This is one of my four ‘holidays.’
Most years it is cloudy on Dec. 21 (or whichever day the Solstice comes on) in my part of the world. When it isn't, by some miracle, I have a little ritual that helps me remember how beautiful this world is. There is a little bluff overlooking the eastbound on-ramp to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. I drive there just a little before 8:00 am and park looking over the bridge at Mount Rainier in the early dawn. The sun comes up (forgive me this poetic license) right behind the mountain from this angle. The actual sunrise is behind the mountain and to the left (my left) but it starts its arc across the sky moving from left to right behind the massif so that the aura it produces starts out brightest on the left and then progresses toward the right. On a crystal clear day rays of light seem to be coming out of the mountain. On days with high overhead clouds the aura is softer, more uniform around it.
It is an awe inspiring vision. People rushing to work across the bridge can get a glimpse of some part of the effect but unless you are sitting watching you can't possibly grasp the total beauty. So I sit and watch the phenomenon progress till the brightness of the light peeking over the mountain's right shoulder is too great to look at. I close my eyes for a bit, still perceiving the orange crescent afterglow in my retinas. I am happy to have seen a rare sight. And I think about the fact that this marks the beginning of the climb toward longer days.
This year was a little different, however. The weather forecast said it would be cloudy and rainy on the solstice morning, but on the 19th it was clear with just hints of high wispy clouds. So I did my ritualistic observation on that day. It was still a wondrous sight.
Google Earth map of Tacoma Narrows bridge. The red circle shows the road on the bluff overlooking the bridge east-bound on-ramp.
Google Earth map showing the line of sight I get from the bluff to Mt. Rainier and the pathway of the sun as it crosses behind the mountain.
Sorry, no pictures of the phenomenon from me. The camera (at least in my hands) can't really capture the glory of it. And a still shot would never evoke the magic of the dynamics. For my part I have the motion picture in my head. If you want to see it for yourself, visit me next year at this time and I will show you — that is, if the weather permits! You can get an idea of what it looks like from More Mizsuzee's Musings blog post. Also check out these Google images.
Though winter officially starts today we have already had some very wintry weather in the US. Yesterday it snowed here in the Seattle-Tacoma and north areas. That is not terribly unusual, but it is relatively rare. But several weeks ago we had a long cold snap, the same massive arctic cold front that has since moved across the mid west and onto the east coast drove our temperatures below freezing and kept me from riding my motorcycle to work for over a week. Here we only got the cold — no precipitation. In fact it was clear as a bell. Very unusual. Back east they got snow and winds and icy rains, etc. This is what happened several years ago when I returned west from my sabbatical stay in New York in December. I drove across country (I-70 mostly) just as major snow storms and low temperatures were descending. I got stuck in Colorado for a day waiting for the snowplows to get their work done before I could get through the Rocky mountains.
These massive incursions of arctic air into the North American continent are unusual. They are due to the Jet Stream currents dipping much further south than normal. There is a great likelihood that this unusual behavior is due to the climate disruptions taking place worldwide thanks to global warming.
The latest reports re: global warming and its cause from humans burning carbon and cutting down forests, etc. are sounding more alarming than in past years. More climate scientists are turning to activism, seeing that their scientific communications have not been terribly effective. They, more than anyone, realize that things are getting desperate. We can expect more severe, unusual weather more frequently as a result of disturbances to the atmosphere and oceans as the CO2 emissions continue steadily upward.
The Winter of Our Discontent
When I was growing up I thought surely the people running the show (government) must be the most intelligent and wisest people on the planet. The US had shown the world the way to progress and it was called capitalism. Growth of the economy was considered a good thing. And with good reason. If you are going to keep exponentially increasing the number of people you'd better also figure out how to feed, clothe, shelter, and entertain them. A growing economy was necessary to accommodate a growing population. Seemed simple enough.
Then I learned systems science and it all changed for me. I had long been curious about why, if my assumption about the leaders' intelligence was correct, were we not using our progress to significantly better the lives of less fortunate people around the world. Why, I wondered, were we constantly making the same kinds of mistakes our forefathers (and foremothers) made — repeating history as it were? Once I grasped how human civilizations were systems and that true intelligence and wisdom had absolutely nothing to do with anything, I realized that the system was destined to failure. A quick study of prior more localized civilizations and their collapses sealed my conviction on this. Our modern global civilization would follow suit only this time there would be nowhere for anyone to escape to.
Global leaders, economists, business people, and most everyone else seem incapable of grasping even the simplest truths about biophysical system dynamics. Growth is only a way to get to a point of system stability, it is not an end in itself. Yet you hear it everywhere — growth is good, we need more growth. My own university is committed to a program of nearly unfettered growth in numbers of students. What is particularly interesting here is that, unlike businesses where management has a history of experience with growth and have learned a few things about how to manage it so that it is not destructive, university administrators have never really seen the kind of growth we are experiencing. Demand for baccalaureates is up considerably. Many people are panicking about jobs and they are looking for more education in hopes of finding better employment than flipping hamburgers. And administrators are licking their chops over the prospects of increased revenues, especially since they can raise tuitions (as state legislatures oh so gracefully (not) yield their support to higher ed). Meanwhile, a number of my colleagues, the people who bare the brunt of increased workloads, are grumbling more loudly than I have ever heard before. The problem is that university administrators don't seem to have a grasp of ‘growth management’ as it would apply to not just growth of revenues but also growth of resources, especially qualified and skilled people to take on the excess work. Our current growth plan appears to be limited to wanting to reach 7k students in 7 years — 7-in-7. Catchy but hardly a plan.
So clearly the world isn't run by the best, brightest, and most knowledgeable minds. Indeed it is quite the opposite. But then again, that seems to be the way everyone wants it, whether they realize it or not. Corporate money may be taking a giant leap in molding the political landscape in the US after “Citizens United”, but actually the trend of putting stupid, willfully ignorant people into positions of authority was well under way long before the Koch brothers figured out how to manipulate political action committees and the minds of some truly ignorant people. The people are easily duped by rhetoric (well not even rhetoric - more like slogans and sound-bites). And they get what they deserve.
So global warming and peak energy and all of the resource depletion and pollution production problems will just continue to get worse while feckless leaders try mightily to kick the can down the road (e.g. quantitative easing to prevent a total financial system meltdown). Some of them, like Obama, know about the problems, but continue to believe that there is some magical (that is economic and technological) fix that we will find once we get the economy growing again! As Forrest Gump's momma used to say, “Stupid is as stupid does.” And what they are doing, what the vast majority of us are doing, is really stupid.
Enjoy the rest of winter. There may yet be some novel weather to observe. Oh, and I would advise to have some shelter prepared.