free-fall. When the “game” ended, the world narrowly missed another Great Depression. Tax payers bailed out companies deemed “too big to fail,” and then lost their jobs and houses in the aftermath; and people said, “Really weird!”
In 2010, Pakistan’s Indus River flooded as never before, making 20 million humans homeless; and people said, “Very weird!”
In March of 2011, an enormous earthquake and tsunami caused the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors to do the impossible—melt down—resulting in power shortages and mass evacuations; and people said, “So weird!”
In the summer of 2012, only a year after record flooding along the Mississippi River, Old Man River almost dried up from Cairo to New Orleans. In 2013, it was flooding again; and people said, “That’s weird!”
In October of 2012, Sandy, a perfect hybrid storm, larger than Alaska—part hurricane and part blizzard—caused extensive damage as she drove up the east coast. She then went on to devastate coastal areas of New Jersey, New York and beyond, moving buildings, roads, roller coasters, and boardwalks, filling tunnels and subways, and changing the contours of states. Her waves even shook the earth’s crust. Within two weeks Winter Storm Athena pummeled the same area and people said, “Too weird!”
A thoughtful New Jersey victim of too many storms quipped on the evening news, “How many hundred-year storms can we have in six months?” In other words, how often does “weird” have to happen before we all recognize that “Weird is the New Normal”?
In November of 2012, a series of storms, each individually not especially dangerous, lined up as a “Pineapple Express” to lash the normally complacent west coast with storm after storm of cumulatively extraordinary rainfall, snow, and high winds. The winter of 2012-13 featured nearly endless snowstorms for much of the US, followed by a snowy spring; and people said, “How weird!”
In the western US, very low humidity and extraordinary wind velocities sparked wildfires that torched millions of acres and thousands of homes. In early 2013 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that 2012 was the hottest year ever and that people should expect widespread, severe drought in 2013, whose fire season in So. California started very early and fierce, making people say, “Very weird!”
During the winter of 2012-13, people, houses and cars dropped into sink holes. A golfer sank 18’ while standing on an Illinois fairway; another man died in Florida after the earth swallowed his bedroom; and a nine-acre sink hole in Louisiana keeps growing, as a salt mine collapses under it, releasing oil and gas into the surrounding air and water; and people said, “Weird.”
Before we could recover after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary school, two brothers bombed the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013, That same week, a massive explosion in a fertilizer plant in West, Tex., destroyed most of the town.
In 2013, for the first time ever, snow fell on Arkansas in May. The jet stream, normally placidly pacing around the Arctic, seems lost, diverting hurricanes inland, pouring cold into the south and toasting Minnesota with 97-degree heat. A 1.5-mile-wide EF5 tornado carved a 17-mile path of destruction through Moore, Okla., on May 20, killing 24, including seven school children, and destroying 4,000 homes and businesses. The debris from the event could cover a basketball court to a depth of 1.7 miles. And seven feet of hail fell in Mexico on May 28, 2013. That seems really weird.
What's next? The overdue earthquake that ruptures the San Andreas fault, changing stop-and-go into just plain stop in the fast lanes of Los Angeles and San Francisco? The sudden rush into the sea of enormous ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, flooding coastal cities worldwide, making Sandy’s inundation of New York just a short preface to a book of many more chapters?
What is going on? For decades forward-looking people have warned of potential disasters ahead for this planet, if we don’t change course and pay more respect to the Earth. Such people were dismissed as out-of-touch doom-sayers, but now many see their valid concerns in a clearer light.
Life on Earth is a complex web of interconnections. Every species interacts intimately with others that feed upon it or provide it sustenance. When we cut one small strand, the whole web shudders. That web is our home. Consider an example: In the search for gas, every day we drill 50 new “fracking” wells that contaminate 60% of the nearby water sources and use loud compressors that scare off blue jays that disperse piñon seeds.
Few are concerned about blue jays, but the population of piñon-pine seedlings around fracking wells is now down by 75%, which has reduced the local mouse population, the primary food source for hawks and eagles, whose local populations are lower. With fewer raptors, the rat population is increasing, encouraging the spread of disease, which could decrease the human popula- tion, which could, ironically, reduce the need to drill so many “fracking” wells. When we cut the blue jay strand, we endanger ourselves. It’s called feedback.
A single strand of a spider web may seem to be superfluous, but Nature is prudent and does not waste resources. Cut enough strands, and the web fails, along with all species that form strands of that web, including humans. And yet we continue to cut strands.
We need to LOL—Listen, Observe, Learn.
Whether we are dodging a worldwide economic collapse, or the next hundred-year flood, world citizens have been hard hit on many fronts. Today, most people see that Mother Nature has become more extreme. Many wonder whether our actions are hurting the Earth, and, if we damage the only habit- able planet we know, whether we will be the ultimate losers.
