Category: Climate

These are very strange times!

A Grist article raises a core question.

On June 4th this year Grist published an article written by Eve Andrews. It is not about dogs at all. Yet, it seems to me to ask a fundamental question about us humans. The article speaks of America but certainly it applies to my old country, the U.K., and it probably applies to most of the countries in the world.

I recently wrote to Annelise McGough, the Growth and Engagement Editor at Grist asking if I could republish the article. She kindly said yes!

So here it is!

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Grist / Windy Kelly / EyeEm

Why is everything falling apart in 2020?

By on Jun 4, 2020

Dear Umbra,

Did any aspect of climate change cause the pandemic to happen this year (versus last year or next year)? Could pandemics happen more often?

— Which Oracle Read Rightly Imminent, Existential Doom?

A. Dear WORRIED,

2020: what a year so far! As anyone who witnessed the crowds of face mask-clad people show up in the middle of a deadly pandemic to protest police violence this weekend can attest, a lot seems to be terrible all at once. You’re asking, in a sense, why now? It almost seems like it must be a rhetorical question. But it’s not — by understanding how we got into this mess, we might presumably be able to find our way out.

This doesn’t just apply to the pandemic.

Let’s start by taking your question at face (mask) value: There are multiple factors that have contributed to the rise of zoonotic illnesses — those of animal origin — over recent years, as my very sharp colleague Shannon Osaka delineated in an article and video earlier in the spring. Scientists believe COVID-19, like several other SARS viruses, likely originated in a bat. It turns out many strains of coronavirus can be traced back to bats! Who knew those little guys were such harbingers of destruction?

It’s not really on the bats, of course. Warmer temperatures (an established feature of climate change) and environmental degradation (often attributed to climate change, industrialization, or other products of human development) have driven a lot of animals to migrate out of their normal habitats and into human ones. Those factors have also contributed to different species coming into close contact with each other, which makes viruses normally contained to one species more likely to “spill over,” or jump to a new type of animal.

So clearly, the lead-up to the novel coronavirus’s outbreak was a gradual one. But perhaps 2019 was just warm enough to kill off enough of the insect population that some COVID-19-carrying bat depended on for food, and that drove it out to wreak some (unintentional) havoc on humanity. The bat’s habitat could have been destroyed by a new coal mine development. It could have woken up one morning and thought: This is my time to fuck shit up! Revenge on those humans that messed up my home! (OK, there was also probably a pangolin involved, but let’s keep things simple.)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 is the fourth major pandemic caused by a novel virus to hit the United States since the 1918 “Spanish flu” that killed 50 million people worldwide. And there are so many factors and variables that lead to the sprout of a pandemic that you could very well argue that, “Yes, of course it happened at this exact point in time” or “No, it could have happened at any point in time.” It’s impossible to know for sure. But climate change and habitat destruction are certainly working together to create circumstances more favorable to the spread of disease, and that means pandemics will likely become more common as the world grows warmer.

The thing is, highly contagious, devastating illnesses have always been a part of human life, even though a real pandemic is a few-times-per-century event. It’s a fact of sharing the Earth with other living things; it just happens. But humans are ostensibly equipped with the means to contain the spread of diseases and help heal those who become sick. At this moment, thanks to advances in medicine and information-sharing and communication, that’s more true than ever before!

And yet. The United States, an astonishingly wealthy nation with ostensibly the most advanced — certainly the most expensive! — medical system in the world, has lost around 100,000 people to COVID-19, with many more surely to come. That doesn’t even take into account the far-reaching hardship caused by an economic collapse as drastic, by some metrics, as the Great Depression. The current unemployment rate, for example, exceeds 20 percent.

The reality is that what some have referred to as “the lost spring” (and what could very well be “the lost year”) is not the product of a single infectious disease, but the boiling over of many long-standing crises, including structural forms of injustice. Like everything else in American society, the damage done by the coronavirus is unevenly distributed across race. The death rate of black Americans from COVID is three times that of whites, and 40 percent of black-owned businesses have shuttered due to social distancing measures. As of April, rates of black and Latino unemployment were 16.7 and 18.9 percent, respectively, compared to 14.2 percent for whites. These hardships continue to feed into the cycle of racial inequality in this country.

The devastation to American society that we are witnessing in real time, one could argue, could only have happened at the present moment. That’s due to the nightmarish confluence of horrific leadership, centuries of racial oppression, unprecedented wealth inequality, the erosion of the social safety net, privatization of medicine, a far-too-consolidated supply chain, politicization of science, a highly globalized economy, and one misguided or mischievous bat. Oh, and the climate change and environmental degradation that could have led to said bat’s misbehavior.

COVID-19 could have popped up at any time, as viruses do. The degree to which it’s ravaged American society, however, has little to do with the virus itself. Other countries such as New Zealand and South Korea, faced the same disease and came out the other side with far fewer deaths and less severe economic devastation. This is, to a significant degree, about governance and leadership.

It’s also a preview of what climate change can do. A very contagious respiratory virus is an unfortunate fact; it’s not going away, and it is a challenge to be dealt with. Climate change, just the same, is coming whether or not we pay attention to it. Communities, cities, and states are going to have to put measures into place to ensure that it doesn’t literally kill us all. That’s what adaptation means, and that’s why people talk about things like seawalls and tree cover and managed retreat.

But creating a climate-resilient society requires a lot more than just building or planting stuff! This is where I would normally tell you to vote for leaders who support all that building and planting and, more importantly, cutting carbon emissions in the first place. Yes, do that. And additionally, vote for leaders who will feed our starving public systems to make it so they actually support the people who need them. Vote for those who understand and want to change what non-white people experience, what poor people experience, what immigrants experience. Without all of these things, there cannot be a climate-resilient civilization.

If anything were made clear by the unique, mind-boggling suffering that the United States has seen in the past week, brought about by the collision of a viral pandemic and police brutality, it’s that voting is a necessary condition but it is not enough. You, WORRIED, wrote to me to ask why the pandemic happened right now, possibly because it seems like such a uniquely terrible moment for the country to have to deal with it. We not only have the worst possible leader, but also a general absence of leadership altogether.

