Tag: emergency preparations

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.:


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:



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:


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:


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


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:


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:


and the state governments are very uneven:


In California where the state is helpful:


compared to Texas where it is not:


And what to do personally:


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!











Art & Climate Change



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!







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:


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.


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.)


I also found this water purification 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!


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!






Extreme weather is the new normal!


I was shocked to see the destruction of the Notre Dame de Grace park in NDG across the street from one of my favourite tango studios, Mon Tango http://www.montango.ca/. All those beautiful old trees down looked like the corpse of large animals!

And then I was further distressed to realize that friends had had their homes badly damaged in what was a freak tornado attached to violent thunderstorms that came through on Tuesday evening last week. http://montrealgazette.com/news/local-news/severe-thunderstorm-watch-issued-for-montreal-area-2

As, not surprisingly, the conversation between dances got around to how one prepares for an emergency, I thought that I would do a couple of posts on this topic. This is also timely as the second hurricane (this one a category 4!) in as many weeks is due to hit the continental United States later this week (September 8, 2017).


I broke this post up into three parts. This first one is more general. Some of these things I do almost automatically after living over 20 years in the country in Vermont; but they are useful, even in the city, in the event of a power outage.

In the era of extreme weather, it makes sense to stock up now before a state of emergency is declared! Many of these suggestions come from the US National Hurricane Centre http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/.

In case of an emergency:

1. Keep at least three days of bottled water and canned, dried, or frozen foods on hand. The video I am posting is a list of foods for two weeks for a family of four (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OSgotSS222c).
Don’t forget to have a manual (not electric!) can opening on hand in
case of lack of electricity.

2. For bottled water, please consider storing in glass bottles. Please don’t buy water in plastic bottles; in heat these are unhealthy for both you and the planet! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=690L4Qncjvs

3. Have a fire extinguisher handy and know how to use it.

4. Have a first aid kit. https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/first-aid-checklist.html Think about taking some first aid courses, especially CPR. And don’t forget to stock your prescription medications!

5. Keep a stash of cash in case the power goes out: you will not be able to pay by credit card or work the ATM machine.

6. Make sure your mobile phone is charged! The easiest way to do this is to get in the habit of charging your phone when you go to bed every night. Stock extra batteries or a solar charger in case of power outage.

7. Have a working flashlight, with extra batteries in a place where you know you can find it in the dark!

8. If there is a chance that the electricity will go out, fill up a couple of buckets with water so that you can flush the toilets in case your system is not gravity based. (And find out what kind of system your plumbing is on including the water heater.)

9. If the power is out for an extended period of time, keep the refrigerator door closed so it will remain cold for as long as possible.

10. Unplug computers & tv’s or have them on surge protectors so they do not get fried when the electricity comes back on!

11. And finally, and most importantly, check on your neighbours especially those folks who are elderly, disabled, or with small children.

The necessity for this was movingly written about by Naomi Klein in her description of what happened during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy which hit New York City and surroundings in 2012. (I believe that this was in her important book, The Shock Doctrine, but I don’t have the specific reference.) The rescue was focussed on Manhattan, while the government neglected the poorer Rockaways, which were home to many elderly, disabled, impoverished, and mentally ill living in high rises without elevator service. Luckily volunteer rescue teams went door to door and discovered and saved these people abandoned in their homes without food or water!

As neighbourhoods get gentrified, as older residents die or move into assisted living, as people become more mobile, the connections that hold neighbourhoods together can fray. Please let me know how you keep connections strong in your neighbourhood! Perhaps it is time for the return of the block party, or the weekly mahjong (http://www.mahjongsets.co.uk/history-mahjong.html) or bridge game?

I had a very strong support network in Vermont, but when I left and became a visitor in Montreal and a newly arrived resident of Dallas, I found that it takes a lot of work to begin to put together a new set of friends. It is one of the things that makes me feel insecure when thinking about possible climate disasters! So my neighbours are very important to me!

Finally, one last suggestion about a vital skill that we will all need as things get tougher: knowledge about how the fixtures (toilet, heating, electrical appliances, etc.) in our homes work. When it is Xmas Day and the toilet is not working, it is very nice to be able to fix it oneself! And if a mouse gets in the house, or there is an electrical overload and a breaker turns off, or there is a leak and you need to know where it is coming from, or a flood from the washing machine or dishwasher, the knowledge and skill to know what to do is going to make your life much easier and you less anxious!

Please let me know if you would do any other things to prepare for an emergency, and I will be sure to add them! Next post: extreme flooding emergency!