Tag: Grist

Smoke and Mirrors

Let me start with a quotation:

I’m not a pessimist, even though I do think awful things are going to happen.

James Lovelock

The author of that quote is fellow Englishman, albeit a tad older than yours truly, Mr. James Lovelock. WikiPedia describes him, thus (in part):

James Ephraim Lovelock CHCBEFRS[2] (born 26 July 1919) is an independent scientist, environmentalist and futurist who lives in Devon, England. He is best known for proposing the Gaia hypothesis, which postulates that the Earth functions as a self-regulating system.[5]

Moving on.

These times in this fine country, The United States of America, are troubling as Rebecca Gordon set out so compellingly in yesterday’s post.

But what is so terrible about these times is the failure to put integrity at the heart of every pronouncement that comes from a Government. And it would be grossly unfair to pick on the present US Government as the only example of this failure.

Because just a few mouse clicks can inform millions of us as to the real issues. Such as the effect that Climate Change is having on our health, as this recent Grist article so aptly put it in the opening paragraphs:

Here are 4 ways climate change is messing with our brains — for the worse.

We might think of climate change as purely physical: wildfires blazing through forests, rising seas lapping at the doors of coastal homes.

But those brutal conditions also affect our mental health, changing how we think and act. Mental health professionals are paying attention to the link between climate change and emotional health — and health insurance companies are, too.

Or take the issue of the state of America’s water. Recently the subject of an important essay just presented by Naked Capitalism:

America’s Hidden Water Affordability Crisis

Yves here. Grist has been doing an admirable job of keeping on top of this important yet oddly still-under-the-radar story. In the US, the big driver of rising water costs is the need to invest in aging, neglected water works. But water is going to become an issue in many places for differing reasons. As we have been saying for years, the natural resource that is projected to come under pressure first is potable water. And please don’t push desalination as a magic bullet. That costs money (both the plants and new transportation infrastructure, uses energy, plus has the not-trivial problem of how to dispose of the salt residues.

By Ciara O’Rourke, a freelance writer and 2015-16 Ted Scripps Fellow in Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado Boulder. Originally published by Fusion and reproduced at Grist as part of the Climate Desk collaboration

When Elizabeth Mack wondered about a future in which Americans wouldn’t be able to pay for water, a couple of colleagues waved her off. “Don’t be ridiculous,” they said. But the idea niggled at Mack, an assistant professor at the Department of Geography, Environment, and Spatial Sciences at Michigan State University. And in January, in an article published in the science journal PLOS ONE, she asked a new question: Is there a burgeoning water affordability crisis in the United States?

Mack, along with research assistant Sarah Wrase, determined that if water rates increase at projected amounts over the next five years, the percentage of households that can’t pay their water bills could triple from 11.9 percent to more than a third. Nearly 14 million households nationwide already struggle to afford water services. An additional 27.18 million — or 8.5 percent of the country’s population — could soon face the same challenges.

Yes, integrity in politics is more, so much more, than a nice idea from this silly old Brit now living in Oregon. Here’s a post I published some four years ago that says it as clearly as it needs to be said.

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Reflections on Integrity.

Going back to basics.

Many will know the origins of this blog; a chance comment by Jon Lavin back in England in early 2007 that dogs were integrous, (a score of 210 as defined by Dr David Hawkins).

Way back in 2009, I wrote this:

“There is nothing to fear except the persistent refusal to find out the truth, the persistent refusal to analyse the causes of happenings.” Dorothy Thompson.

When I started Learning from Dogs I was initially rather vague but knew that the Blog should reflect the growing need for greater integrity and mindfulness in our planetary civilisation. Here are some early musings,

Show that integrity delivers better results … integrity doesn’t require force … networking power of a group … demonstrate the power of intention … cut through the power of propaganda and media distortion …

Promulgate the idea that integrity is the glue that holds a just society together … urgent need as society under huge pressures …. want a decent world for my grandchildren … for all our grandchildren …. feels like the 11th hour….

But as the initial, rather hesitant, start to the Blog settled into a reliable, daily posting, and as the minuscule number of readers steadily grew to the present level of many hundreds each day, the clarity of the purpose of Learning from Dogs also improved.