Going back just a few months, I believe there was an opportunity for an alternate version of this moment in American history in which one incredibly dangerous virus did not kill as many people nor ruin as many lives. But even in that universe, it’s important to acknowledge that pre-pandemic life wasn’t so great for most people. Undoing this path and “restoring order” is a ridiculous hope, since the order that has existed for so long has created a society that is wholly unsustainable judging from almost any social, environmental, or economic perspective.

So what can we do with this knowledge? One, you should be angry. Be angry that leaders missed opportunities to fortify the nation beyond its military, to break down racist systems and promote equality, and to instate laws and policies designed to help prevent crises that, by all accounts, were utterly predictable.

Then I think you should show your anger, whether that’s through protesting, hurling money or your time or whatever you have at worthy organizations that will put it in the right hands, or just screaming and yelling, if you have to. And while voting might not feel like enough when so much feels so wrong, it’s a necessary condition for change — force people in power to know that they created that mess and that they are accountable for it.

Furiously,

Umbra

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Climate change or global warming is with us NOW. It is time to make fundamental changes to the way we live NOW. While many individuals are doing their bit we need international agreement, especially international support for the United Nations, for all the nations in the world NOW.

Thank you for reading this!

It breaks my heart.

Let me not stop with that. I want to hear from you. Are you worried? Or not quite as concerned as me and Umbra? Do you think it is in the hands of our leaders or is it an international problem?

Let’s have a bit of a discussion.

A sailing memory, part two.

Again, this is for Pendantry.

I left yesterday’s post with the statement: “However, getting to Gibraltar was not without its challenge for we suffered a knockdown and this scared us both to the core.

This is the account of that knockdown.

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The knockdown

So this was it, the end of life. This is what that end felt like. A lifetime of experiences reduced to this stilled moment; all my hopes, dreams, pleasures, memories, everything shrunk to this tiny moment of now.

I knew, in some trance-like way, that if just one of those foaming, giant waves swept across us, so utterly over-whelmed as we were on our side, it would flood the cabin, and down Dave and I and the yacht would go.

Other sensations came to me. Feelings of quiet, of calm, even of peace. My world now reduced to close, intimate dimensions. To the yacht’s wheel, to which I so grimly hung. To the front edge of the port cockpit seat, now underneath me, against which I braced my feet. To the starboard guardrail, bizarrely above my head, and to those raging seas so very close that seemed to beckon, ‘Give up, give up now and slip away.’

Me and Dave, alone in this Mediterranean storm 10 days West of Cyprus, are going to drown, founder without trace in these vast waves and probably end up not being missed for many days. Our dream of sailing across the Atlantic snuffed out as easily as Songbird of Kent would sink the 5,000 feet down to the seabed. The futility of it all.

It was a strange, detached perspective that hardly registered the gusts coming at us like great padded hammers. This unimaginable gale that had Songbird of Kent, my floating home for the last 5 years, totally pressed down on her port side, even though the yacht offered nothing more to the winds than her bare mast and rigging.

From within the cabin, Dave could do no more than simply watch. Hunkered down outside, I could do no more than simply hang-on. Both of us transfixed in this stillness of life’s imminent ending. Dave would later say no words would ever properly describe what his eyes had seen.

My past life, rather ominously, started running before me. How one year, in the early 1950s, when I was 7 or 8 years old, my parents had rented a holiday villa in the French Atlantic coastal town of Arcachon. What a glorious summer holiday that had been.

Arcachon’s beautifully sheltered bay had enabled me to learn to swim. The buoyant sea-water helping me increase the number of strokes each day, until one afternoon I had swum out to a yacht anchored well off the beach. As I hung on to the anchor chain, panting hard, the owner looked over the guardrail. Next, me being rowed back to the beach in a dinghy and then everyone getting to know Englishman John Calvert, a solo sailor living aboard his yacht, Garrawog.

Next year we had holidayed again in Arcachon and found Garrawog moored in the small yacht harbour. I recalled fond memories of sitting in the cabin with my father and John Calvert, drinking lemonade, eating cream crackers and loving the cosiness of it all.

Then the amazing coincidence when the following year we had holidayed at the French Mediterranean town of Menton and Garrawog had sailed into the harbour. That had led to John taking us sailing along the coast, memories so vivid, all these years later, of helping to haul sails, steer Garrawog, even remembering the gentle nudge of the yacht into the waves.

I was clear how those memories had fuelled my romantic obsession with sailing. How as a young teenager growing up in London I had joined the Welsh Harp sailing club, based at a large lake, well a reservoir, just three miles from home, and learnt to sail a dinghy. All fuelling this fascination with the sea. Yet that romantic obsession didn’t revolve around idyllic meanderings along the Mediterranean coastline. No, my dreams involved ocean sailing. Not even as part of a crew, but sailing, single-handed, across the oceans.

I had devoured every book written by those sailors who, totally alone, had journeyed the vast oceans in a small yacht. Joshua Slocum, who wrote of his solo trip around the world in his yacht, Spray, way back in 1895. Master English navigator, Francis Chichester, who conceived the idea of a single-handed yacht race across the Atlantic ocean, later completing a round-the-world solo circumnavigation in his yacht, Gipsy Moth IV. Eric Tabarly, Chay Blyth, Robin Knox-Johnston and many more.

I reflected how that dream had remained with me for years. All through nearly 20 years as a salesman and entrepreneur to the point when, quite suddenly, on a Monday in the Spring of 1986, uncharacteristically I had nothing in my diary for that day, or for many days ahead. I had just sold my thriving company in Colchester and there was no longer a job to go to!

Then not so long after I had taken a holiday in Larnaca and in wandering around the marina I had seen Songbird of Kent for sale, and had bought it! I had previously read about Tradewind yachts and knew how many had made world circumnavigations. Thus by the end of 1986, my new address had become: Yacht ‘Songbird of Kent’, Larnaca Marina, Cyprus.

A shout from Dave jerked me back to the real world.

Hey, is it my imagination or is that wind easing?

I lifted my head and turned my face into the weather coming full at us. The seas were just as terrible but, yes, something was different, some subtle lowering of the tone of the wind.

Dave, you’re right, it has eased back a bit. We’re not so pressed down, are we?

Don’t think so. What do you reckon?

Not sure what to do, frankly these conditions scare the shit out of me!

In the subtlest way imaginable, Songbird provided the answer. The yacht now showed some response to the waves rather than previously being so overwhelmed. A tiny thought entered my mind, something I hardly dared acknowledge: Songbird is not going to founder.

