Tag: climate change

News vs. Noise

 

After a break of almost ten years, with the election of Trump I began once again to watch “the news.”  I read two newspapers (The Guardian & The New York Times), check out the headlines of one other (The Washington Post) and visit a couple of online sources: The Rachel Maddow Show (for her historical slant on the news); some online magazines (Treehugger ; Orion; and Facebook (in order to follow Bernie Sanders, Rep. Guiterrez from Chicago, & March for Science).

In the U.S., my news choices are considered left of center politically, but to most of the rest of the industrialized world, they are very much centrist. What becomes apparent after a few weeks of following the news, is how little actual information in presented, and how repetitious the stories and commentaries are. After a news story has peaked, it often disappears even if the event itself is still in play.:

https://chicago.suntimes.com/chicago-politics/puerto-rico-hurricane-relief-brown/

The news is also very generalized and homogenized, much like our food, housing, and clothing. During this past horrific hurricane season, all the news outlets carried the same story describing the storms themselves with barely a mention of the global warming that was responsible for their ferocity and size:

http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-climate-change-natural-disasters-20170907-htmlstory.html

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-09-04/cyclone-and-extreme-weather-events-intensifying-bom-says/8869042

The other thing about the news is that almost all of it is “noise” not really news. My daughter the other day asked me how to differentiate between news and noise; in other words, with the limited time we have, what subjects should we pay attention to and what should we dismiss?

My answer to this is in the present climate is the following:

1. If the news is about an existential threat, it should be followed and understood.

So the recent information about the demise of flying insects is newsworthy:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/21/insects-giant-ecosystem-collapsing-human-activity-catastrophe

while Trump’s tweets or speeches  (for instance, his inability to make empathetic condolence calls or his dislike of football players’ civil disobedience) are not.

Existential threats include problems with our food supply:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/05/vast-animal-feed-crops-meat-needs-destroying-planet

And science-based articles on extreme climate change that will in the near future make the earth much less habitable than presently:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/aug/02/climate-change-to-cause-humid-heatwaves-that-will-kill-even-healthy-people

2. If the news is about action taken, it is worth knowing. This is more difficult to find out about as the government becomes less transparent and more secretive. Rachel Maddow is good about following underreported stories. With the foxes in charge of the henhouse in the present Administration, these stories become more important:

news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/03/how-trump-is-changing-science-environment/

3. And finally, and most difficult to find (hence this blog!) news about what to do under these difficult circumstances both politically as the federal government is dysfunctional and dangerous:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/20/climate/epa-climate-change.html?mtrref=www.facebook.com)

and the state governments are very uneven:

https://www.fastcompany.com/3053928/these-states-are-the-most-and-least-at-risk-from-climate-change

In California where the state is helpful:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/brand-connect/ucdavis/protecting-californias-farmworkers-as-temperatures-climb/?hpid=hp_no-name_national-rightrail-brandconnect%3Ahomepage%2Fbrandconnect-sidebar

compared to Texas where it is not:

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/oct/23/post-hurricane-cleanup-work-health-safety

And what to do personally:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/14/smarter-living/how-to-clean-up-after-a-hurricane-or-flood.html?mabReward=ACTM3&recid=61bc0d1a-fc3d-4d34-7023-2695078b3d52&recp=7&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&region=CColumn&module=Recommendation&src=rechp&WT.nav=RecEngine&mtrref=undefined&auth=login-email

Better choices, for me, begin with the actions I take including resistance to information, much of which comes under the heading “news,” that is distracting, anxiety-provoking, and/or unhelpful. In this blog, I want to show you how I am deciding on the best actions to take in these hard times, and hopefully it will help you in your planning too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Art & Climate Change

 

https://news.artnet.com/art-world/northern-californias-wildfires-local-artists-1117727?utm_content=buffer2eb6e&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=socialmedia

The above is one of the few articles that I have seen on the losses artists have endured because of extreme climate change. I have not seen to date any articles on what artists in Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands have suffered. Seeing the nightmare of losing one’s  studio and all the accumulated artwork in it, makes me wonder again: what is the best way for an artist to set up for the climate-induced disasters of the coming age?

As artists, we live with certain constraints, especially if we are painters still working in an easel tradition:

  1. we need art supplies. Even if we choose to live a minimalist lifestyle (certainly my goal), depending on what type of art we do, we will use many more tools than, say,  writers do.
  2. we need studio space in which to do our work, and store our supplies.
  3. and we need inventory: I am a painter, and I have lots of paintings and drawings and sketchbooks that I can sell or use for future work. These things are, in essence, my equity.