Because, while it may sound a tad grandiose and pompous, if society doesn’t eschew the games, half-truths and selfish attitudes of the last, say, 30 years or more, then civilisation, as we know it, could be under threat.

Or, possibly, it’s more accurate to say that our civilisation is under threat and the time left to change our ways, to embrace those qualities of integrity, truth and consciousness for the very planet we all live on, is running out.

Time left to change our ways is running out.

So what’s rattled my cage, so to speak, that prompted today’s reflection? I’ll tell you! (You knew I was going to anyway, didn’t you!)

I’m drafting these thoughts around noon Pacific Standard Time on Sunday, 17th. At the same time, tens of thousands of ordinary good folk (40,000 plus at the latest estimate) are gathering by the Washington Monument ready to march past the White House demanding that President Obama block the Keystone XL pipeline and move forward toward climate action.

Do I trust the US Government to take this action? On balance, no! That hurts me terribly to write that. I really want to trust and believe what the President of my new home country says.

State of the Union speech 2013. AP photo.
State of the Union speech 2013. AP photo.

Here’s a snippet of what the President did say in his State of the Union speech on February 12th.

Now, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods, all are now more frequent and more intense.

We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science and act before it’s too late.

A frank admission that the climate is changing in dramatic ways; the overwhelming judgment of science – fantastic!

The evidence that burning carbon-based fuels (coal, oil, gas) is the primary cause of today’s high CO2 levels is overwhelming. As a recent BBC radio programme reveals (being featured tomorrow) huge climate changes going back millions of years are a natural part of Earth’s history. However, as one of the scientists explains at the end of that radio programme, the present CO2 level, 395.55 ppm as of January, is now way above the safe, stable limit for the majority of life species on the planet.

But say you are reading this and are not yet convinced?

Let me borrow an old pilot’s saying from the world of aviation: If there’s any doubt, there’s no doubt!

That embracing, cautious attitude is part of the reason why commercial air transport is among the most safest forms of transport. If you had the slightest doubt about the safety of a flight, you wouldn’t board the aircraft.

If you had the slightest doubt about the future for civilisation on this planet likewise you would do something! Remember, that dry word civilisation means family, children, grandchildren, friends and loved ones. The last thing you would do is to carry on as before!

Which is where my lack of trust of leaders comes from!

Back to that State of the Union speech. Just 210 words after the spoken words “act before it’s too late” (I counted them!) Pres. Obama says, “That’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.

Here’s the relevant section:

I will direct my cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.

Now, four years ago, other countries dominated the clean-energy market and the jobs that came with it. And we’ve begun to change that. Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America. So let’s generate even more. Solar energy gets cheaper by the year. Let’s drive down costs even further. As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.

Now, in the meantime, the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. We need to encourage that. That’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.

We don’t require any more oil to be used. We are already using a staggering amount of it. Let me refer you to an essay on Nature Bats Last called Math. The scary kind, not the fuzzy kind. Prof. McPherson wrote:

I performed a little rudimentary math last week. A little because even a little pushes my limit for math, these days. And rudimentary for the same reason. The outcome was staggering: We’re using oil at the rate of 5,500 cubic feet per second (cfs).

5,500 cubic feet per second” Don’t know about you but I have some trouble in visualising that flow rate. Try this from later in the essay:

Here’s another shot of perspective: We burn a cubic mile of crude oil every year. The Empire State Building, the world’s ninth-tallest building, towers above New York at 1,250 feet. The world’s tallest building, Taipei 101, is 1,667 feet from ground to tip.

Put those buildings together, end to end, and you have one side of a cube. Do it again, and you have the second side. Once more, but this time straight up, and you have one big cube. Filling that cube with oil takes nearly 200 billion gallons … which is about one-sixth the size of the cube of oil we’re burning every year.

Burning a cubic mile every year! Yes, Mr. President, more oil permits is a wonderful way of taking action before it’s too late!

cubic mile
Image taken from http://www.flashevap.com/bigthings.htm

So let’s see what transpires? Let’s see if integrity is given the highest political focus. As in “adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.” Because if there’s ever been a time when all of us, from every spectrum of society need honesty about what we are doing to the planet, it’s now!