Those 3 tons of lead at the bottom of Songbird’s keel were, at last, overcoming the wind pressure on her topsides and with seawater cascading down from the mast and rigging, the yacht slowly righted and bestowed on me and Dave the continuation of our lives. A miracle of miracles!

I quickly helmed the bow round to point us downwind, putting the full force of the gale directly aft. Within moments, a wave slowly started to overtake us but I couldn’t do anything other than keep my eyes on the mast-head wind-vane that, against all odds, had stayed intact during the knock-down. Watching the arrow head that absolutely had to keep pointing directly into the wind. We may be upright but one slip of steering, one moment’s loss of concentration and I knew we would slew broadsides to the seas and go over again.

I couldn’t believe the size of this wave that lifted us up and up, as if we were in giant, invisible hands. Up to the foaming crest from which was revealed, all around us, wild, angry, jagged waves, huge crests covered in white foam, an Alpine-like scene of raging hell as far as the eye can see. A vista of utter desolation.

Then the foaming crest moved ahead of us and Songbird slid down that vast lee of the wave, down towards the trough that lay behind us. Our bowsprit pointed directly into the dark green water ahead, water streaked with spume, as down and down we went until the inevitable arrival of the next wave started us up to another foaming crest.

We had survived what we could never have imagined. Hardly believing it, we intuitively knew that surviving that first wave increased the odds of us surviving the next few. Then the next few, and the next few until, against all expectations, we knew we stood a chance of living through it all.

I spotted something in the water and shouted, “Dave, look, look there in the water, just to our left. That bit of sail, surely not from our mainsail?

As we ran before the weather, a scrap of white sail had surged past our side, a piece of sail bearing the number 33 and two palm trees, the symbol of a Tradewind 33 yacht.

Dave laughed, “I can’t believe that, Paul. It’s from the mainsail that blew out when the gale first struck. How amazing! It must be from us, can’t be too many other Tradewind 33s out here!“.

Imagine that, Dave, after all that we have been through these past few hours, we’ve just sailed by a bit of our mainsail, close enough to have grabbed it.

That triggered my mind as to when this terrible experience started. How long ago was that? I didn’t have a clue, though surely it couldn’t have been much more than an hour or so ago. Indeed, I struggled to think what day it was, then realised it was Thursday, October 8th, 1992. Just 24 hours since we had left the dirty, commercial port of Algiers for the last leg of our trip from Larnaca in Cyprus to Gibraltar.

Dave, hand me the log, it’s at the back of the chart table.

I read,

Thursday, 8th October, 1992.

08:20 Sea state terrible.

I recalled how the dawn had revealed banks of low angry clouds, skidding across the tops of a nasty swell, made even worse by a vicious cross-swell. The next entry after that read,

09:00 Sky extremely threatening. Wind NE F4. Just 16 miles east of Greenwich meridian.

Then we had approximately 3 hours of sailing to go before we crossed Greenwich. On to the last entry,

12:00 Sea extremely ugly, Wind NNE F5. Longitude 2 minutes East of Greenwich.

Just 15 minutes from crossing that historical navigational line. I recalled how we had chatted about sharing a glass of something to celebrate ‘crossing the line’! Then how my words had been torn away when, in a seeming instant of time, this huge squall had come out of the North, heralding this vast, cauldron of a storm. The mainsail, even tripled-reefed, was way too much sail. But it was far too dangerous to leave the cockpit to drop the sail, too much to do anything other than hang on.

The mainsail failed, ripped into shreds as it tore away from the mast-track and disappeared into the storm. The sounds of the event obliterated by the screaming noise of a wind that I had guessed was now more than 50 knots. The rain and spray had stung my face so hard that I needed to turn my head away just to breathe. Clearly something had to give; I expected the mast to fail.

But it didn’t! Instead, as the wind force grew and grew, it steadily pressed us further and further over until Songbird ended up fully horizontal to the sea. It seemed a lifetime ago.

I looked at my watch: 5.30pm. To hell and back in so few hours!

Dave, what’s our position?

Dave ducked out of sight to read the GPS, came back out with a slip of paper on which he had written our position: Eight minutes of longitude west of the Greenwich meridian. We were now in the Western hemisphere!

Come on, Dave, you take the wheel. I’m going to fetch a couple of beers.

I reckon a double celebration, Paul, crossing the Meridian and living to tell the tale!

We drank our beers, chit-chatted about nothing much, both aware that we had literally stared into the abyss of a dark watery grave, and sailed on.

Just before 13:00 on Saturday, October 10th, Songbird rounded Gibraltar’s breakwater, briefly rolled in the cross-swell, and slipped into the calm waters of the inner harbour.

Soon we were safe and secure in a marina berth, a few minutes walk from good food and friendly bars. Our experiences rapidly migrated into the private worlds of our minds, as if discussing it openly might replay it all with a different, more tragic, outcome.

I struggled through those first nights of sleep. Again and again I awoke, panic across my chest, clinging to the sides of my bunk, trying to lay all the nightmares to rest. Slowly, those October days resting up in Gibraltar shone a light on this sailing obsession. How, with the sudden death of my father in 1956, those memories of idyllic times in and around Garrawog had buried themselves deep into my hidden emotional world. How dreams of sailing had more to do with keeping the memory of my father alive than with anything else.

That gale expunged the obsession. I never sailed on Songbird again or, for that matter, on any other sailing vessel. Paid crew eventually returned Songbird to England, where she was subsequently sold.

I would never forget the stillness I had experienced in the midst of all that chaos, but one knock-down in a lifetime was more than enough.

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This is absolutely a true account of what happened. Yes, an intimate, personal account of what happened but accurate down to the last detail.

I am so pleased I kept a written account of the knockdown all those years ago for if I was to recall it today then much of the detail would have been lost. Maybe lost as a result of old age or lost as a consequence of not wanting it in one’s mind. Who knows.

Finally, there are no photographs because we just had more important things to look after – keeping ourselves alive!

Returning to a theme – May!

The years click by!

We are coming up to the month of May!

Then in a very short time it will be May 8th. Not only my half-birthday but considerably of more note the anniversary of the end of World War II.

I am certain that I am the only one who puts meaning into these dates. I can do no better than to re-post something that I published on May 1st, 2017.