Now if a fire or flood destroys these things, insurance will pay for very little. Insurance might pay for supplies or the studio, but there is no way to replace the paintings (as I understand it, the supplies that went into the paintings can be reimbursed, but not the actual value in terms of work time and potential sales).

So I have been thinking of two paths: one to minimize the risk; the other to soften the blow.  Let’s start with the latter: what can make the loss of artwork less painful?

1. Photograph in full file and store online and in hard drive everything that would be difficult to part with, and I mean everything: paintings, drawings, sketchbooks. It is the same with important photographs, and papers (birth certificates, passports, wills, drivers licenses, etc.) but for a different reason. You just want to have a record of the papers, but you want the peace of mind to know that you will be able to reproduce the art, either as a print or a gclee, if the original piece is destroyed. Paintings can also be repainted using good photographs as references. We tend not to make copies in this day and age, but if the work is really important, it can be remade.

2. Practice non-attachment. One way is through Buddhist study and practice: http://www.zen-buddhism.net/buddhist-principles/four-noble-truths.html. Another more secular route is by accepting randomness as the basis of reality. The best book to read on this is Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan. For a quick synopsis: https://medium.com/personal-finance-series-by-richard-reis/black-swan-101-beware-the-highly-improbable-316658109d46.

Thinking about how to minimize the risk, I have come up with a number of ways:

  1. Store in secure storage units that are fire and flood resistant though I assume that this is an expensive choice.
  2. Leave the paintings with as many friends as possible. These paintings are “on loan” and if I sell them or need them for a show, I just retrieve them. Not having them all in one place, like my studio, also gives me some more peace of mind, and I like the idea that the art is giving pleasure and not sitting wrapped up unseen somewhere!
  3. Edit ruthlessly so you have a smaller inventory.  I have an artist friend who keeps everything he does. He has reams of sketches, piles of sketch books, and closets full of paintings. And certainly there is a widely understood assumption that true professional artists produce prolifically.  But I don’t believe that artists should either be like industrial manufacturers or hoarders. Paintings can be gessoed over and painted over. Or the old canvas can be removed and new canvas put on the old stretchers. Again, if the painting that is to be destroyed has been photographed, it can still act as inspiration or reference. And destroying a piece because it is not that good is cathartic and keeps the art from becoming too “precious.”
  4. Switch media! Easel painting was invented in the 14th century as a way to make painting more accessible physically: easier to move. But seven centuries later, easel paintings have unfortunately joined the overwhelming flood of objects that crowd our homes, use up the Earth’s resources, and are just one more commodity to purchase. As a change, I have been looking at Print on Demand (POD) where the image is uploaded to a website and the buyer can buy it as a print without the artist having to keep inventory; books, again a POD situation; and in situ murals. This last is where painting in our time has gone to live, and in a strange historical reversal, some of the most dynamic painting being done today is found on walls for public consumption, as was the case for most of recorded history!

These are just my first raw thoughts on life as an artist in the time of extreme climate change, but I would be grateful to hear the ideas of other artists!

 

 

 

 

“Unprecedented!”

 

Before & after photos of the damage done by the fire now raging in Northern California

There is a parable about a frog put into a pot filled with lukewarm water on the stove. The frog is supposed to stay in the pot even as the water in the pot heats up to boiling,  because it cannot figure out that it is in a potentially life threatening situation because it is occurring so gradually.  (This is, by the way, not scientifically true!  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boiling_frog   but it makes a very good parable for our times.)

Sometimes I feel as if my country is that frog! From today’s The Washington Post:

“The fires, which first whipped up Sunday night, added to what has already been a severe fire season in the West. More than 8 million acres have burned in at least four states, raising questions from across the political spectrum about the connection to climate change and forest management practices.”

“Raising questions”?!! Billions of dollars in destruction this past year through fires, floods, hurricanes, and droughts; and one can have questions about whether this is being brought to us by global warming?! And yet, the media continues to label every hurricane, every fire, every flood: “unprecedented!” (sic!) as if each disaster is some unconnected climate anomaly.

