Chapter X El Niño


This is an excerpt from my current writing project “The Environmental Wars”. It is a work in progress so if you do read this chapter and notice any spelling of grammatical faux pas do leave me a note in the comments.

Having returned home after an extended voyage around the globe steering warm air masses to where they are destined to go, Achmid Huchmid enjoys some time with his wife, Folletti on Coarha More Valentia Island, Killarney, CO Kerry.

The two elementals are sitting in the front room of their little stone cottage sipping a cuppa in front of a toasty fire and enjoying each other’s company.

“It is good to have you home again m’Lord; you were gone for such a long time on this trip. I do wish Fionna and Miriam were home from University so that we could all be together again. But at least I have you all to myself.” Folletti comments to her traveling mate. Fionna is in her final year at Oxford and Miriam has just begun classes at Newcastle University where innovative research is being conducted on renewable energy storage. Folletti begins their conversation using her favorite affectionate utterance for Achmid that she has used throughout their twenty-two years together.

“She wants to study batteries?” This aloof comment was almost disdainful and Folletti strongly objected.

“Achmid, the major impediment to the world’s weaning itself off of fossil fuels and the adoption of renewable energy sources is the ability to keep the lights on when the Sun isn’t shinning, the wind is calm, or any of the other clean sources of power are not, at the moment available. What Miriam desires to study is innovative and cutting edge energy technology and of immense value. I should think that you would be aware of that.” Folletti’s Italian temper was up and Achmid knew it. If he desires a pleasant stay at home, he’d better smooth things over.

“I only meant that Newcastle isn’t Oxford. I’d hoped that Miriam would have followed her sister’s example and applied to a more prestigious University.” If Achmid thought this was being diplomatic, he was sorely mistaken; he’d just brought up a sore spot for Folletti. The rift between herself and her elder daughter Fionna had not lessened with the passage of time.

“Oh you mean like Fionna wasting her time studying Philosophy while the Planet burns itself into a dark, black cinder?” Folletti had disagreed with her eldest daughter’s choice of Schools. She had wanted her Muse daughter to Major in the subjects of science or engineering to better position her to assist gifted young scientists in the fields of clean energy or ecological agriculture. But Fionna had other ideas and the estrangement was a painful issue between mother and daughter. Achmid decided to change the subject since he was just digging himself in deeper by following this current vein of conversation and so he let there be silence for a time until he tried again.

“Folletti, this last trip was over long, now that you mention it. I haven’t seen such strong oscillations in the weather patterns of the Pacific Ocean in millennia. I have been moving all the warm air that I can and believe me the human species makes my job more difficult than it needs to be.” Achmid Huchmid, Lord of the South Wind, complains about his day to his spouse Folletti Windknot just like any other husband after a long hard day at the office.

“Well dear, I’m sure you did your best; what else can you ask of yourself? Would you explain the intricacies of the El Niño and La Niña to me again; I can never keep them straight in my head.” Folletti asks knowing that allowing Achmid the opportunity to expound on the weather will soothe and comfort them both; besides the fact, she loves listening to him speak about his passion.

“During warmer years, El Niño, which means The Little Boy, or Christ Child in Spanish, by the way?” Achmid begins his dissertation of the current weather affecting the globe.

“I know what it means; I can speak Spanish with equal fluency as you. Just go on will you?” Folletti responds irritably.

“I’m just trying to explain the origins of the oscillating warm and cool weather events that you asked about. Now may I continue or would you like to snip at me some more” Achmid replies.

“No, please continue.” Folletti apologetically replies.

“Fishermen off the coast of South America recognized El Niño in the 1600s. They noticed the appearance of unusually warm water in the Pacific Ocean due to its affect on their catch, lowering it significantly. The name was chosen based on the time of year, December, during which these warm waters events tended to occur. The term El Niño has been given to the large-scale ocean-atmosphere climate interaction linked to a cyclic warming of sea surface temperatures across the central and east-central Equatorial Pacific. The El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a naturally occurring phenomenon that involves fluctuating ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific. The warmer waters essentially slosh, or oscillate, back and forth across the Pacific, much like water in a bathtub. For much of the globe, this weather phenomenon is a governing force causing variations in regional climate patterns. The pattern oscillates between two states: warmer than normal central and eastern equatorial Pacific Sea Surface Temperatures or SSTs (El Niño) and cooler than normal central and eastern equatorial Pacific SSTs (La Niña).

Often, sea surface temperatures are used to identify this vacillation, when the surface ocean temperatures responds to the warming of the sub-surface temperatures a warm phase of the ENSO cycle ensues. The same cycle occurs, only opposite, for the cool phase of ENSO. When temperatures in the ENSO region of the Pacific are near average it is known as ENSO neutral, meaning that the oscillation is neither in a warm nor cool phase.” Achmid expounds his expanse of knowledge gleaned from millennia of observing weather phenomena.

“What is the result of this warm water event? Folletti asks.