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For all my life this has felt like a very special month.

And, dear friends, at the risk of repeating myself to many of you, this is why the month of May is special for me.

Simply that I was born in London during the closing months of the Second World War. Inevitably, I was unaware of the number of German bombs that were falling on London during those last few months. But there were thousands.

On May 8th. 1945, the day that WWII ended and six months to the day from when I was born, my mother looked down at me and said aloud to me: “You are going to live”. Despite the fact that I don’t recall my mother saying that, it was verified many times later when I was growing up.

Now here we are approaching May 8th. 2017 (now May, 2020) and in a very real sense it seems that we are in another war.

A war of consequence.

A war that we have been engaged in for many, many years.

A war where we are inadvertently fighting on a global battlefield.

A war where 99.99% of us don’t consciously identify the weapons we are using. Weapons that are incredibly effective. So much so that we are in sight of winning the last battle; winning the war.

Yet a war where winning is no win at all. Indeed, where winning this war, this global war, spells the end. The end of life for 99.99% of us humans (and much else besides).

Now what on earth has got me so fired up?

Two things have:

The first is that I am living in my 73rd year of life. (Now 75th.) I have no idea of when my life comes to an end. But that death is a guarantee. Indeed, if one takes note of the average life expectancy of a male today in the USA (75.6 years) , it may not be that far away.

The second thing is that before my death I truly want to know that humankind has laid down its weapons of war against our planet and that there really is an unstoppable mission, a united wave of passion, to live in peace on this planet. Perhaps better put to live in peace with this planet.

Or in the words of an organization that I now want to introduce:

A mission which will require the hard work and dedication of each and every one of us as we do everything in our power as individuals, but also as we galvanize businesses, entrepreneurs, innovators, city planners, communities, people and politicians—all those who share our purpose.

OK! Thank you if you are still reading this! (Someone give Fred in that soft arm-chair over there a nudge; I can hear his snores from here!)

In the last Smithsonian electronic newsletter that I was reading yesterday morning there was a reference to an organization that I hadn’t previously come across. Here is the link to that item on The Smithsonian website. I am republishing it in full in this place. As you read it you will understand why I am republishing it.

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Using a New Roadmap to Democratize Climate Change

A new tool aims to bypass governments and put the power of climate action in the people’s hands

By Anne Glusker Smithsonian.com April 28, 2017

Olafur Grimsson, who was president of Iceland from 1996 to 2016 and saw his country through the worst economic crisis in its history, making headlines all over the world as banks collapsed and the country fell into a depression, is the very picture of an urbane statesman. Collected and poised, with a striking full head of white hair, as comfortable in English as in his native Icelandic, he seems an unlikely revolutionary, not the sort of person you’d look at and immediately find yourself thinking: “Power to the People.”

But Grimsson is one of the primary architects of a quietly radical new idea whose aim is to facilitate action on climate change without any of the usual suspects—governments, countries, international bodies, negotiating parties.

He and several other veterans of the historic 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change were in Washington, D.C., last year, just before COP22, the climate meeting held in Marrakesh in 2016. They were pondering next steps when the conversation took a new and interesting turn, Grimsson says, addressing the question: “Was it possible to have the success of Paris without governments necessarily being in the leading role?”

The group included movers and shakers such as Peter Seligmann, the chairman of Conservation International; Laurene Powell Jobs, president of the philanthropic organization the Emerson Collective; and Andy Karsner, an assistant energy secretary during the administration of George W. Bush. Galvanized by their own query, they decided to try to answer it—to set about creating a new tool to aid in achieving the goals of the Paris accord.

At the Smithsonian’s Earth Optimism Summit, a gathering this past weekend of conservation-minded citizens, scientists and activists, Grimsson explained: “You get governments that are opposed or even hostile to climate action. We decided to bring together in Marrakesh a gathering of thinkers and scientists and innovators and policymakers from different countries in order to discuss a new model of securing the success of the future of the climate movement.”

At the Smithsonian’s Earth Optimism Summit, the former president of Iceland Olafur Grimsson encouraged new solutions to climate change, awarding cash prizes to the winners of the “Make for the Planet” challenge. (The Roadmap)

Grimsson’s group felt that due to changes in information technology and social transformations, the large organizations and structures that used to be necessary to effect change were now not needed. And thus was born Roadmap, a new crowdsourcing tool for anyone and everyone interested in climate action. Still in its very early stages, Roadmap’s founders envision it as a platform for those working on climate issues—from scientist and policymaker to farmer and fisherman—to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and ideas, methods and techniques.

“A new political model is possible—where everyone can be a doer, where you no longer need big government or big enterprises to bring about success,” Grimsson says.

This new model for social change that skips the usual cumbersome channels and processes has been seen everywhere from public health, where the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has redefined the sector, to the hospitality industry, which is working to combat the human trafficking that plagues its businesses, to perhaps most famously the Arab Spring, where the role of social media in bringing about political change is still being debated today.

And this new model is complemented by technological changes. “The innovation in energy technology is such that we no longer have to wait for the big energy breakthrough,” Grimsson says. “We already have the available technologies. Every individual, home, village, community, town and region can execute change. The good news from the climate point of view is that, in addition to the information technology revolution, there has now also taken place an energy revolution. A house can be a power station: If the people who live in that house have extra energy, they can sell their energy through the smart grid. The notion that every house can be a power station is as revolutionary as saying that every mobile phone can be a media company.”

Grimsson admits that it may seem odd for someone in his position to be advocating that ordinary citizens take action apart from the conventional corridors of governmental power.

“For me to say that these traditional political organizations and positions are somewhat outdated is perhaps a strange statement: I was a professor of political science, I’ve been a member of parliament, I’ve been a minister of finance, I was president for 20 years,” he says.

It was during Iceland’s financial meltdown that he first experienced this new kind of social change: “I saw this very strongly through the financial crisis in my own country, which led to a big social economic uprising. All those activities were engineered by unknown people, people who were not part of a big organization, who used Facebook and the information media to bring thousands of people together in one day.”

Right now, Roadmap consists of a website and a lofty manifesto that speaks of raising the value of “moral currency” and creating a “best practices warehouse.” Visitors to the site can fill out a form if they want to become part of its community of “doers.” The practical part of the manifesto speaks of identifying the best methodologies and models; implementing a “real-time system of measurement” and a way to “gauge and understand what is working, what is not, and exactly what is being achieved.” As the platform develops, it will be interesting to see exactly what form these gauges, measurement systems, and warehouses take.

