NOAA or NOAH … or Both?



Circa April 4,014 BC:

It’s a bright sunny day in the Middle East – a balmy day for taking your family for a sail on the Red Sea, or the Nile, in your felucca. We’ll come back to this story in a bit, about what was going on deeper in the desert, several kilometers beyond those high desert sands we see in our photo.

Circa April 2014 AD:

When it comes to our weather, 2014 is turning out to be “interesting.” Google “bad weather 2014” or “severe weather 2014.” I got 351 million hits for “bad weather” and 88.9 million hits for “severe weather.”

The consensus of weather scientists seems to be that for the next several years we are in for a lot of bad, severe weather – more storms and more dangerous storms – than normal.

Now, some folks, like the evangelicals who recently decided to picket a Moore, Oklahoma school where a tornado killed several children last year, have attributed our run of bad-weather luck to God’s punishment for some of us not believing in Him and not being very nice people. Others claim that the bad weather is God’s punishment for us approving of gay marriages, as one Illinois politician sees it; but, maybe, as some religious and political leaders in New Orleans put it after Hurricane Katrina, the hurricanes and severe weather are simply God’s “Divine Retribution” for the sins of New Orleans, and maybe our entire nation.

The weather scientists, however, have a different take. Weather systems are complex, but there is pretty good evidence that that global warming is a growing contributor to our weather’s irregularity and violence, contributions that we should pay attention to and deal with right now.

In March 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaption, and Vulnerability, the second installment of its multipart report on our changing climate and the disasters it could bring to us if we don’t pay attention. It’s header states:

“A changing climate creates pervasive risks but opportunities exist for effective responses. Response will face challenges with high warming of the climate.”

The New Scientist’s article on the IPCC report, World must adapt to unknown climate future says IPCC, points out that “The IPCC now says it often cannot predict which specific impacts of climate change – such as droughts, storms or floods – will hit particular places. Instead, the IPCC focuses on how people can adapt in the face of uncertainty. …” The report does, however, deal generally with what is likely to be expected in different areas, like droughts in Australia and heat waves in southern Europe and more severe storms in North America; and, of course, rising seas.

Naturally, the report brought out our choruses of anti-science deniers, like the Wall Street Journal, which put out an “opinion video,” The Arrogance of the Sciences, presented by David Berlinski in partnership with the conservative think tank, the Hoover Institution. Berlinski has called scientists “intellectual mediocrities and pious charlatans,” and had more of the same sort of “accolades” in the video. (He seemed to be talking primarily about climate scientists and evolutionary biologists, not about those “computer whizzes” that rigged high-speed computer trading on Wall Street to profit certain politically and financially powerful trading banks where his audiences park their surplus funds.)

On April 8, 2014, the New York Times’ Global Warming Scare Tactics, by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, concludes that linking climate change to natural disasters won’t change many minds. They cite as an example the backlash that resulted from Al Gore’s 2006 An Inconvenient Truth. In recent polls, 42% of the people surveyed say the media exaggerates global warming, up from 34% when Gore’s work was published. Nordhaus and Shellenberger also report studies that show “dire messages” about global warming simply increase skepticism and rarely weave their way into meaningful, positive action. What seems to work, however, are messages about solutions that can result in mitigation and a better society. No doubt that’s why Gore’s new study, Our Choice, is primarily about solutions, and touts:

It is now abundantly clear that we have at our fingertips all of the tools we need to solve the climate crisis. The only missing ingredient is collective will. Properly understood, the climate crisis is an unparalleled opportunity to finally and effectively address many persistent causes of suffering and misery that have long been neglected, and to transform the prospects of future generations, giving them a chance to live healthier, more prosperous lives as they continue their pursuit of happiness. Our Choice gathers in one place all of the most effective solutions that are available now …

When it comes to shaping our “collective will,” there are tensions among us because conservatives and liberals differ on what works and climate change causes. (75% of Democrat college grads see a human thumbprint on global warming causes, whereas only 19% of Republican college grads agree. And conservatives support technological changes and nuclear power whereas most liberals don’t.) But mitigation and real solutions, not denial or political posturing shaped by lobbyists or beliefs and not careful science, are where our conversations need to focus attention.

This week, Climate Process published an article, Climate Panel Stunner: Avoiding Climate Catastrophe is Super Cheap – But Only if We Act Now, about the IPCC proposed solutions that provides food for thought for us and our political leaders.

The importance of our focusing on solutions makes the recent approach of NOAA intriguing. NOAA, our National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has a special website, Are You Weather-Ready? NOAA’s America’s PrepareAthon theme: “Be smart. Take part. Prepare. And Join America’s Movement to Stay Safe During Disasters.”

