On a recent book tour, promoting his delightful new memoir Little Failure, the mordantly funny essayist/novelist Gary Schteyngart -- who in his last book predicted an economic crash, urban chaos, and the rise of a movement that sounded very much like Occupy -- joked that he was "the Nostradamus of two weeks from now."
The joke brings to mind the remarkable achievement of an Ohio State glaciologist named John Mercer, who back in l978 precisely foresaw the break-up of the West Antartic ice sheet, which two studies published two weeks ago revealed has already begun.
As the those crazy radicals at the Toledo Blade revealed today, Mercer wrote:
“I contend that a major disaster — a rapid 5-meter rise in sea level, caused by deglaciation of West Antarctica — may be imminent or in progress after atmospheric CO2 [carbon dioxide] content has only doubled. This concentration of CO2 will be reached within about 50 years if fossil fuel continues to be consumed at its recent accelerating rate, or within about 200 years if consumption is held constant at today’s level,” Mr. Mercer wrote in his paper.
The newspaper goes on to point out:
Mr. Mercer’s forecast was largely validated recently by evidence presented in two major scientific papers published in the journals Science and Geophysical Research Letters.
Those papers show the breakup of West Antarctica has already begun, and that the pending disaster Mr. Mercer warned about in 1978 is now virtually unstoppable.
About the only thing mankind can do is slow down the rate of melting through greenhouse gas reductions, according to the latest research.
Mr. Mercer alluded to that in his 1978 paper too, when he said the industrialized world needs “to make the changeover from fossil fuels to other sources of energy.”
Following John T. Hollin's work (1962) suggesting that climatic warming and rising sea-level cause Antarctic ice shelves to retreat , Mercer postulated that the West Antarctic ice sheet, being grounded well below sea-level and terminating in floating ice shelves, was vulnerable to these changes and may have collapsed altogether during the last interglacial when Antarctica may have been warmer and sea-level may have been higher. In 1978, in the science magazine Nature , Mercer pointed out that "green-house" warming from burning fossil fuel could have the same effect during the present interglacial. Two studies published 12 May 2014 may appear to confirm Mercer's assumption.
But the newspaper also took the time to give us some of the marvelous character (not to deny eccentricities) of the far-sighted Mercer, an explorer of Antarctica as well as a scientist, who perhaps not coincidentally came from England.
"Mr. Mercer was so focused on his research that he was less concerned about material things in life, such as his attire, almost to a comical degree.
His favorite shirt, according to Mr. Denton, was a Mickey Mouse shirt.
One of his best friends, Keith Mountain, associate professor and chairman of the University of Louisville’s geography and geosciences department, recalled one particular gaudy pair of red-and-white canvas tennis shoes that were obviously too large for him.
Mr. Mercer told people he liked them because he caught a deal on them “and the price was right,” Mr. Mountain said.
Mr. Mercer had a large office at OSU, but it was notoriously full of clutter. Piles of papers were stacked everywhere.
“John discarded nothing,” Mr. Mountain said. “But he seemed to know where everything was. It was impressive.'”
The National Climate Assessment, released this week, adds to a mounting and overwhelming body of evidence that the effects of rising temperatures are here and now — and that even higher sea levels, more extreme weather and water shortages are in our future if nothing is done.
Addressing the threat won't be easy, or popular. But denying that a problem even exists — which is common among the most vocal of Republicans — risks branding the party as one that is anti-science and refuses to participate in constructive governance.
The HBO show True Detective included some of the most compelling filmed drama seen here in many a moon. But as much as most critics liked the show, what everyone liked was the credit sequence. Created by an Australian studio called Antibody, the creators told Art of the Pitch what they envisioned:
We boarded out the sequence with full photographs very early on. The production was inspired by the work of photographer Richard Misrach. We started with that and also folded in other evocative and strangely beautiful shots of pollution, prostitution, and wildlife across the Gulf Coast.
They reference an influential Misrach show called Cancer Alley, about the heavily industrialized Louisana coast, which features this spooky shot of an an old Dow Chemical plant, clearly a touchstone to the designers of the haunting credit sequence:
The images deeply impressed this environmental-type reporter, but the former script reader in me was impressed by the dialogue, which turned philosophical readily, but never lost the heightening power of drama.
