Weekly Letter to the President
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INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
December 27, 2019 (posted December 30)
Mr. President: If one can imagine looking at our globe from the South Pole end, one
can observe the ocean currents circulating water across the oceans.
First one would notice a current all the way around the perimeter of the Antarctic. A
surface current circulates clockwise but there is also a deep undercurrent in the same
direction. Branches then lead off towards the different oceans serving as a global
conveyor belt mixing the waters.
A deep current pushes its way between the east coast of Africa and Madagascar
emerging as the monsoon surface current across the Indian ocean to India before
looping back to supplement another current along Africa's west coast. This
eventually crosses the Atlantic to form the Gulf Stream drift recrossing the Atlantic to
warm Britain and southern Scandinavia. Currents also loop the Pacific.
In an early Islamic map the system is first clarified (Lapham's Quarterly, Fall 2019,
p.10). The currents serve as global arteries that redistribute heat, salt and carbon
around the globe. Not available to Vasco da Gama, the northward West African
current stalled his ships. Is it climate change now slowing the system, mitigating its
tempering effects? It has slowed by about 15 percent in the last half-century.
One consequence is the worsening Indian Ocean dipole effect where contrasting sea
surface temperatures in the warmer western (Arabian Sea area) and cooler eastern
end near Indonesia affect climate. This year has seen one of the strongest dipoles
on record, a 2C difference. The result is more storms for East Africa leading to
cooler, wetter weather, while at the other end Australia suffers extreme heat and
raging bush fires far worse than usual. No ordinary fire but a 50-meter high firewall
engulfed the homes, according to a shocked homeowner in a vivid description of what
happened. The uncontrollable fires continue with the hope they will burn themselves
The ocean warming is also killing the kelp beds in the waters by the island of
Tasmania. Australia's giant kelp beds are literally being cooked by the ocean. The
kelp rising in 30-foot high stalks has been habitat for rare ocean life through recorded
history. Once present along the whole length of Tasmania's east coast, now little is
left -- just in the cooler waters bordering the southern tip.
And the effects of global warming are everywhere. The Arctic tundra's permafrost is
melting from Alaska through Russia's Siberia. At 57 degrees Fahrenheit, Chicago
has just experienced the second warmest Christmas on record i.e. since 1871; the
day following was 56 F and the hottest December 26 ever. New Jersey's winters are
so warm, its lakes no longer freeze.
Fish follow their instincts but are also in trouble. When the water turns too warm, they
move, collapsing known fisheries. Worse, an abrupt change can decimate numbers.
Fisheries in widely separated countries such as Japan, Angola and Uruguay are
While the Philippines suffers a dozen and more severe storms annually, this year it
has been hit by Super-Typhoon Mangkut in September with winds gusting to 255
km/h (160 mph). That is equivalent to a Category 5 (most severe) Atlantic storm.
Then on December 3, it was struck by Typhoon Kammuri, followed not long thereafter
by Typhoon Phanfone ... tragically on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day turning
celebration into anguish. Aside from the loss of crops and damage to infrastructure,
the typhoons kill dozens of people, if not more, and can displace hundreds of
thousands who take time to repair their lives.
Climate change (or more accurately warming) and the weather and its consequences
remain inextricably linked. So are we humans, the principal catalysts of this