Thursday, May 17, 2007

Black Point, Exumas, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: SE 10-15, shifting to SW in the afternoon

Last night, at sunset, we saw a waterspout. An actual, live, upside-down, twirling drain of water, coming up out of the ocean and ending in the clouds, like revolving staircase to heaven. I shouldn’t have made that crack about the Wizard of Oz. It’s inconceivable to me that such a natural phenomenon even exists, that air pressure could be so low that water could be sucked by the atmosphere out of the ocean and up into the sky.

Someone on the radio warned us, and we looked out of the cockpit to see first a disturbance in the water, a lot of spray, and then this thin thread of water winding up and disappearing into the clouds, and moving in our direction. Karl and I battened down the hatches, as much as they could be battened, and then watched helplessly.

I wanted to start the engine, to put out another anchor, anything, but we couldn’t run away fast enough to escape something like that. Nor would another anchor have helped. If we get hit by a waterspout, a virtual tornado of water, we’re dead. That’s it. End of story.

It was a big siren, a wake-up call, an alarm. Something. Eventually it dissipated and disappeared. There’s nothing to be done, though. We’re here now, in these latitudes, at this time of year, where the weather has gone all to hell in the last ten years, and we have to deal with it. Those are the facts. All we can do is manage them.

What’s crazy is that the people here live with it all the time, year after year, just like people in the north live with snowstorms. Here, tangibly, you can feel and see the effects of global warming, the actual changes in weather patterns. Today on the radio we got the statistics: nineteen named storms (Andrea was the first) forecast for this year, when nine is normal. Nine hurricanes forecast, when six is the norm. And five high-intensity hurricanes predicted (that’s category three, winds of 111 mph, or higher) when two is normal.

That’s insane. It makes me wonder why no one’s done anything about the weather yet. Isn’t it obvious that it’s changing? How much more apparent does it have to be? The reason no one’s done anything about it is that the people who see it are those that have no power to change it. The people who live in the tropics, where the weather is being overwhelmingly affected, are poor. Even though they use the least carbon-producing products, and they’re the ones who are least responsible for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, they’re the ones who will suffer the most, in storms, tornadoes, floods, and famine.

We’ve seen it already in Hurricane Katrina, in the tsunami of 2004. I just read a huge article on it in a Newsweek left in a laundromat in Florida. It’s hard to believe that all of our overuse of fossil fuels aren’t causing the climate crisis. I just don’t know how you can argue that anymore. And it’s hard to argue that those effects can’t be seen right now, right here. It’s hard to argue with those pictures of melting icebergs. Being down here makes it next to impossible.

Our friend Booboo, from the Appalachian Trail, made the joke back in Miami that if we encounter people who are poor, and they question our guilt in their oppression, we can at least say that we’ve reduced our carbon footprint. That’s ludicrous, in a way, but the more I watch the weather the more I’m convinced that our choice to live differently than the majority of Americans would mean something to them. They know the weather’s changing, and they know who’s to blame.

Think about Future, Karl’s new Bahamian friend at the dock. He can walk to family members’ houses. He doesn’t own a car, but uses a golf cart to get around the island. His village has a big generator that runs a couple of lousy streetlights and some radios and televisions. He doesn’t heat or cool his house. His lamb chops come from the next island, not New Zealand. He eats wild fish, not food items that come from eight different countries. He watches as the Americans race by in their $800,000 motorboats, that have 1000-horsepower engines, and overfish his fish.

So maybe what we do will matter to them. At least we’re living differently. At least we’re trying. We’re not doing much, but we’re doing something. I can’t force Americans to give up their SUVs, or their Chilean sea bass, or their big-screen televisions. All I can do is do what I think is right.

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