The Gathering Storm

The Gathering Storm

April 30, 2014 is NOAA’s “National Day of Action.” As of today, 909,930 people have signed up to participate in NOAA’s movement. Check out NOAA’S site:

America’s PreparaAthon! is an opportunity for individuals, organizations, and communities to prepare for specific hazards through drills, group discussions and exercises. … The goal of the campaign is to increase the number of individuals who: understand which disasters could happen in their community; know what to do to be safe and mitigate damage; take action to increase their preparedness; and participate in community resilience planning.

Circa April 4,014 BC:
Now, back to our story – about someone else, someone as prophetic as NOAA we may want to pay attention to: the original Noah. No, not the 2014 movie version, starring Russell Crowe – but the original Noah, who was building an ark behind those tall dunes. Now we don’t have to debate whether the Biblical story of Noah is a myth sourced in the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh the Hebrews picked up during their exile, or whether it’s the real thing. There’s an important message in the story, for believers and nonbelievers.

I first read the story when I was pretty young, in Hurlbut’s Story of the Bible. (My mother bought an original edition, published in 1932, when I was one year old. I still have it, leather bound with gold-leaf pages.) Hurlbut’s Story fills in some details that the skimpy Genesis version omits, including:

“[I]t must have seemed very strange to all the people around, to build this great ark where there was no water for it to sail upon. And it was a long time, … 120 years, that Noah and his sons were at work building the ark, while the … people around wondered, and no doubt laughed at Noah …”

Hurlbut’s comments follow the ancient Hebrew Tractates, individual volumes of the Talmud, assembled sometime between 200 and 500 AD, which include stories of Noah attempting to warn his neighbors, their denials, and their ignoring and mocking him.

And that’s where we find ourselves today. That’s the message. From Noah to NOAA, not very much has changed:

• Noah had more than an inkling that the climate was about to change. So do we, from a lot of solid sources, including today’s NOAA.
• Noah focused on a solution, a solution that, according to the ancient stories, he had the discipline and the will to spend 120 years to implement, even while he was being doubted, ridiculed, and mocked by the climate deniers of his age. We too need the will and the discipline to face up to today’s deniers, and we too need to focus on solutions, many of which may also take a long time to effectuate. For example, the ozone hole over our South Pole, for which solutions were implemented several years ago, will take several more decades – probably to 2070 – to close.

Now, we don’t have any stories that tell us what the children and grandchildren of Noah’s deniers said to their parents and grandparents when the floods came. But I can imagine. Maybe it’s something like our children and grandchildren are apt to ask not too many years from now, as Our Choices poses:

“What were you thinking? Didn’t you see the entire North Polar ice cap melting before your eyes? Didn’t you care?”

We don’t have Noah’s solutions available to solve our problems. We have learned that Mother Nature doesn’t do bailouts. But we have good, workable solutions, described for us in lay terms in studies like Our Choices and Kareiva’s and Marvier’s Conservation Science: Balancing the Needs of People and Nature. We can, with will, ingenuity and effort, bail ourselves out.

Doctor Seuss’s Lorax asked, “Who will speak for the trees?” Let’s expand that: “Who will speak for our Earth?”

Will it be us?

Extra Credit:

Motivation: Ten Places to Visit Before They’re Gone

At the App Store, in interactive electronic format: Al Gore – Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis

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8 Comments on "NOAA or NOAH … or Both?"

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Your last blog “NOAH” was outstanding, thanks for the link.

Best Regards,
Jane Utz (and Cliff)

Suzanne Suarez Hurley
Dick: I loved this. And what you have to say is of ultimate importance. It is hurtful to see so many people asleep and to see our country split so radically by ignorance, hate and delusion. We are bound to find out what happens when we assure that the children are not educated; destroy our school systems, deny education to the many and promote beliefs and “trust” in the powers that be in favor of the rich and powerful. Last night I watched a brief biography of John Paul Stevens, former Supreme Court Justice who is aghast at what the… Read more »

I loved this blog.
A while ago I read a neat novel by Barbara Kingsolver. I’ll keep you mystified until you look it up.

Regards to you and Joan

Peter V

What is especially frustrating is that acceptance or rejection of a number of scientific findings seems to track with being liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. Since science is a methodology to propose and test hypotheses then reject those that are not supported by data, it seems particularly foolish to adopt any position on an issue based on political philosophy. Alas, a lot of us do just this and the environment that sustains us is suffering. That means that soon we too shall suffer.

If those who we have chosen to lead us had only one-half of your common sense, all would be well in the country (and world). Great blog, thanks.


Fantastic news about your new book. Look forward to reading it. Love your blog. Thanks for all the time you put into it.

Richard Beltz

Hi Richard,
I always enjoy reading your blogs and this one is really spot on!! Keep up the great work and I’m looking forward to reading your upcoming book. Perhaps you would consider coming back on The Fotobug podcast again!

A fan,

Jim Caldwell

Excellent commentary. However, there are none so blind as those who will not see. Which, sadly, seems to describe an awful lot of people in this country. But perhaps NOAA’s approach will get people thinking.

Please keep us informed on the progress of your book!!