Meanwhile, the US Federal government is rolling back and eliminating the far from strong environmental laws we had in place to slow down CO2 emissions:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/09/epa-scott-pruitt-abandon-clean-power-plan-obama

I suppose their idea is that when extreme climate change happens, these so-called leaders of government and industry will be long gone and will not have to live through the consequences of their stupidity and cupidity. The irony is that there is something called a feedback loop which leads to the tipping point beyond which it will be impossible to stop the runaway warming. These feedback loops are speeding up the whole process, far quicker than had been predicted, so even my generation (the Baby Boomers) will have to live through the results of our carelessness.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/05/carbon-emissions-warming-soils-higher-than-estimated-signalling-tipping-points

And it is very difficult to determine how fast these feedback loops will change the climate; but it seems to me that it would be prudent to assume a worst case scenario and plan accordingly.

Worst case for me means that the Federal Government will continue to be unusable, both as a deterrent to global warming, and as a dependable and functional help in disasters.  So personal responsibility for oneself and one’s community is going to become more and more important. And this means that one will need to be connected to one’s local natural world, and to take a serious interest in how one’s local government is planning for emergencies. It means taking a proactive rather than reactive stance; and using our imaginations to be prepared for possible problems caused by the extreme climate.

It also means that certain things that we have counted on (or simply assumed) to always be there like gasoline and electricity and food and water, will start to become scarce or erratic or non-existent depending on the severity of the disaster or climate stressor. So, again, we will need to take care of these things ourselves. One way is by switching over to a solar panelled backup system (Anyone know why backup generators are run only on gasoline, when gasoline is one of the first things to disappear in a disaster?!) if only to keep the cell phone charged!

(I found this online, but I am not recommending it until I have done further research. It is simply one example of what we could use.)

https://hanspowernet.com/

I also found this water purification system:

https://www.espwaterproducts.com/outback-emergency-water-system/

but again it is something that I need to look into further.

Another is to grow our own food. This is a very good way to connect to each of our localities and to the surrounding natural world. It has been used often when times got hard, and times are definitely getting tougher!

https://www.metropolisfarmsusa.com/single-post/2017/09/07/A-History-Lesson-Local-Gardens-Can-Feed-America

I will return to all these subjects in future blog posts. But in the meantime, realize that, unlike the frog, we can jump to a safer place and saner lifestyle, before the waters and the land begins to boil!

 

 

 

 

 

House of Cards

 

There should be no “shock” at the disaster unfolding at the moment in Puerto Rico  The combination of an ineffectual and venal Administration which has been undermining the public sector since it took office and of more intense hurricanes driven by extreme climate change was bound to create an humanitarian crisis in this part of the United States. The crisis should also been expected because Puerto Rico adopted the fossil fuel technology & culture that needs a complicated and ultimately fragile (relative to the strength of natural forces like hurricanes & flooding) infrastructure of highways, airports, trucks, gasoline, and people to run it that was difficult to create & sustain on a small tropical island.

https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/9/26/16365994/hurricane-maria-2017-puerto-rico-san-juan-humanitarian-disaster-electricty-fuel-flights-facts

Like in Houston, the misery will be compounded by the chemical, atomic, and fossil fuel pollution and Superfund sites on the island which were opened by the hurricane.

https://newrepublic.com/article/144888/puerto-rico-already-environmental-tragedy-hurricane-maria-will-make-even-worse

As in Florida on the coasts and Texas along the Gulf of Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands will be inundated by the rising waters and hit, over & over, by ferocious & huge storms (Hurricane Irma was the size of France!)  that will batter it consistently over the coming decades. As tropical areas, these places are also going to be inhospitable to human habitation in less than 30 years.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/aug/02/climate-change-to-cause-humid-heatwaves-that-will-kill-even-healthy-people

So what is the solution for people living in those parts of the world, those parts of the United States? Do they continue to try to make the fossil fuel lifestyle fit a natural world openly hostile to it, assuming that gasoline run machines and technology are strong enough to stand against the force of extreme climate change? Or should Americans living in parts of the U.S. that are going to be at the epicenter of extreme global warming and climate change leave those areas and emigrate within the U.S. to higher ground?

https://slate.com/business/2017/09/what-happens-if-puerto-ricans-flee-en-masse.html

And should we all be starting to think about this?!

http://earthtalk.org/climate-refuge/

 

Tango & Climate Change

 

When I get really sad about the state of the world, about the sixth extinction that is in progress https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/10/earths-sixth-mass-extinction-event-already-underway-scientists-warn, about the floods, fires, and famines to come, I dance tango.