As the tag on the home page of this blog says, “Dogs are integrous animals. We have much to learn from them.

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Going to close with two more quotations from Mr. Lovelock.

The first:

You never know with politicians what they are really saying. And I don’t say that in a negative way-they have an appalling job.

And the second one to close today’s post:

If you start any large theory, such as quantum mechanics, plate tectonics, evolution, it takes about 40 years for mainstream science to come around. Gaia has been going for only 30 years or so.

Interconnections Three

Is there a case for optimism? You bet there is!

To be honest, at a personal level I just don’t know the answer to that question. It seems to depend on the mood that Jean and I are in at any particular time. All I can fall back on is that well-used saying from me: “Never underestimate the power of unintended consequences”.

In other words, we shouldn’t underestimate the strength of millions of good people when their demands start reaching out to those in power. (And whatever your reaction to this post, please don’t miss watching the inspirational Al Gore speech towards the end of this post.)

Recently over on the Grist site there was an article about the critical changes that each and every one of us should be making. I want to share it with you in full.

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Want to fight climate change? Here are the 7 critical life changes you should make

Interconnections Two

Continuing the stark assessment of where we are today.

In yesterday’s post I covered the first five of the eleven facts about sea-level rise. Here are the rest of those facts.

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11 alarming facts about sea-level rise

Russell McLendon, February 26, 2016.

6. Sea levels could rise another 1.3 meters (4.3 feet) in the next 80 years.

sea-level rise mapThis map shows areas that would flood (marked in red) due to 1-meter sea-level rise. (Photo: NASA)

In another study published this month, scientists report that global sea levels will likely rise 0.5 to 1.3 meters (1.6 to 4.3 feet) by the end of this century if greenhouse gas emissions aren’t rapidly reduced. Even if last year’s Paris Agreement does spur ambitious climate policy, sea levels are still projected to rise 20 to 60 cm (7.8 to 23.6 inches) by 2100. Taken with the longer-term effects from melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, that means any strategy to endure sea-level rise must involve adaptation plans as well as efforts to slow the trend.

7. Up to 216 million people currently live on land that will be below sea level or regular flood levels by 2100.

coastal flooding in Typhoon FitowHigher sea levels can exacerbate storm surges, like this 2013 flood in Wenzhou, China. (Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Of the estimated 147 million to 216 million people in harm’s way, between 41 million and 63 million live in China. Twelve nations have more than 10 million people living on land at risk from sea-level rise, including China as well as India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia and Japan. Bangladesh is especially vulnerable, identified by the U.N. as the country most in danger from rising seas. Once the ocean rises by 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) next century, it will affect 16 percent of Bangladesh’s land area and 15 percent of its population — that’s 22,000 km2 (8,500 mi2) and 17 million people.

The situation is also urgent for low-lying island nations like Kiribati, the Maldives, the Marshall Islands and the Solomon Islands, where land is already so close to sea level that a few inches make a world of difference. Some are even mulling mass relocations — the government of Kiribati, for one, has a web page outlining its strategy for “migration with dignity.” A town on Taro Island, the capital of Choiseul Province in the Solomon Islands, is also planning to move its entire population in response to rising seas. The small community of Newtok, Alaska, has already begun the difficult process of transplanting itself away from the encroaching coast.

8. Sea-level rise can contaminate water used for drinking and irrigation.

saltwater intrusionSea-level rise can aid saltwater intrusion of freshwater aquifers, as seen in this schematic illustration. (Image: NRC.gov)

In addition to surface flooding, sea-level rise can both push up the freshwater table and contaminate it with seawater, a phenomenon known as saltwater intrusion. Many coastal areas rely on aquifers for drinking water and irrigation, and once they’re tainted by saltwater they may be unsafe for humans as well as crops.

It is possible to remove salt from water, but the process is complex and costly. San Diego County recently opened the Western Hemisphere’s largest desalination plant, for example, and several other sites are proposed in the state. Yet that may not be practical for many coastal communities, especially in less wealthy nations.