It may be time to put ourselves at center stage and observe how our actions may be cutting strands in the fragile web of life on Earth—a web that sustains all of us. Global cooperation, as if national boundaries and ethnic and religious separations did not exist, will be required if we are to successfully survive long-term as passengers on the same Ark. The difference this time is that this Ark is spinning through space at about 67,000 miles per hour, and both her tempera- ture and water level are rising.
And that is really where we are. Now isn’t that weird?
In 2012, 32,000,000 people were forced to leave their homes due to weather-related reasons. Here is essential information that will help you understand what’s happening.
Carbon dioxide, CO2, in the atmosphere is increasing, which speeds the formation of carbonic acid in sea water, which makes the oceans more acidic, which kills barrier reefs and the multitudes of beautiful creatures that inhabit them. Here’s that feedback again! In the last 30 years, according to Katharina Fabricius, in a report published by the National Academy of Sciences, fully half of Australia’s famed Great Barrier Reef has died off. Les Kaufman, one of the scientists involved in the study, said, “The problem is entirely solvable, and coral reefs can be saved through concerted effort over this and the following two or three generations. There is absolutely no excuse for failure to do this, and if we do fail, our generation will forever be remembered for unimaginable, unforgivable stupidity and sloth.”
Ocean acidification is the real reason that it is important to control CO2, because cutting one too many strands in the web of life that supports our species will exterminate us. Global warming from “greenhouse gases,” on the other hand, is widely misunderstood, as explained below. Common sense suggests that we reduce all unnatural emissions into our atmosphere, including CO2, but that we do not make enormous expenditures on drastic measures until we know more clearly what is really going on.
Whatever the reasons for the undeniably warmer temperatures on Earth, there is a growing unease among its inhabitants that our climate is not as stable and predictable as it once was. It seems to be coming unglued, and “Frankenstorm” Sandy is a prime example. Several factors may have intensified her impact:
• Warmer oceans contributed to heavier rainfall;
• Higher sea levels created stronger storm surges;
• Arctic melting may be increasing the risk of the kind of “atmospheric traffic jam” that drove Sandy inland; and
• Increased planetary warming may be raising the probability of extreme weather events.
When Katrina struck New Orleans in late August, 2005, it carried a storm surge up into the city that breached levees and caused enormous damage and loss of life. Did global warming make it more severe? Like so many processes on Planet Earth, no direct link can be proven, but there is good reason to suspect that it did.
That same year Los Angeles had a 24” snowfall. High winds shut down nuclear power plants in Scandinavia and cut power to hundreds of thousands. The Missouri River hit an all-time low. Europe suffered an intense drought that spawned wild fires. Temperatures in Arizona exceeded 110° for a week, killing 20. Mumbai got 27” of rain in one day, killing 1,000 people. On May 2, 2013, 18” of snow fell in Blooming Prairie, Minn., an all-time record. These events were probably caused or made worse by climate change, and every succeeding year seems to get worse.
Hurricane Sandy demonstrated that extreme-weather events are likely to become more common in a warming world. The dikes, levees, barrier dunes, sea walls, and other structures were built to withstand the relatively mild weather extremes of the last century, but the 21st century is a new ball game.
Extrapolation follows a trend and extends it forward to see where it leads. What is the trend? The climate is getting more extreme on a more frequent basis. On December 6, 2012, the American Geophysical Union reported the conclusions of 140 of our best scientists concerning the Arctic region:
• The 40 largest glaciers lost an area about twice that of the previous decade’s annual average.
• Plankton populations have exploded, disrupting the life cycles of many animals from lemmings to Arctic foxes.
• Greenland saw its warmest summer in 170 years.
• The extent of sea ice in the Arctic is the lowest on record.
Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius was the first to claim in 1896 that fossil- fuel combustion may eventually result in enhanced global warming. The topic was relatively inert in the media until ecologist Stephen Schneider in 1976 predicted “global warming” from CO2 accumulation in the atmosphere. Since then it has been a media circus. The concept of “greenhouse gases” is fairly straightforward: visible light from sun passes through the atmosphere to reach the Earth, where some of it becomes heat, some of which is re-emitted in the infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum.
A Too-simple Understanding of Global Warming: CO2 is like a blanket.
The problem is that these same “greenhouse” gas molecules, like CO2 and methane, which allow visible light to pass through without issue, now absorb some of the energy when it comes back the other way in the form of heat, i.e., infrared radiation. Visible light can be split by a prism into a rainbow of colors, each of which is a different frequency. Infrared light can also be split into frequencies, but we cannot see any of its “colors.”