After the Paris Agreement, Grimsson says of himself and his Roadmap co-founders, “We were all optimistic, but we are all also realists.” It is his belief that if you “give people the tools, they can execute the transformation and the change—without governmental leadership.” Perhaps Roadmap will be one of those tools.

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Here’s a video that spells it out in ways that I find impossible to ignore.

Because in hundreds of years time I want others to look at the following picture of Troutbeck Valley in England and know how precious is this one and only planet we live on.

Or in the words of Sue Dreamwalker that I read yesterday evening:

We are witnessing more storms, more unseasonal weather patterns, and I just hope that we wake up soon to the damage we are doing to our beloved Mother that has held us in her eternal arms for so long..

Photo credit: Getty Images

Enjoy the month of May wherever you are in the world!

Closing by repeating a key pronouncement in that RoadMap video above:

Why We?

Who Else!

Earth Day!

I simply forgot it was Earth Day yesterday!

I wanted to let the post on Tuesday run for a couple of days because it really made the point about dogs, in particular, being animals who love to love!

But I then forgot, until I woke up on the 22nd, that yesterday was Earth Day.

So what to publish?

Yesterday in Merlin was a damp day with a steady rain coming down in the morning. About 10am I volunteered the idea that we should drive the shortish distance to Galice; just 10 miles from where we live. Galice is a very small settlement on the Western bank of the Rogue River. Then we drove on for a few more miles. It was incredible scenery. The misty, damp forest and the river running below in the gorge.

I had my camera with me and the following are some of the photographs that were taken.

Just for a change! All within 15 miles of home!

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For those interested in learning more, I am publishing the WikiPedia account of the Rogue River.

The Rogue River (Tolowa: yan-shuu-chit’ taa-ghii~-li~’,[7] Takelma: tak-elam[8]) in southwestern Oregon in the United States flows about 215 miles (346 km) in a generally westward direction from the Cascade Range to the Pacific Ocean. Known for its salmon runs, whitewater rafting, and rugged scenery, it was one of the original eight rivers named in the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. Beginning near Crater Lake, which occupies the caldera left by the explosive volcanic eruption of Mount Mazama, the river flows through the geologically young High Cascades and the older Western Cascades, another volcanic province. Further west, the river passes through multiple exotic terranes of the more ancient Klamath Mountains. In the Kalmiopsis Wilderness section of the Rogue basin are some of the world’s best examples of rocks that form the Earth’s mantle. Near the mouth of the river, the only dinosaur fragments ever discovered in Oregon were found in the Otter Point Formation, along the coast of Curry County.

People have lived along the Rogue River and its tributaries for at least 8,500 years. European explorers made first contact with Native Americans (Indians) toward the end of the 18th century and began beaver trapping and other activities in the region. Clashes, sometimes deadly, occurred between the natives and the trappers and later between the natives and European-American miners and settlers. These struggles culminated with the Rogue River Wars of 1855–56 and removal of most of the natives to reservations outside the basin. After the war, settlers expanded into remote areas of the watershed and established small farms along the river between Grave Creek and the mouth of the Illinois River. They were relatively isolated from the outside world until 1895, when the Post Office Department added mail-boat service along the lower Rogue. As of 2010, the Rogue has one of the two remaining rural mail-boat routes in the United States.

Dam building and removal along the Rogue has generated controversy for more than a century; an early fish-blocking dam (Ament) was dynamited by vigilantes, mostly disgruntled salmon fishermen. By 2009, all but one of the main-stem dams downstream of a huge flood-control structure 157 miles (253 km) from the river mouth had been removed. Aside from dams, threats to salmon include high water temperatures. Although sometimes too warm for salmonids, the main stem Rogue is relatively clean, ranking between 85 and 97 (on a scale of 0 to 100) on the Oregon Water Quality Index (OWQI).

Although the Rogue Valley near Medford is partly urban, the average population density of the Rogue watershed is only about 32 people per square mile (12 per km2). Several historic bridges cross the river near the more populated areas. Many public parks, hiking trails, and campgrounds are near the river, which flows largely through forests, including national forests. Biodiversity in many parts of the basin is high; the Klamath-Siskiyou temperate coniferous forests, which extend into the southwestern Rogue basin, are among the four most diverse of this kind in the world.

Rogue River from Hellgate Canyon
Map of the Rogue River watershed
Location of the mouth of the Rogue River in Oregon

Just to reflect on the fact that people have lived along the Rogue River and its tributaries for 8,500 years!

Just the moon

The beautiful moon!

I went out to photograph the full moon, the so-called super moon, on the 7th April, just a few days ago, but it was such a bright image that as a photograph it didn’t really work.

See what I mean!

So I present a crescent moon taken on the 19th March this year.

Apart from a little bit of cropping no other changes have been made to the photograph.

What on earth are we going to do?

A very powerful essay from George Monbiot.

Today and tomorrow I am posting essays that have nothing to do with dogs! Today, I am sharing George’s gloom about the future, tomorrow I am sharing our human capacity for incredible ingenuity and technology.

Because I sense we are a species of two extremes; the very mad and the very clever!

I don’t have an answer but I can share these two essays.

Today, I give you George Monbiot’s essay Suing For Survival.

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Suing For Survival

Our legal action against the government aims to shut down fossil fuels

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 4th March 2020

Our survival is not an afterthought. The defence of the living planet cannot be tacked retrospectively onto business as usual. Yet this is how almost all governments operate. They slap the word “sustainable” on damaging projects they have already approved, then insist this means they’ve gone green. If we are to survive and prosper, everything must change. Every decision should begin with the question of what the planet can withstand.

This means that any discussion about new infrastructure should begin with ecological constraints. The figures are stark. A paper published in Nature last year showed that existing energy infrastructure, if it is allowed to run to the end of its natural life, will produce around 660 gigatonnes of CO2. Yet, to stand a reasonable chance of preventing more than 1.5°C of global heating, we can afford to release, in total, no more than 580 gigatonnes. In other words, far from building new fossil power plants, the survival of a habitable planet means retiring the damaging projects that have already been built. Electricity plants burning coal and gas and oil will not secure our prosperity. They will destroy it.

