NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

May 28, 2013

Oceans apart

As I See It
John Harwood

---- — Lake Kezar in southwestern Maine was where I learned to swim. Fresh water, of course. Not as buoyant as the Atlantic shore of Connecticut, where Mom had carried me into the surf on her shoulders, but cold on a summer morning. Cold.

A few years later, we took a drive, Dad, brother Doug and me, heading west until we reached the other great ocean that washes our shores. Along the way, I took a dip in the Great Salt Lake, which was so buoyant, I almost felt I could stand on its surface and walk on the water.

Just last summer, my namesake grandson, Jonny Harwood, tried the Pacific Coast beaches as well as those of the Atlantic, having done most of his swimming in a great lake, Michigan.

Not much if any change with these oceans from one generation to another, at least not anything obvious. However, there is great change taking place — the Atlantic Ocean off New York has risen a foot in recent years, and at a pace that leads me to wonder what our climate has in store for even the rest of Jonny’s life, to say nothing of the grandchildren of his generation.

NASA climate scientist Jim Hansen has determined that we could manage with 350 parts per million of carbon in our atmosphere, even though that was way more than we were breathing just a century or so before. In Vermont, Bill McKibben, who had written “The End of Nature,” joined with seven Middlebury College students to form what has become the Earth’s largest grass-roots environmental organization and named it after Hansen’s key number – 350.org.

Here in ‘13, we have yet to balance the books, to take our climate scientists’ advice, to the extent that the carbon reading has continued to climb, reaching 400 ppm this month, a level never before experienced by human beings, because we weren’t around millions of years ago, when our atmosphere previously reached such a high carbon content.

What Jonny wouldn’t notice during his Atlantic and Pacific swims is that our oceans have become 30 percent more acidic because of the rising carbon levels, which makes life hard for creatures for which the water is their world, not just a fun place to visit.

In recent weeks, I’ve seen a video — “The True Cost of Oil” — by Canadian photographer Garth Lenz, which portrays a wondrous landscape, the boreal forest of Canada, being turned into a vast industrial wasteland by the extraction of fossil fuels, turning Canada from a climate champion into a climate villain.

My trip to see the sheer size of the United States of America and many of its wonders more than 60 years ago was such a positive experience. It included the little oil derricks that we spotted, going up and down in perpetual motion, not threatening at all.

How different it would be if I flew over Canada’s boreal forest today, where the planet’s dirtiest tar sands oil is being pumped out of the ground using huge amounts of water that is polluted and left in holding lakes, where neither Jonny nor I could swim.

The extraction of tar sands oil in Alberta is turning what was a “carbon sink” — the boreal forest — into a “carbon bomb,” Lenz says, and that doesn’t count how much more this tar sands oil will pollute our air when it is refined and burned to heat our homes, generate our electricity and power our cars.

Speaking of generating electricity, we have a carbon villain much closer to home with the Brayton Point coal-fired power plant in Somerset. Coal Is Stupid has already begun the protest by anchoring a lobster boat called the Henry David T. where a coal ship was due to dock, delaying the delivery for a day.

On July 27-28, Saturday and Sunday, Brayton Point will be the site of an action organized by 350 Massachusetts, which will be one of several actions around the country that together will be called Summer Heat.

In his In the Spirit column in The Daily News, the Rev. Christopher Nye of Central Congregational Church, Newburyport, wrote, “… bonds of human solidarity are being formed by people of many different backgrounds … .” His topic was responses to the marathon bombings in Boston; however, his words also apply to the poor and young from around the world who have joined the climate change fight.

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John Harwood is a retired community journalist and patriot.