9. It can also threaten coastal plant and animal life.

loggerhead sea turtle hatchlingFloods fueled by rising seas may harm baby sea turtles, like these South African loggerheads. (Photo: Jeroen Looyé/Flickr)

Humans aren’t the only ones who’ll suffer as sea levels rise. Any coastal plants or animals that can’t quickly move to new, less flood-prone habitats could face dire consequences. As one 2015 study noted, sea turtles have a long-established habit of laying eggs on beaches, which need to stay relatively dry for their babies to hatch.

Inundation for one to three hours reduced egg viability by less than 10 percent, the study’s authors found, but six hours underwater cut viability by about 30 percent. “All embryonic developmental stages were vulnerable to mortality from saltwater inundation,” the researchers write. Even for hatchlings that do survive, being starved of oxygen in the egg could lead to developmental problems later in life, they add.

Other beach life may also be at risk, including plants. A recent study found that some salt marshes can adapt, both by growing vertically and by moving inland, but not all flora will be so fortunate. “Trees have to work harder to pull water out of salty soil; as a result, their growth can be stunted — and if the soil is salty enough, they will die, a common sign of sea-level rise,” Climate Central explains. “Even trees that are especially suited to salty soil can’t survive repeated flooding by seawater.”

10. Global flood damage for large coastal cities could cost $1 trillion a year if cities don’t take steps to adapt.

sea-level rise in TokyoThis Google Earth simulation shows a Tokyo neighborhood with 1.3-meter sea-level rise. (Image: Google Earth)

The average global losses from flooding in 2005 were about $6 billion, but the World Bank estimates they’ll rise to $52 billion per year by 2050 based on socioeconomic changes alone. (That means things like increasing coastal populations and property value). If you add the effects of sea-level rise and sinking land — which is happening even faster in some places — the cost could surge to $1 trillion per year.

11. It’s too late to stop sea-level rise — but not too late to save lives from it.

iceberg off GreenlandA full moon shines over an iceberg that broke off Greenland’s Jakobshavn Glacier. If the entire Greenland ice sheet melted, sea levels would rise about 6 meters, or 20 feet. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Unfortunately, CO2 emissions linger in the atmosphere for centuries, and today’s CO2 levels have already committed Earth to dangerous sea-level rise. About 99 percent of all freshwater ice resides in two ice sheets: one in Antarctica and one in Greenland. Both are expected to melt if humanity’s CO2 output isn’t curbed quickly, but the question is when — and how much damage we still have time to prevent.

The Greenland ice sheet is smaller and melting more quickly. If it completely melted, sea levels would rise by about 6 meters (20 feet). The Antarctic ice sheet has been more buffered from warming so far, but it’s hardly immune, and would raise the ocean by 60 meters (200 feet) if it melted. (Estimates vary widely on how long these ice sheets might survive — while most expect they’ll take centuries or millennia to melt, a controversial 2015 paper suggested it could happen much more quickly.)

Sea levels have naturally risen and receded for billions of years, but they’ve never risen this quickly in modern history — and they’ve never had so much human help. It’s unclear what effect they’ll have on our species, but what is clear is that our descendants will still be dealing with this problem long after we’re all gone. Giving them a head start on a solution is the least we can do.

“With all the greenhouse gases we already emitted, we cannot stop the seas from rising altogether, but we can substantially limit the rate of the rise by ending the use of fossil fuels,” says Anders Levermann, a climate scientist at Columbia University and co-author of the new study on future sea-level rise. “We try to give coastal planners what they need for adaptation planning, be it building dikes, designing insurance schemes for flooding or mapping long-term settlement retreat.”

As another recent study pointed out, any policy decisions made in the next few years and decades “will have profound impacts on global climate, ecosystems and human societies — not just for this century, but for the next ten millennia and beyond.”

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Tomorrow, in the final part of this three-part posting I will look at some positive things that we can all be doing now.

But let me leave you with a rather beautiful consequence of these changing times. As seen over on Grist:

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Incredible glacier art pays homage to our disappearing ice

Smart thinking – something else to learn from our dogs?

