Boats strewn on the shoreline of Rosmoney, Westport, after the recent storms. Photo courtesy of Alex Blackwell.
Storms wreak havoc
Although farmers, fishermen and sailors have been commenting on the unusual weather of late, after this past winter and spring, the trends are there for all to see. The frost last winter ravaged our gardens and hedgerows. No longer can we point the palm trees out to our visitors and smugly talk about our mild climate. The recent storms here were unprecedented in their ferocity and duration at this time of year (as reported in ‘Hurricane winds cause power cuts throughout Mayo’, The Mayo News, Tuesday, May 24) .
Securely tied boats came adrift and found themselves high up on the rocks. The leaves on the plants that did survive the winter are shredded and burned. Animal species, like the jellyfish, are running amok. Things are clearly not like they used to be. The extremes are getting, well, extremer.
But it is not just here. Gigantic tornadoes are flattening wide swaths in North America, killing hundreds. Epic floods, widespread droughts, and heat waves are being reported with increasing frequency. And it is not just the weather. It seems that volcanoes are erupting more frequently, earthquakes are getting bigger and more frequent, with the resulting tsunamis destroying all before them.
All these disasters do not mean we should be planning for the Apocalypse, as some religious sects might have us believe. But it does perhaps give one pause to reflect on the Gaia theory put forward by James Lovelock in the 1970s. The Gaia theory suggests that all organisms and their inorganic surroundings on Earth are closely integrated to form a single and self-regulating complex system, maintaining favourable conditions for life on the planet. When one of those systems runs amok, Gaia changes the dynamic to compensate, thereby restoring equilibrium.
The term Gaia comes from the Greek goddess personifying the Earth, the Greek version of Mother Nature, or the Earth Mother. At first scorned by all, this theory is gaining traction in the international scientific community. In 2001, a thousand scientists at the European Geophysical Union meeting signed the Declaration of Amsterdam, starting with the statement “The Earth System behaves as a single, self-regulating system with physical, chemical, biological and human components.” The scientific investigation of the Gaia theory focuses on observing how the biosphere and the evolution of life forms contribute to the stability of global temperature, ocean salinity, oxygen in the atmosphere and other factors of habitability in a preferred homeostasis. This hypothesis has also inspired analogies and various interpretations in social sciences, politics, and religion under a vague ecosystem philosophy and movement. It seems that more and more relatively smart people think it makes a lot of sense.
So, where does all this leave us? Global warming, or more correctly climate change, may certainly account for much of what we are experiencing here. We are all going to have to do our bit in ‘looking after’ Gaia.
Carbon tax and carbon points are governmental and corporate nonsense that does nothing but displace blame. We need to be much more conscious about maintaining the balance for life on earth, including reducing our dependence and demand for fuels with their attendant pollution and emissions and improving our interrelationships with the environment.
Perhaps we can arrest these disturbing changes in the balance of Gaia. Reversing them is another matter.
Preparation is key
Chicago is preparing for a major city-wide adaptation in anticipation of a much warmer future there.
They are planting different trees, preparing for much higher rainfall, installing air conditioning in schools, and rethinking road surfaces. If they cannot stop climate change, they may at least be prepared to deal with it.
We, too, are likely to have to rethink what we plant, how we farm, how we fish and how we secure our boats.
The next big wind, the next drought and the next frost may be signs of the way things are going to be for a while. Let’s all do our parts to fix things and, while we’re at it, let’s plan to adapt for change.
Alex Blackwell a licensed Master Mariner based in Rosnakilly, Kilmeena, is the author of ‘Happy Hooking - the Art of Anchoring’. He and his wife, Daria, lived in New Jersey for 12 years before they decided to return to Mayo. They sailed home together from Halifax, Canada, to Clew Bay in 2008.