The frequencies of infrared that block heat are determined by the orbital structures of the molecules of the “greenhouse” gas. An electron in orbit around the nucleus of a molecule can pop into a higher orbit if it can absorb a precise amount of energy called a quantum. When a molecule is struck by a photon of the right frequency, it absorbs a quantum of energy and bounces the electron up to the next orbit, exciting and warming the molecule, which then warms the atmosphere a tiny bit. If the photon is some other frequency, it passes through the molecule and does not warm it. Most of the frequencies of infrared radiation cannot be absorbed, and they pass through to outer space, just as visible light would.
It is often said that methane (CH4) is 100 times more effective than CO2 as a “greenhouse gas,” and enormous concentrations of organic material in the permafrost regions are expected to decompose as the climate warms, releasing methane into the atmosphere, swamping the CO2 effect. If “greenhouse gases” are a problem, then methane, rather than CO2, is the culprit to watch. So let’s look at methane in more depth.
Atmospheric absorption of heat by methane. Black absorption bands are the shadows of methane.
Increasing CH4 concentration does not increase the fraction of heat absorbed.
Because of its molecular structure, methane absorbs only in two regions, 3.3 nm and 7.7 nm, as seen here. [A nanometer, or nm, is also a micron, a very tiny measure of distance. If infrared (heat) radiation trying to leave the Earth encounters a methane molecule, the wavelengths that can energize methane electrons are absorbed, leaving black shadows in the infrared spectrum called absorption lines.
The critical question related to the global-warming debate concerns what happens when the concentration of a greenhouse gas is increased. The too-simple understanding that you might draw from the diagram on page 6 suggests that “greenhouse gases” are like a blanket on the Earth, keeping her warm. We all know that when we pull up a second blanket at night, we feel warmer, so if we double the concentration of “greenhouse gases,” the Earth should warm in a corresponding manner, which would seem to be a reason to reduce green house gas concentrations in the atmosphere. But that is too simple.
Like a toy in which only a specific shape fits into a given hole,
only specific frequencies of infrared radiation can be absorbed by a greenhouse-gas molecule.
It may help to think of greenhouse-gas absorption of infrared energy like a baby’s shape toy. Only square shapes fit into square holes in the frame. (Only certain frequencies can get absorbed.) Think of the frame as warming up 1o every time a correct shape is placed into the right hole. Basketballs and marbles do not warm the frame. (Wrong frequencies escape into outer space).
The first key insight is this: Almost all of the available shapes (infrared frequencies) are like basketballs and marbles—they do not fit the holes. They escape the Earth, are not trapped, and do not warm the atmosphere. The absorption bands are a small fraction of the total infrared spectrum.
The second key insight is this: doubling the frames a baby can choose from may shorten the time she needs to find a hole that fits the shape she holds, but it does not allow a given shape to get stuck in more than one frame, nor does it allow triangles to suddenly fit into square holes. The same frequencies get absorbed in the same way, regardless of the concentration of the methane in the atmosphere.
Doubling the concentration of “greenhouse gases” is like doubling the frames a baby can put a shape into. It will cut the time a quantum takes to find a molecule to accept it, but it will not increase what frequencies (shapes) will get absorbed. The same fraction of the infrared spectrum gets absorbed in either case; the absorption shadows are identical; and it is only by increasing the fraction of energy absorbed (enlarging the shadows) that the Earth’s atmosphere can be warmed by increasing “greenhouse gas concentrations.
At any concentration, a given photon of heat energy is absorbed in the atmosphere, warming it by the same amount. It gets absorbed because its fre- quency is exactly right to lift an electron of the greenhouse molecule to a higher orbit. This is quantum physics, which may be why it is hard to understand, but now you do.
Esteemed scientific journal Nature in 1971 published data from Antarctic ice cores that date back 450,000 years, concluding, “Changes in CO2 content in the atmosphere never precede changes in air temperature.” Never.
So, as long as we still live in a cause-and-effect universe, the implication is that the current well-documented rise in global temperatures cannot be explained by recent rises in CO2 in the atmosphere. But please remember that increasing CO2 (see above) does acidify the oceans, which all by itself can elim- inate human life on Earth, so we must conclude that it is still important to reduce atmospheric CO2 if we wish to survive long term. Solar energy still
trumps fossil-fuel energy in this respect.
So, if greenhouse gases” are not warming the Earth, then what is? There have been some interesting and potentially relevant alternate theories and information related to temperature rises on our sister solar satellites, which might point the finger to our sun as the primary culprit. The data is sparse and not yet definitive—not every heavenly body in our solar system is well measured in this respect—but these are some points to consider:
• Mars: Surface temperatures are rising, quickly melting the ice caps.
