Burnt Offering

The smoke from your sacrifice
Galls Heaven’s nose
Black fire grinds
Into sky
Sulfur hexafluoride

Surely the god of
Your hunger’s appeased
That usurious debt
paid of Eden.

Cities bubble over, fat
Chokes the swamp
Your burnt offering
Stinks of a crime

Oh? Tell that to the freezing child!
Oh, tell that to the thirsty wife.
You would starve us all
for some birds.

My friend
Some day we’ll all be freezing
And for want of birds and water
Will reach for our knives

Giving Up the Green

Black leaf against the sky
Tracing arcs of abandon

No one left to see it now
No one left to wonder
Why it gave up
The green

On a hot breeze blowing
Past the husks of silos
Where the brambles whistle
Over thistle and forlorn

Little leaf is sailing
Through the broken grin
Of cities sunk in shadow
Full of cars that don’t pollute

Almost stuck in the great
Brown-green river
Oozing through empty cables
Once a bridge a mile long

It is firmly caught
In a forest of fur
Pylons like the stuff
That used to grow on cheese

The leaf is absorbed by the fungus
Staring at the sky.
And where is the mind to eulogize
This stupid leaf, vestige
Of a world gone by?

The mind is somewhere
Cause Mind can never die
But it isn’t here
It isn’t in this place

Because it gave up the green
It gave up the green

When a mind leaves a body
It goes somewhere else
But an unworthy death
Leaves the mind
Twitching like a shrimp
In the endless void

Refresher Course

It is time that I waxed pedagogic
On a subject that’s often confused
By the shallow mass, unschooled in logic,
Who can only attend when amused.

When told that the planet is warming
They snort with an ignorant ease:
“All this talk! I don’t see no warming.
Outside it’s just twenty degrees!”

The problem? It lies in confounding
Two words (and I’m just gonna rhyme it)
I’ll say it at once, and resounding:
That weather is different from climate!

What’s going on right now is weather;
The weather can change on a dime.
But climate’s a pattern of weather,
That gradually changes with time.

But they’re spaced out on Beck and O’Reilly,
They listen with one ear cocked wrong
To pundits abusive and wily
Who cynically string them along.

Their lower lips jut in defiance
Of that which they don’t understand
They’re wholly uneasy with Science
Their votes are, of course, in demand.

Such tender minds, such simple vices,
Somebody bake them a cake!
They boot up their hi-tech devices
And proclaim, “The moon landing was fake!”

Pale Blue Dot

Carl Sagan is generally remembered as someone who popularized Science, translating its findings into everyday terms and making it compelling. Less appreciated, I think, is that he was an ardent Humanist. He understood the perils that our technology and historical foolishness posed, yet still held out hope that humanity could reach its potential and expand peacefully into space.

Two things struck me about this book, which was published in 1994. First, there is clear, unapologetic discussion of global warming. To Sagan, there wasn’t even a controversy. He helped elaborate the science behind models of climate change, based in particular on our findings at the planet Venus. I’d known all this, but to hear “global warming” discussed matter-of-factly by a scientist 20 years ago — not as a theory but as an imminent challenge facing humanity — told a lot about the violence that the Bush Administration has done to scientific discourse.

Second, Sagan looks at the big picture. He sees the challenges facing us as a species as perhaps typical of most planetary civilizations at a certain stage of technology. We have mastered tools which can save or destroy the planet, but we have not yet mastered ourselves. Sagan treats at length the question of whether we deserve to explore and colonize other solar systems, when we have wreaked such havoc here at home. His answer, which I find elegant, is that the vast distances between stars make them unreachable without a certain level of technological achievement. The timescale of such developments is much longer than the time we have to avoid any number of self-inflicted catastrophes here on Earth. In short, we are forced to survive ourselves in order to survive to the stars.

It is refreshing, and inspirational, to accompany Sagan on his flights of fancy about the human future. Although his rhapsodizing may annoy some, and though he fails to account for certain disruptive developments like Artificial Intelligence and nanotechnology, one fact remains: we need more scientists — more humans — like Carl Sagan. We need men and women with a firm grasp of Science, an ear for poetry, and a belief that humans have not yet expressed their full potential. Our future may depend on it. [New York: Random House]

Shearing time

In Mexico a baby’s crying, crying,
In Calcutta, the cattle step and groan.
And north, off Ellesmere’s broken haunches,
Aurorae color empty ocean bone.

Tick-tock, the algae’s started blooming,
Shave a minute off the sentence handed down.
Put a staple in the ear of your beloved
So you’ll recognize her when she comes around.

Tick-tock-tick, the windows all are closing.
A flash of birds, a distant cry of goats…
Something walks among us, arms spread open.
Its bony snout is nuzzling your throat.

      Waters recede
      The gasping fish
      The collapsing star

In countries which your children never heard of,
The outbreak starts. It shudders off its sleep.
Ten thousand years of gentle irritation:
It’s time now for the shearing of the sheep.

The many become one, and are increased by one.

Ash is in the air
All the little children are leaving.
Look around you:
the last great migration’s

There was never a promise
– no rainbow from God –
that we would die in a warm feather bed.
All the businessmen melt,
and the generals huddle.
They’re at their best when the meat
begins to boil.

A woman at the spaceport
sniffs the air and gags.
West wind is coughing pine,
the ruptured muck of forests:
grub-flesh stink and blister-singe.

Ash swarms down like hornets.

Then the asphalt heaves,
and in the whipping trees
the monkeys, pissing, howl!
at the great machines. This is

not another Ice Age.
Plant your feet – you can feel it spinning
It is the violet doorway
the vortex through the Human.

Something wafts above the stinking hordes,

Cities come together to address climate change

On an optimistic note:

The leaders of more than 20 world cities are meeting in London to swap ideas on combating climate change.

“Climate change is the biggest problem facing us, and cities have special issues such as the heat island effect and flash floods,” [London’s deputy mayor, Nicky Gavron] told the BBC news website.

It’s good to see spontaneous action on the part of cities, especially at an international level. Also interesting how some cities have adapted technologies to their local environment and topology to save energy or reduce emissions. Does the term “green city” have to be a contradiction?

Terence McKenna once related a dream he had of New York City covered in ivy — not because it was in ruins but because it had learned to coexist with the natural environment. A fanciful idea, no doubt, but as Bush would say we need to leave all options on the table.

Peer-to-Peer Energy

Microgrids as peer-to-peer energy
“Small networks of power generators in ‘microgrids’ could transform the electricity network in the way that the net changed distributed communication.

… “the microgrids could work like peer-to-peer file-sharing technologies, such as BitTorrents, where demand is split up and shared around the network of ‘users’.

…”Micro-CHP units work by turning heat which would normally escape through flues into electricity. Homeowners then sell any surplus electricity back to the national grid.

…”‘In a traditional system, you have the power station and electricity flows from power station to users – it is unidirectional. The whole network is constructed around that unidirectional power flow.’

Waking up to climate change

More U.S. companies weighing climate risks [Reuters]

Over the past three years the investors group, the London-based Carbon Disclosure Project, has sent questionnaires to the world’s largest companies by market capitalization, asking them to quantify the greenhouse gases they produce. It also asks them how they plan to manage their greenhouse risks.

This year 60 percent of more than 250 U.S. companies responded to the CDP, up from 42 percent last year. The results were revealed in New York on Wednesday.

You can view the responses from different companies here: https://www.cdp.net

I thought the General Electric response was interesting. But Apple declined to participate — c’mon guys!!