“In normal years, the surface air pressure in the equatorial region of the Pacific is higher in the east than in the west, which means that easterly winds blowing from the Americas to Australia and South East Asia prevail. In cooler years, La Niña however, surface air pressure in the equatorial region of the Pacific falls in the east and rises in the west, so the pattern reverses: westerly winds blowing from Asia to America prevail. They include warmer temperatures over western and central Canada, and over the western and northern United States. Higher precipitation events are likely over portions of the U.S. Gulf Coast and Florida, while drier conditions can be expected in the Ohio Valley and the Pacific Northwest. The presence of El Niño can significantly influence weather patterns, ocean conditions, and marine fisheries across large portions of the globe for an extended period of time.” Achmid continues his weather lecture knowing the intricate relationships between air temperatures and Sea States all too well.

“That’s fascinating darling, but what have wind and wave got to do with weather?” Folletti asks knowing her comment will infuriate her weather centric mate.

“The converse La Niña episodes represent periods of below-average sea surface temperatures across the east-central Equatorial Pacific. During a La Niña event, the impact on the Global climate tends to be opposite those of El Niño events.” Achmid continues, ignoring Folletti’s attempt to provoke him.

“During a La Niña year, winter temperatures are warmer than normal in the Southeast and cooler than normal in the Northwest.” Achmid thought that the conversation was over and he could return to his book but Folletti had other ideas.

‘So what difference does it matter which way the wind blows?” Folletti asks knowing the response her question will elicit.

“What difference does it matter? What difference does it matter? Have you learned nothing in the twenty-two years you lived with the South Wind, m’Lady? Achmid feigns irritation at Folletti’s question.

“Oh well, I’ve picked up a few useful things along the way.” Folletti replies, keeping her motives to herself, she encourages her mate to continue.

“Well ya see El Niño episodes dramatically affect the world’s climate. As the air above the equatorial Pacific warms each spring it creates massive rain clouds, in a normal year these would fall on Asia as the Monsoons that nurtures the harvest. However, in an El Niño year the monsoons weakens and instead heavy rain falls on the Americas causing catastrophic flooding. I remember an episode during the Seventeenth Century of an El Niño event that lasted from 1638 until 1661. During that period, the affected areas saw the weakest monsoon seasons in East Asia for the past two millennia. When the monsoons fail so does the rice crop and thousands if not millions died as a result of the famines that followed. Wars follow famine as the people of Asia and the entire world, for that matter, during the Seventeenth century could tell you if they were still alive but they can’t because they are all long dead. So you see my luscious Windknot the direction of the wind matter greatly in the lives of the humans you profess to love so much.” Achmid provided a detail recounting of his experiences with the weather phenomena known as ENSO (El Niño Southern Oscillation)

“So what is this North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) I’ve read about?” Folletti asks not letting Achmid off the hook so easily.

“Oh well ya see, climate is so much more complicated and interwoven than humans like to think that it is, to them they are only interested in what is occurring outside their front door, when in reality there is a complex and intricate dance happening, the like of which they have no idea. The North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) is a wide-ranging pressure seesaw that drives winter climate over much of North America, Europe, and North Africa. The phases of the NAO are defined by higher- or lower-than-normal levels of air pressure over regions of the North Atlantic Ocean. These pressure variations affect weather all around the Atlantic basin by altering the force and location of the jet stream and the storm tracks that follow it.” Explains Achmid to a now enthralled Folletti.

“But does this have any relationship to our changing climate?” Folletti asks.

“The variability of the NAO decade-to-decade has been greater, swinging more randomly, during the late twentieth century than in the early 1800s, suggesting that variability is linked to the mean temperature of the Northern Hemisphere. Ya know this would indicate a connection between anthropogenic warming of the planet and these weather fluctuations. When the Industrial Revolution began and atmospheric temperature became warmer, the NAO took on a much stronger pattern in longer-term behavior. I believe that these variations are the direct result from mankind’s burning of fossil fuels and the releasing CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. ” Achmid said.

Dropping into Achmid’s lap Folletti continues to tease Achmid unmercifully. “Oh my love, did you know that you’re beginning to pick up idiomatic speech patterns, you just used ‘ya’ instead of ‘you’” and then she proceeded to plant a rather wet kiss on his mouth. “So what was the cause of the big change back at the beginning of the eighteen hundreds then?” Folletti persists.

“As I recall that was during the ‘Little Ice Age’ a time when the planet cooled due to a reduction of the Sun’s output called the Maunder Minimum, when there was a dearth of sunspots observed and an increase in volcanic activity around the globe. And I do not use the term ‘ya’ except when I say ‘got ya!’” Achmid playfully tickles his wife at areas of her body that he knows she’s sensitive, eliciting gales of laughter mixed with loud screeches from Folletti, who clearly loves the attention.

The meteorological discussion is put on hold while the two engage in causing each other’s temperatures to rise, the Huchmids have always been a passionate couple and this is just an extension of their love and deep bond for each other.

“I’ve missed you, dear heart!” Achmid states emphatically as he carries Folletti upstairs to their bedroom.

“Oh and I’ve missed you, m’Lord!” Folletti responds, her arms around Achmid’s powerful neck.

Later while the two sprites in human form languish next to each other, satiated but not spent, they chat like lovers often do when the lovemaking is momentarily suspended.