I have been dancing a lot lately! Tango, for those of you who don’t know, is a peculiar social dance that is very difficult to learn to dance well and is done in a close embrace with one’s partner. The beautiful tango music and the intimate physical contact  does make me feel better, at least for the couple of minutes each song lasts. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AL9scCF6F1E

Last night I was talking to a dance buddy (let’s call him Mr. T) after we had ended a tanda together. He was dreaming about moving to Florida. There is a whole community of Québecois retired in Florida, happily soaking up the sun and speaking French. Mr. T yearns to be by the beach and watch the bikini-clad girls go by (not an unusual desire for a Northern man as women in up here in Canada spend much of their time wrapped up in multiple layers of clothing!).

I had suggested to Mr. T that Florida, especially by the shore, might not be the safest place to retire. He was a bit taken aback by the scale of Hurricane Irma (and there are a couple more lining up behind her!), but he figured that an occasional storm was par for the course in that part of the world.

And here is the issue I have with this very usual insouciance: it represents a misunderstanding of the extreme effects of climate change, and a refusal to acknowledge the radical shifts we will need to make in our modes of living to survive under these changes! Sometime it feels to me as if no one is taking extreme global climate change to heart (except, of course, the climate scientists, but even some of these continue to live in places like Houston and Florida!).

For example, these “best places to live when you retire” sites are still touting Panama, Costa Rica, and Portugal among other tropical or warm place as best places to spend one’s golden years, without any mention about how rising waters, more violent hurricanes, out of control forest fires, and massive numbers of environmental refugees will strain those countries infrastructures and governments!  https://internationalliving.com/the-best-places-to-retire/

But to return to Florida and the unstable coastlines: the problem is not just a simple one of rising water. Florida has also been made vulnerable to coastline degradation and storm surges because of the death of the protective coral reefs near the shore.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/09/12/how-floridas-damaged-coral-reef-makes-it-more-vulnerable-to-storms-like-irma/?utm_term=.f842cdbea0a2/

And because unfettered building has been permitted, much of the wetlands have been paved over. These wetlands are the protection from flooding when there is tremendous rains, which are the natural result of the warmer air and water produced by global warming.   http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/wetlands-stopped-650-million-property-damage-hurricane-sandy-can-help-houston/

But how to explain complex environmental systems clearly enough to suggest what are the best choices in where and how to live in the coming years, especially to someone who is so distanced from the natural world as to be completely oblivious about it? Well, Mr. T, here is something to think about before you make that move to Florida:   http://www.filmsforaction.org/articles/the-great-flood/

And I’m off to another milonga!

 

The Cassandra Report: Resettlement as Necessity.

 

 

The USA was originally created with the idea of Manifest Destiny, which meant that Europeans had, they felt, the God-given right to move across the continental United States, setting up new communities, opening up new farms, building new towns; and, in the process, dispossessing the indigenous peoples.

The places chosen to settle had fertile land, resources of some sort (e.g. lumber, minerals, water), and most importantly, water routes to transport goods, resources, and people. With the coming of the railroads, and more importantly, the interstate highways, where to live and where to do business began to be a question with a much more extensive set of options. The answers were very random: where could the most money be made, where could the best living be had, where was the most amount of resources to be found? Many of the answers drove people toward the large cities, or to places with industry, or to communities in need of servants and service workers.

And, in the past twenty years, as the baby boomers (full disclosure: my generation) began to retire, the answer was where the weather was mild and the view beautiful: so coastlines began to be filled with vacation homes, then retirement homes and finally nursing homes. But just because a place could be lived in, especially with the use of industrial grade destruction of the land and environment, does not mean that it should have been used for unfettered residential or resort development!

http://www.filmsforaction.org/articles/for-more-resilient-cities-stop-trying-to-conquer-nature/?utm_content=buffer443ec&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Building up the coastlines may have made sense while the coastlines were stable- but these are now due to be inundated in the near future.

http://geology.com/sea-level-rise/

The sea surges like the one that washed over lower Manhattan during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 are predicted to be a much more frequent occurrence.

http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2014/10/storm-surge-hurricane-sandy/ 

So, if you know for sure that these coastlines are going to be underwater in the foreseeable future, what is the wisest course of action? Why not consider moving to higher ground?

There have been large movements of people all during US history.  The one that comes to mind is the Great Migration of six million black folks out of the South to the North and West between 1916 and 1970. These people were not rich, but they improved their lives by moving to a better part of the country.

I believe that as climate change in our country gets more extreme with more and more places becoming unliveable due to drought, fire, and flood, we are about to enter another era of great population movement within our country.

In an ideal world, the government (Federal or state) would fund the relocation by buying the homes that are in endangered neighbourhoods, freeing the inhabitants to move elsewhere. The government should also make strict zoning laws to prevent desperate people from living close to toxic industrial sites. And the companies that run these sites should be heavily fined and made to pay the clean up costs of their pollution.