But everywhere special interests dominate. Construction projects are driven, above all, by the lobbying of the construction industry, consultancies and financiers. Gigantic and destructive schemes, such as the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway, are invented by lobbyists for the purpose of generating contracts. Political support is drummed up, the project achieves its own momentum, then, belatedly, a feeble attempt is made to demonstrate that it can somehow become compatible with environmental promises. This is what destroys civilisations: a mismatch between the greed of economic elites and the needs of society.

But last week, something momentous happened. The decision to build a scheme with vast financial backing and terrible environmental impacts was struck down by the Court of Appeal. The judges decided that government policy, on which planning permission for a third runway at Heathrow was based, had failed to take account of the UK’s climate commitments, and was therefore unlawful. This is – or should be – the end of business as usual.

The Heathrow decision stands as a massive and crucial precedent. Now we must use it to insist that governments everywhere put our survival first, and the demands of corporate lobbyists last. To this end, with the Good Law Project and Dale Vince, the founder of Ecotricity, I’m pursuing a similar claim. In this case, we are challenging the UK government’s policy for approving new energy projects.

On Tuesday, we delivered a “letter before action” to the Treasury solicitor. We’ve given the government 21 days to accept our case and change its policy to reflect the climate commitments agreed by Parliament. If it fails to do so, we shall issue proceedings in the High Court to have the policy declared unlawful. We’ll need money, so we’ve launched a crowdfunding appeal to finance the action.

It’s hard to see how the government could resist our case. The Heathrow judgement hung on the government’s national policy statement on airports. This, the judges found, had not been updated to take account of the Paris climate agreement. New fossil fuel plants, such as the gas burners at Drax in Yorkshire the government approved last October, are enabled by something very similar: the national policy statements on energy infrastructure. These have not been updated since they were published in 2011. As a result, they take no account of the Paris agreement, of the government’s new climate target (net zero by 2050, as opposed to an 80% cut) or of Parliament’s declaration of a climate emergency. The main policy statement says that the European Emissions Trading System “forms the cornerstone of UK action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector”. As we have left the EU, this, obviously, no longer holds. The planning act obliges the government to review its national policy statements when circumstances change. It has failed to do so. It is disregarding its own laws.

These outdated policy statements create a presumption in favour of new fossil fuel plants. Once a national policy statement has been published, there is little objectors can do to prevent damaging projects from going ahead. In approving the Drax plant, the secretary of state for business and energy at the time (Andrea Leadsom) insisted that the policy statement came first, regardless of the climate impacts. Catastrophic decisions like this will continue to be made until the statements change. They are incompatible with either the government’s new climate commitments or a habitable planet.

While we are challenging the government’s energy policies, another group – the Transport Action Network – is about to challenge its road building schemes on the same basis. It points out that the national policy statement on road networks is also outdated and incompatible with the UK’s climate commitments. The policy statement, astonishingly, insists that “any increase in carbon emissions is not a reason to refuse development consent“, unless the increase is so great that the road would prevent the government from meeting its national targets. No single road project can be disqualified on these grounds. But the cumulative effect of new road building ensures that the UK will inevitably bust its carbon targets. While carbon emissions are officially disregarded, minuscule time savings are used to justify massive and damaging projects.

Transport emissions have been rising for the past five years, partly because of road building. The government tries to justify its schemes by claiming that cars will use less fossil fuel. But because they are becoming bigger and heavier, new cars sold in the UK now produce more carbon dioxide per kilometre than older models.

The perverse and outdated national policy statement locks into place such damaging projects as the A303 works around Stonehenge, the A27 Arundel scheme, the Lower Thames crossing, the Port of Liverpool access road, the Silvertown tunnel in London and the Wensum Link road in Norfolk. A government seeking to protect the lives of current and future generations would immediately strike down the policy that supports these projects, and replace it with one that emphasised walking, cycling and public transport.

A third action has been launched by Chris Packham and the law firm Leigh Day, challenging HS2 on similar grounds. Its carbon emissions were not properly taken into account, and its environmental impacts were assessed before the government signed the Paris agreement.

Already, the Heathrow decision is resonating around the world. Now we need to drive its implications home, by suing for survival. If we can oblige governments to resist the demands of corporate lobbyists and put life before profit, humanity might just stand a chance.

http://www.monbiot.com

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Now this essay is about the situation in the U.K. but only a fool would think that it’s not relevant to the rest of the planet.

I beseech you to read it!

“Life before profit.” Now there’s a thought!

How to live with uncertainty.

Another essay that is nothing to do with dogs!

I have long been a subscriber to The Conversation. They seem to be politically neutral as well as giving permission for their essays to be republished elsewhere.

This particular essay chimed with me because for some time, one or two years sort of time-span, the number of people agreeing with the statement, “It’s a strange world“, has measurably grown. At first I thought it was a question of politics, both sides of The Atlantic, but I have recently come to the opinion that it is deeper than that.

This encapsulates the idea perfectly.

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How CEOs, experts and philosophers see the world’s biggest risks differently

By   Professor of Ethics and Business Law, University of St. Thomas

January 27, 2020

We live in a world threatened by numerous existential risks that no country or organization can resolve alone, such as climate change, extreme weather and the coronavirus.

But in order to adequately address them, we need agreement on which are priorities – and which aren’t.

As it happens, the policymakers and business leaders who largely determine which risks become global priorities spent a week in January mingling in the mountainous resort of Davos for an annual meeting of the world’s elite.

I participated in a global risk assessment survey that informed those at the Davos summit on what they should be paying the most attention to. The results, drawn from experts in a broad range of disciplines including business, happen to be very different from what company CEOs specifically see as the biggest threats they face.

As a philosopher, I found the differences curious. They highlight two contrasting ways of seeing the world – with significant consequences for our ability to address societal risks.

Wildfires in Australia have destroyed more than 3,000 homes and razed more than 10.6 million hectares since September. AP Photo/Noah Berger

Two perspectives on the biggest risks

The World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report consolidates the perceptions of about 800 experts in business, government and civil society to rank “the world’s most pressing challenges” for the coming year by likelihood and impact.

In 2020, extreme weather, a failure to act on climate change and natural disasters topped the list of risks in terms of likelihood of occurrence. In terms of impact, the top three were climate action failure, weapons of mass destruction and a loss of biodiversity.