“Folletti, listen, I am sorry for my insensitive comment about Miriam’s University. I’m sure her studies there will be very fruitful and important.” Achmid’s apology is well received. He knows the importance of those three little words and how far they can go in maintaining a long-term relationship like theirs. “How has business been, you haven’t mentioned anything about your investments since I returned?” Achmid asks, generally interested in his wife’s dealings.

“Thank you for that. They’re doing remarkably well, actually. But wait, which group are you asking about? The solar panels, wind farm generators, or the batteries to store the sun and wind generated energy? Or are you referring to the new Sustainable Agricultural methods?” Folletti responds with just the slightest bit of boasting.

“Either, both or all. Tell me about everything you’ve been doing while I’ve been away.” Achmid responds eager to hear what his wife has been up to during his long voyages.

“Well the Muse Corps is yielding some fantastic results. We’ve got members installed at almost every major university campus and research facility in the United States and European Union but the greatest breakthrough came with the discovery of a separate community of Mousai located in Asia. Once we tapped into that resource some wonderful things began coming out of China and Japan.” Folletti’s excitement is palpable as she talks about her activities managing the Muse Corps over the past several months.

“Do tell me about the farming issues, I’ve witnessed a disquieting amount of conflict occurring around the Globe that looks agriculturally motivated in that it’s related to water shortage.” Achmid asks of Folletti.

“Well I know that you are aware that the Earth’s temperature is rising as a result primarily of increased atmospheric concentrations of CO2 and Methane. Agriculture is a source of methane and nitrous oxide emissions, two prominent greenhouse gases. Modifying agricultural practices can reduce emissions of these gases, and reduce atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide by sequestering carbon in soil.

World agriculture faces a changing production environment due to shifts in global climatic conditions. Climate models predict wide-ranging impacts on local temperature and precipitation patterns, with broad implications for crop yields, crop-water demand, water-supply availability, farmer livelihoods, and consumer welfare.” Folletti begins.

“Ermph, which would explain the many water conflicts I’ve witnessed of late. I watched the destruction of two dams on the Rio Bravo while on my way home. It looked rather violent I’m afraid. Achmid recounts his observation of the explosions in New Mexico.

“Climate change will affect field crop and livestock yields worldwide, which will lead to changes in food and fiber consumption, prices of agricultural commodities, and farm incomes. Adaptive farming strategies can help growers reduce the costs of climate change. Farmers can respond to climate-induced shifts in relative profitability by changing crops, rotations, production methods, and amount of cropland cultivated. Altering the extent and intensity of irrigation has been proposed to mitigate the effect of a changing climate.” Folletti outlines the issue for Achmid although he has seen it first hand during his travels.

“Have you developed any concrete technologies or strategies to offset the problem?” Achmid cuts to the crux of the issue.

“Technology has improved Farming a lot and Homo habilis has brought the human species a great distance, once he realized he had opposable thumbs but right now modern man, even with the benefit of those thumbs, can’t quite grasp the point. Mankind looks at the species on the land as commodities, purely for personal gain, a concept that is currently described as ‘ecosystems services’ that for my part I find a very grimy little term. It holds the notion the plants and animals are merely saleable items and indentured to our market system. We view ourselves above nature. It is an anthropocentric view of the world. Thinking that human needs supersede all others is what has brought us to this state in the first place.” Folletti answers, clearly passionate about this viewpoint.

“You are a treasure my dear, do you know how wonderful you are? You may just save your humans after all. Achmid states his bias emphatically.

“There is a growing movement emerging, questioning the role of the agricultural establishment in promoting practices that contribute to these social problems. Right now, this movement for sustainable agriculture is garnering increased support and acceptance within mainstream agriculture. Not only does sustainable agriculture address many environmental and social concerns, but it offers innovative and economically viable opportunities for growers, laborers, consumers, policymakers and many others in the entire food system. But the best change humanity can make and perhaps the simplest is to change their dietary habits, forego eating meat, and switch to a plant based diet.” Folletti replies.

“But, the problem persists, why? Achmid asks.

“The problem is humanity itself. The entire population needs to get behind these efforts not just a few Activists or Regenerative Agriculturalists, who more often than not are labeled as kooks or worse. It would seem like there is a force at work actively trying to deny the problem of anthropogenic climate disruption. Some malevolent entity is actively working against our best efforts. Achmid I fear that another Zuozhuan Zhouli has arisen and is countering the best efforts of the Mousai.” Folletti states her fears.

“Oh that would be bad indeed. Do you have proof that another elemental or member of the Unseen Court is involved in disrupting the Corp’s efforts?” Achmid asks.

“No, nothing that’s concrete. Mostly it is my observations of what has taken place in the US, in their Congress. The Americans have consistently refused to cooperate with International efforts to curb Fossil Fuel emissions and due to their refusal to sign the Kyoto Accord little has changed. I’m beginning to think that we have to get a Muse installed close to one of the US Legislators. A member of Congress who is actively denying Climate Change would be the recipient of Muse to affect his thoughts and actions.” Folletti doesn’t realize it yet but she has just stated the truth of the issue and its resolution. The ramifications of her statement will change the Huchmid family forever.