Russian astronomer Habibullo Abdussamatov says the simultaneous warming of Earth and Mars is no coincidence, and that the increased intensity of solar radiation explains both.
• Imke de Pater and Philip Marcus of UC Berkeley in a 2006 joint study of Jupiter concluded that images of a new spot suggests the planet is in the midst of a global change that could increase temperatures by as much as 10oF on different parts of its surface.
• In a multi-author 1998 study sponsored by NASA, NSF, and the National Geographic, researchers reported that the Hubble Space Telescope has found that Neptune's largest moon, Triton, has heated up significantly since Voyager visited it in 1989.
• Tiny Pluto seems to be rising in temperature in its thin and cold atmosphere, even though it is moving farther from the Sun on its long, odd-shaped orbit.
• Researchers Henrik Svensmark [Svensmark, in bibliography, page 158] and Nigel Calder place the sun, stars, and cosmic rays at center stage in the climate-change debate.
• Danish astronomer Eigil Friis-Christensen concludes that increases in solar activity reduce cloud formation, allowing more cosmic rays to penetrate, thus warming the Earth.
The scientific work reviewed here will not settle the issue of “greenhouse gases,” but it may help open for discussion the topic of whether or not the sun is the major player in this drama. If it is, as it appears to us, then common sense suggests that the enormous funding that is poised to be spent on mitigating “greenhouse gases” might be more wisely spent building dikes or moving people back from the coasts, where sea levels are already on the rise.
There is a related topic that does not seem to fade—chem trails. In recent years more and more people have been reporting unidentified jets spewing something into the high atmosphere in patterns that do not dissipate quickly. Many see a conspiracy, but there is a perspective to consider, relevant to our discussions of global warming.
We do not claim to know more than anyone else, but if we can read about how the sun is warming the planets, then so can others, like government agencies and the military. If they conclude that global warming comes from too much solar-energy influx, they might experiment with trying to reduce it by creating bright, persistent con trails high in the sky—artificial clouds. “Chem trails” may be just that, and some day we may need such artificial clouds to protect all of us from some serious solar baking. It may be a far-fetched theory, but, like the chem trails themselves, the perspective persists.
If increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere cannot change the fraction of infrared energy absorbed, and yet the planet is still warming, then either the incoming energy is increasing, which seems likely, or we are increasing the amount of heat we are putting into the atmosphere, or we are increasing the fraction of the incoming solar energy that we are converting to heat. Or all of the above, which is most likely.
What can we do?
• We can reduce our overall energy consumption, which dumps heat into the air. Reducing energy demand reduces the dumping of heat by nuclear and other power plants.
• We can drive less, as our engines produce heat.
• We can leave stubble on agricultural fields rather than plowing them in the fall, which is done to warm the earth sooner in the spring, so that planting can start earlier, so as to produce larger yields.
• We can use more reflective concrete and less asphalt on roads.
• We can do less paving and more greening.
• We can set our air conditioners warmer in the summer, especially res- taurants and other public establishments that are so cold that customers need to wear jackets “inside” in the summer.
• We can heat our homes less in the winter.
• We can plant trees.
According to NASA, dark rooftops can be 42 degrees F hotter than white ones. We can paint black roofs white, which can reduce air-conditioning demand as much as 20%. Concordia University estimated that painting 1% of the world’s urban surfaces white (rooftops and pavement) could reduce CO2 emissions by 130 gigatons over the next century.
Juan Carlos, founder of the White Roof Project,2 a New York City non-profit that harnesses volunteers to provide roof-painting services, says painting 5% of the world’s rooftops white per year by 2030 could save enough emissions to equal the world’s current annual carbon output.
• We can work with local building codes to promote white roofs.
There is a school of thought that regards the Earth as a living being—her bones are mountain ranges, and her bodily fluids are oil, water, and air. J.E. Lovelock [Lovelock, page 158.] coined the term in 1967, and it is instructive to look at climate destabilization from a Gaian per- spective. When Gaia gets too warm from too much sun, she perspires by evaporating water, which cools the oceans and creates white clouds that reduce sunlight. When she is ill, she runs a temperature, which we call global warming. When her liquids and solids are drained, does it cause her surface to subsides creating sink holes? It may be a stretch for some to consider a living being as massive as our planet, but it should be clear that if the Earth is alive, then common sense would encourage us not to insult her so much that she begins shaking us off like so many fleas.
[On April 6, 2014, it was reported that soot from wildfires in the American West are making arctic ice sooty, thus darker, thus more able to absorb solar energy. Thus much of the Arctic ice melting is related to the extended drought in the Southwest. It's about the New Normal.]
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