The specific perspective of corporate leaders, however, is captured in another survey that highlights what they perceive as the biggest risks to their own businesses’ growth prospects. Conducted by consultancy PwC since 1998, it also holds sway in Davos. I’ve been involved in that report as well when I used to work for the organization.

In sharp contrast to the World Economic Forum’s risk report, the CEO survey found that the top three risks to business this year are overregulation, trade conflicts and uncertain economic growth.

President Trump’s trade war and other economic concerns tend to be the focus of corporate CEOs. AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Economic or ethical

What explains such a big difference in how these groups see the greatest threats?

I wanted to look at this question more deeply, beyond one year’s assessment, so I did a simple analysis of 14 years of data generated by the two reports. My findings are only inferences from publicly available data, and it should be noted that the two surveys have different methodologies and ask different questions that may shape respondents’ answers.

A key difference I observed is that business leaders tend to think in economic terms first and ethical terms second. That is, businesses, as you’d expect, tend to focus on their short-term economic situation, while civil society and other experts in the Global Risk Report focus on longer-term social and environmental consequences.

For example, year after year, CEOs have named a comparatively stable set of narrow concerns. Overregulation is among the main three threats in all but one of the years – and is frequently at the top of the list. Availability of talent, government fiscal concerns and the economy were also frequently mentioned over the past 14 years.

In contrast, the Global Risk Report tends to reflect a greater evolution in the types of risks the world faces, with concerns about the environment and existential threats growing increasingly prominent over the past five years, while economic and geopolitical risks have faded after dominating in the late 2000s.

A philosophical perspective

Risk surveys are useful tools for understanding what matters to CEOs and civil society. Philosophy is useful for considering why their priorities differ, and whose are likelier to be right.

Fundamentally, risks are about interests. Businesses want a minimum of regulations so they can make more money today. Experts representing constituencies beyond just business place a greater emphasis on the common good, now and in the future.

When interests are in tension, philosophy can help us sort between them. And while I’m sympathetic to CEOs’ desire to run their businesses without regulatory interference, I’m concerned that these short-term economic considerations often impede long-term ethical goals, such as looking after the well-being of the environment.

An uncertain world

Experts agree on at least one thing: The world faces dire risks.

This year’s Global Risk Report, titled, “An Unsettled World,” depicts on its cover a vulnerable earth in the shadow of a gigantic whirlpool.

The cover photograph of the Global CEO Survey, which reported the lowest CEO confidence in economic growth since the Great Recession, shows an incoming tide beneath looming dark clouds, with the words: “Navigating the Rising Tide of Uncertainty.”

Between the covers, however, the reports demonstrate a wide gap between two influential groups that need to be on the same page if we hope to resolve the world’s biggest threats.

Last century, in the same year that World War II drew to a close, Bertrand Russell proclaimed that

Bertrand Russell. Naci Yavuz/Shurterstock.com

the purpose of philosophy was to teach us “how to live without certainty, and yet without being paralyzed by hesitation.”

In the 21st century, philosophy can remind us of our unfortunate tendency to let economic priorities paralyze action on more pressing concerns.

[ You’re smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can read us daily by subscribing to our newsletter. ]

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Bertrand Russell was a great philosopher. Well he was that and much more. Wikipedia remind us that he “was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, writer, essayist, social critic, political activist, and Nobel laureate.”

He died at the age of 97 on the 2nd February, 1970; fifty years ago as of yesterday.

I’ll close with another quote from the great man:

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts. …”

We’re back!

On last Thursday morning, at 02:30, in the middle of a huge storm the electricity was lost. So was the telephone and the internet.

The electricity was restored at 04:30 on Friday, the telephone later in the morning but no internet.

Finally, the internet was restored at 21:00 last night, too late to do anything useful.

So that explains the absence of yours truly over the last three days. Hopefully, if it remains on there will be a normal post at midnight tonight. All times are Pacific Time.

It was a huge storm with about 6 inches of snow.

It’s a New Year!

Well we have passed the Solstice!

Each year I try and promote the fact that we are in a New Year.

This year’s December Solstice took place at the moment this post was published: 20:19 PST .

Or in the words of EarthSky.org:

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All you need to know: December solstice

Posted by in | December 15, 2019

December solstice 2019 arrives on December 22 at 4:19 UTC.

That’s December 21 for much of North America. High summer for the Southern Hemisphere. For the Northern Hemisphere, the return of more sunlight!

Ian Hennes in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada, created this solargraph between a June solstice and a December solstice. It shows the path of the sun during that time period.

Late dawn. Early sunset. Short day. Long night. For us in the Northern Hemisphere, the December solstice marks the longest night and shortest day of the year. Meanwhile, on the day of the December solstice, the Southern Hemisphere has its longest day and shortest night. The 2019 December solstice takes place on Sunday, December 22, at 04:19 UTC (That’s December 21 at 10:19 p.m. CST; translate UTC to your time).

No matter where you live on Earth’s globe, a solstice is your signal to celebrate.

When is the solstice? The solstice happens at the same instant for all of us, everywhere on Earth. In 2019, the December solstice comes on December 21 at 10:19 p.m. CST. That’s on December 22 at 04:19 Universal Time (UTC). It’s when the sun on our sky’s dome reaches its farthest southward point for the year. At this solstice, the Northern Hemisphere has its shortest day and longest night of the year.

To find the time in your location, you have to translate to your time zone. Click here to translate Universal Time to your local time.

Just remember: you’re translating from 04:19 UT on December 22. For example, if you live in Perth, Australia, you need to add 8 hours to Universal Time to find out that the solstice happens on Sunday, December 22, at 12:19 p.m. AWST (Australian Western Standard Time).

Day and night sides of Earth at the instant of the December 2019 solstice (December 22, 2019, at 04:19 UTC). Image via EarthView.

What is a solstice? The earliest people on Earth knew that the sun’s path across the sky, the length of daylight, and the location of the sunrise and sunset all shifted in a regular way throughout the year. They built monuments such as Stonehenge in England – or, for example, at Machu Picchu in Peru – to follow the sun’s yearly progress.

But we today see the solstice differently. We can picture it from the vantage point of space. Today, we know that the solstice is an astronomical event, caused by Earth’s tilt on its axis and its motion in orbit around the sun.