But we are dealing with a much less than ideal world. The Texas state government is allowing the French company, whose chemicals are throwing noxious smoke into the air in Crosby Texas, to keep hidden the actual components of that smoke! And it already looks as if much of the money earmarked for help to Houston will find its way into resources for Republican lawmakers in Texas for the 2018 midterm elections.

So my question becomes, if the government can not be counted on to help, what can we do as individuals and small communities? And can we do this better in the 21st century than we did in the 19th?

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/08/is-anywhere-on-earth-safe-from-climate-change/400304/

 

Seasons of Fire & Water

 

http://www.kgw.com/…/timelapse-of-growth-of…/471285079

 

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4857842/Hurricane-Irma-slams-Caribbean.html?ito=social-twitter_dailymailus

Had an heartrending FB conversation this morning with a young friend in Portland Oregon who is mourning the destruction of her beloved Eagle Creek forest by a wild fire set by a group of careless stupid kids. Wild fires, she tells me, are not unexpected at this time of year (the end of the dry season), but this arson is presently burning 20,000 acres and is still out of control!

At the same time, on the other coast of this large country, a category 5 hurricane, Irma, is heading to the Eastern seaboard. The population of Florida is evacuating and has been told that they have until Friday to finish their emergency preparations. Hurricane Irma follows closely after Hurricane Harvey, which caused billions of dollars of damage and created a vast ongoing ecological disaster. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/sep/02/houston-hurricane-harvey-pollution-petrochemical-plants

What I find unsettling about our reactions to these catastrophes is that they are seen as anomalies within expected seasonal occurrences. The extreme weather is being disguised, in a manner of speaking, by appearing where we expect it to appear. As it has been twelve years since a hurricane struck in the Gulf of Mexico, the thinking is that Hurricane Harvey may just be a fluke (and Hurricane Irma? and the hurricane after that?).

Strict no burn rules are in place in Oregon for wilderness that are prone to wild fires. The thinking is that the fire that is consuming Eagle Creek should not have happened; it was simply the result of unsupervised teens throwing firecrackers into the woods…a wood that was as dry as kindling! But what about the lands burning in British Colombia, Portugal, Greenland?!

What is not being understood in both these scenarios is the fundamental role that climate change is playing in both places. Yes, this is hurricane season in the southern Atlantic; but no, the water in that ocean has never been as warm as it is now and never so warm to such a depth which means that the hurricanes forming are going to be of a size and a ferocity never seen before! There may not be a larger number of storms, but they will drop much more water and last much longer.

Equally, in those parts of the world seeing the dry season, the heat is higher and, incrementally, it will be lasting longer and longer which will dry out not only the trees but the soil as well. http://www.ucsusa.org/…/global-warming-and-wildfire.html 

So what I am suggesting is that this is just the tip of the iceberg (a metaphor that may be obsolete in the not too distant future!), and it is important that we do two things: the first is to control our feelings of shock. Bill McKibben’s book, Eaarth available from the library, Amazon, & audible is a good way to get used to the idea that our environment all over the planet is beginning, and will continue, to get harsher. Just how unsupportive and dangerous it will become will depend on whether we can get out act together to stop using fossil fuels and wasting the earth’s resources.

But as there is no guarantee that we will succeed at this, the second important thing for us to do- and this is the main focus of my blog- is to start to put in place the life style changes that will make us safe in both the short-term and long term. The US Federal government should be a help in this endeavour, but our government is, in fact, an impediment, cutting funding to such vital services as FEMA and the EPA! The state governments are very uneven: some, such as Texas being openly hostile to their people’s needs, and others, like California, being a good resource.

So, regardless, we will want to do what we can as householders to weather the extreme conditions that are beginning to be felt. I am suggesting that we become more proactive. If we know that hurricane season is approaching, emergency supplies should be put in early rather that scrambling to gather them at the last moment. Or, if you are a freelancer or your employer allows it, plan on living somewhere else for hurricane season!

Fire season will be more problematic as it is predicted to finally extend for most of the year. However California has a good emergency program in place for earthquakes: houses are built to be earthquake proof; earthquake drills are an accepted part of life, and evacuation plans are in place. Now substitute wildfires for earthquakes and you get a clear idea of how this would look.

Next post is on what to do to protect yourself from floods; the one after that on what to do in case of fire.

Please comment, especially if you have important information that I have missed. Thanks!