Here from The Locked Room episode is an exchange that illustrates the strange power of college- professor-turned-writer Nic Pizzolatto's exploration of pollution.
One police detective, played by Woody Harrelson, Marty, a man struggling with family life, thinks out loud to his partner, the classic obsessive loner, played by Matthew McConaughey, who has much different concerns on this mind:
"Hey -- think a man can love two women at once? I mean -- be in love with them?"
"I don't think that man can love -- least not the way you mean. Inadequacies and reality always set in. This pipeline is covering up this coast like a jigsaw --this place is going to be underwater in thirty years.
From a great and wonderfully long interview with Tracy Letts, who won a Pulitzer for his knock-out play "August Osage County":
I like Shakespeare, but I never know what the hell is going on. The actor David Pasquesi is a dear friend of mine, and we’ve talked about this before. He says, “I don’t know why directors bother setting Shakespeare in different places, on the moon or in a resort.” He’s like: “I understand Verona. It’s what they’re saying that I don’t understand.”
Fascinating to hear an actor say this. Always thought part of the fun of being an actor must be to learn to truly understand Shakespeare.
Here's Letts in another play, as an actor, in "Who's Afriad of Virginia Woolf?"
Geoff Dyer writes so well it seems somehow demeaning to call him a critic, but that's how the world slots him, pretty much, and in books like "Out of Sheer Rage" -- his admiring account of D.H. Lawrence's battles -- he helps redefine the form.
At only 56, last week Dyer suffered a stroke, while living in Santa Monica. He survived, without losing speech or mobility, but the experience left him appreciative of the life he has left:
Life continues unchanged except that I’ve had to cut out the twice-baked hazelnut croissants and I’m not playing tennis just now: I pulled a calf muscle which is taking ages to heal. A side-effect of Lipitor or a main-effect of middle age? I don’t know, but in keeping with the advice in the brochure I’m still getting plenty of exercise. I’m constantly out on my bike, in the amazing light and weather. How long would you need to live here to start taking that for granted? Longer, if you’re from England, than one lifetime, even one as lengthy as my dad’s. There’s a line in Tarkovsky’s Solaris: we never know when we’re going to die and because of that we are, at any given moment, immortal. So at this moment it feels pretty good, being where I’ve always longed to be, perched on the farthest edge of the western world. There’s a wild sunset brewing up over the Pacific. The water is glowing turquoise, the sky is turning crazy pink, the lights of the Santa Monica Ferris wheel are starting to pulse and spin in the twilight. Life is so interesting I’d like to stick around for ever, just to see what happens, how it all turns out.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger—and also, apparently, more appreciative of life’s little pleasures.
In the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, University of British Columbia psychologist Alyssa Croft describes a study of nearly 15,000 French adults. Those who had gone through painful life events, ranging from divorce to serious illness, were more likely to take time to appreciate transitory delights, such as gazing at a waterfall they happened upon while taking a hike.
This heightened ability to enjoy the moment (which is not shared by people still struggling with traumatic experiences) helps explain the phenomenon of “post-traumatic growth,” which we examined in ourJuly/August 2013 issue.
It suggests we’re more likely to stop and smell the roses once we’ve already felt the prick of a thorn.
[paper by Alyssa Croft et al, called "From Tribulations to Appreciation: Experiencing Adversity in the Past Predicts Greater Savoring in the Present," should be available thru sage as a pdf here]
An interesting remark from the paper:
We suspect that a well-developed ability to savor pleasurable events might be a necessary precursor to attain positive growth after traumatic life experiences.
The 'toon below from Ted Rall is factually accurate. It's a fact that the much-reviled mainstream media reported on the NSA spying on Americans long before Edward Snowden spoke up. (To give an example, back in 2012 James Bamford in Wired reported that "The NSA...has the ability to eavesdrop on phone calls directly and in real time." I remember because I posted a llnk to the story.)
A shrug. Near as I can tell. Didn't make the national news.
But maybe it's not so much that Americans are dumb, but that they really don't try to get the full picture. They read the news for drama. So "revelations" from an insider -- supposedly an espionage-related betrayal -- make a lot more news than, well, the news.