Because Earth doesn’t orbit upright, but is instead tilted on its axis by 23 1/2 degrees, Earth’s Northern and Southern Hemispheres trade places in receiving the sun’s light and warmth most directly. The tilt of the Earth – not our distance from the sun – is what causes winter and summer. At the December solstice, the Northern Hemisphere is leaning most away from the sun for the year.

At the December solstice, Earth is positioned in its orbit so that the sun stays below the North Pole horizon. As seen from 23 1/2 degrees south of the equator, at the imaginary line encircling the globe known as the Tropic of Capricorn, the sun shines directly overhead at noon. This is as far south as the sun ever gets. All locations south of the equator have day lengths greater than 12 hours at the December solstice. Meanwhile, all locations north of the equator have day lengths less than 12 hours.

For us on the northern part of Earth, the shortest day comes at the solstice. After the winter solstice, the days get longer, and the nights shorter. It’s a seasonal shift that nearly everyone notices.

Earth has seasons because our world is tilted on its axis with respect to our orbit around the sun. Image via NASA.

Where should I look to see signs of the solstice in nature? Everywhere.

For all of Earth’s creatures, nothing is so fundamental as the length of daylight. After all, the sun is the ultimate source of all light and warmth on Earth.

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, you can notice the late dawns and early sunsets, and the low arc of the sun across the sky each day. You might notice how low the sun appears in the sky at local noon. And be sure to look at your noontime shadow. Around the time of the December solstice, it’s your longest noontime shadow of the year.

In the Southern Hemisphere, it’s opposite. Dawn comes early, and dusk comes late. The sun is high. It’s your shortest noontime shadow of the year.

Around the time of the winter solstice, watch for late dawns, early sunsets, and the low arc of the sun across the sky each day. Notice your noontime shadow, the longest of the year. Photo via Serge Arsenie on Flickr.
Meanwhile, at the summer solstice, noontime shadows are short. Photo via the Slam Summer Beach Volleyball festival in Australia.

Why doesn’t the earliest sunset come on the shortest day? The December solstice marks the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and longest day in the Southern Hemisphere. But the earliest sunset – or earliest sunrise if you’re south of the equator – happens before the December solstice. Many people notice this, and ask about it.

The key to understanding the earliest sunset is not to focus on the time of sunset or sunrise. The key is to focus on what is called true solar noon – the time of day that the sun reaches its highest point in its journey across your sky.

In early December, true solar noon comes nearly 10 minutes earlier by the clock than it does at the solstice around December 22. With true noon coming later on the solstice, so will the sunrise and sunset times.

It’s this discrepancy between clock time and sun time that causes the Northern Hemisphere’s earliest sunset and the Southern Hemisphere’s earliest sunrise to precede the December solstice.

The discrepancy occurs primarily because of the tilt of the Earth’s axis. A secondary but another contributing factor to this discrepancy between clock noon and sun noon comes from the Earth’s elliptical – oblong – orbit around the sun. The Earth’s orbit is not a perfect circle, and when we’re closest to the sun, our world moves fastest in orbit. Our closest point to the sun – or perihelion – comes in early January. So we are moving fastest in orbit around now, slightly faster than our average speed of about 18.5 miles per second (30 kilometers per second). The discrepancy between sun time and clock time is greater around the December solstice than the June solstice because we’re nearer the sun at this time of year.

Solstice sunsets, showing the sun’s position on the local horizon at December 2015 (left) and June 2016 (right) solstices from Mutare, Zimbabwe, via Peter Lowenstein.

The precise date of the earliest sunset depends on your latitude. At mid-northern latitudes, it comes in early December each year. At northern temperate latitudes farther north – such as in Canada and Alaska – the year’s earliest sunset comes around mid-December. Close to the Arctic Circle, the earliest sunset and the December solstice occur on or near the same day.

By the way, the latest sunrise doesn’t come on the solstice either. From mid-northern latitudes, the latest sunrise comes in early January.

The exact dates vary, but the sequence is always the same: earliest sunset in early December, shortest day on the solstice around December 22, latest sunrise in early January.

And so the cycle continues.

Solstice Pyrotechnics II by groovehouse on Flickr.

Bottom line: The 2019 December solstice takes place on Sunday, December 22, at 04:19 UTC (that’s December 21 at 10:19 p.m. CST; translate UTC to your time). It marks the Northern Hemisphere’s shortest day (first day of winter) and Southern Hemisphere’s longest day (first day of summer). Happy solstice, everyone!

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Well for many in the Northern Hemisphere the worst of the winter weather is yet to come.

But at least the days are drawing longer.

Welcome to the start of a New Year!

Dogs are meat-eaters!

Humans are not – never have been!

On Monday when Jeannie and I went to our regular session at Club Northwest, Jean to her Rock Steady class, and me to spend 45 minutes with Austin Raymond, one of the fitness coaches, he and I were speaking of health in general and veganism in particular. Austin, Jean and I are vegans.

Austin mentioned had we watched the film The Game Changers on Netflix? I replied that we had not but we were subscribers to Netflix and would watch it in the evening.

Well what an incredible film! I mean really incredible!

P.S. If you are a Netflix subscriber then you may watch it without any fuss.

(So I taken time out from book writing to publish this post; I’m over 9,000 words already written in November!)

Here’s a YouTube trailer to the film:

Have you ever seen an ox eating meat!

But apart from the solid science that we never were meat-eaters were the facts about illness being so much prevalent in those eating meat compared to vegans. That was just one aspect of the film that grabbed our attention! There were many more.

Back to fundamentals!

Let’s examine one fact, the jaw shape.

Here’s the jaw of a dog.

Dog skull and jaw isolated on white

and here’s another:

That is a mouth that has evolved to tear meat from an animal.

And here’s the jaw of a human:

and the picture of the whole skull.

Notice that the teeth have always been adapted to eat fruit and vegetables.

And that’s before we think how much land has been converted from natural land and forest to grazing land for cattle and sheep!

Now I don’t know how long the full documentary will remain for free on YouTube but here it is:

It is an hour and twenty-five minutes long.

But PLEASE watch it! It’s very important.

And I would be very interested in your thoughts!

In my opinion this is as important as it gets.

Thank you, Austin!