Tag: environmental choices

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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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!

 

When “Progress” is insanity!

 

I have been glued to my screen, watching the juggernaut that was Hurricane Irma as it overwhelmed Florida. I have a personal interest in this: since I was a baby, Florida was my home for a couple of weeks every winter.

I have memories, from more than sixty years ago, of a lush tropical landscape, with orange juice stands on the corner of the quiet streets that made up Palm Beach and Lake Worth. Palm Beach was, of course, very chic, but Lake Worth was still a sleepy coastal town with motels and small beach homes.

There was a very large and elegant hotel in the center of Palm Beach. It was the only place in town that had a color television set, and therefore the only place where my sister and I could watch Disney’s Christmas broadcast of ‘Alice in Wonderland’. If we missed it, there would be no way to see it again for a couple of years as DVD’s & CD’s had not yet been invented! The point being that life that long ago had a slower rhythm; and instant gratification was barely a blip on the horizon.

Fifteen years later my parents bought a condo in a high-rise overlooking the beach. The beach was still beautiful, and our high-rise was one of the few on the ocean. But the tropical lushness was beginning to be replaced by suburban lawns, malls, and golf courses.

When, thirty five years later, I went down to put my mother in a nursing home (my father having died), she lived in a gated community overlooking (what else?) a golf course. The beach was almost impossible to see or get to, barricaded in as it was by condos. The only bit of the natural world was a nearby small bird sanctuary! The hospitals were getting overwhelmed by the huge numbers of old people who had chosen to retire there; and the roads were bloated six lane highways filled with cars.

And now I see that the coast towns are in the midst of a major building boom (sic!). And Floridians proudly boast that their houses can withstand the winds of a category 4 hurricane (but Irma was category 5 with storm surges that would inundate the homes and wipe out the the bottom floors of the high-rises!).

So before Irma blew in with 180 mph winds and 12 foot storm surges, everybody was told to evacuate. And there everyone was in their cars, with their bottled water, praying that there would be enough gasoline to get them out of harm’s way! It was a bit like watching a fireman trying to put out a fire with a hose full of gasoline! The very things that they depended on were the causes of the disaster they were experiencing.

What I found most interesting in the news casts was not the never ending shots of the young reporters (each of whom must have decided that the risk of standing in the 100 mph winds dodging coconuts and flying construction cranes would make his or her career); nor that there was almost no mention of global climate change as the cause of the ferocity and immenseness of Irma (of course on mainstream news channels that information would not be permitted); but that there was also nothing said about the low-lying coasts of Florida being a very poor choice for commercial or residential or industrial development!

So my question is: why would anyone build, buy a home, or live in a place that will be underwater in fifteen years?! (Miami.) Why would anyone buy a ranch house on a flood plain near the storage centre of petrochemicals that is also due to be permanently flooded?! (Houston) Why would anyone live on an earthquake fault that is due to rupture at some point in the foreseeable future?! Los Angeles?

And it is not just that people are choosing to live in these places, but they are choosing to live there with millions of other people: people who would be evacuating at the same time as you; using the same resources as you; needing the same help as you. Why would you do that?!!

At this writing, 5.6 million people are without electricity in Florida, because no one could imagine that a hurricane the size of Ohio would hit them. And that is the point of this blog: what choices about where and how to live will you need to make as the future is turning out to be unimaginable?!