Because some of the things we humans do are insanely stupid!

Here’s a picture of Oliver taken yesterday afternoon.

Becoming a dear, smart dog. (And those eyes!)
Becoming a dear, smart dog. (And those eyes!)

A few days ago, I was sitting in our living room on one of our settees (more or less where Oliver was sitting when the photograph above was taken) with my knees up against a low coffee table; the table separates our two settees.

On the settee to my left lay Cleo and on the floor across my feet slept Hazel.

It was clear that Oliver wanted to join me on the settee but couldn’t work out if there was room.  I shifted about two feet to my left leaving an Oliver-sized gap to my right. However, Oliver couldn’t come past my knees, from left to right as it were, because of Hazel. He very quickly worked out to run around behind the settee and jump up into the space I had newly created to my right.

Don’t worry if I lost you!

The point I am making is that Oliver, who has grown into the most delightful young adult dog, with a gorgeous temperament, demonstrates daily a keen intelligence and a nose for working things out quickly.

All of which is a preamble for me wondering if among the list of qualities that we humans should learn from dogs we should add intelligence.

For there’s been a few items around the ‘blogosphere’ that have highlighted how silly we can be.

Take this item that recently was featured on Grist.

Walmart’s new green product label is the most misleading yet.

A giant, 150-foot roll of bubble wrap may not be your idea of an environmentally friendly product, but over at Walmart.com this one-pound ball of plastic now boasts a special “Sustainability Leaders” badge. It’s one of more than 3,000 products tagged with this new green label, which Walmart executives unveiled last week, together with a web portal where shoppers can find these items.

Dozens of news accounts hailed the giant retailer’s move as a significant step toward clearing up the confusion and misleading information that often greet consumers trying to make ecologically responsible choices. “The world’s largest retailer took a major and important step toward helping all of us shop more smartly,” declared corporate sustainability consultant Andrew Winston in Harvard Business Review. Triple Pundit concurred: “It’s about to get a lot easier for Walmart.com shoppers to make the responsible choice.”

Actually, a green-minded online shopper is likely to find Walmart’s new badge confusing, murky, and downright misleading. I searched the bubble wrap’s product page high and low for its secret sauce, the invisible feature that makes it a smarter choice amid the many seemingly less harmful packing options available, but found no explanation.

It turns out that the key to this mystery lies in a remarkable disclaimer tucked into the middle of the home page of Walmart’s sustainability shopping portal: “The Sustainability Leaders badge does not make representations about the environmental or social impact of an individual product.” (my emphasis)

You can read the full item here, and you should! It’s unbelievably stupid, apart from being highly misleading, to my mind because when the word gets around it will damage the trust that all retailers need from their customers. And don’t even bring up the notion of integrity!

Then over on George Monbiot’s blogsite, there is a recent essay about the UN and progress on climate change. Here’s how it starts (and I’m republishing it in full tomorrow):

Applauding Themselves to Death

If you visit the website of the UN body that oversees the world’s climate negotiations, you will find dozens of pictures, taken across 20 years, of people clapping. These photos should be of interest to anthropologists and psychologists. For they show hundreds of intelligent, educated, well-paid and elegantly-dressed people wasting their lives.

The celebratory nature of the images testifies to the world of make-believe these people inhabit. They are surrounded by objectives, principles, commitments, instruments and protocols, which create a reassuring phantasm of progress while the ship on which they travel slowly founders. Leafing through these photos, I imagine I can almost hear what the delegates are saying through their expensive dentistry. “Darling you’ve re-arranged the deckchairs beautifully. It’s a breakthrough! We’ll have to invent a mechanism for holding them in place, as the deck has developed a bit of a tilt, but we’ll do that at the next conference.”

Humans have the potential to be incredibly smart thinkers, and down the ages there have been many such thinkers.

But!

Over on the Patrice Ayme blogsite there have been a couple of recent essays that highlight examples of both stupid thinking and the rewards that flow from smart thinking. In one essay, Added Value in the XXI Century, Patrice writes:

SUPERIORITY OF THE WEST?

Why did the West become so superior? Or China, for that matter?

Technology. Superior technology. Coming from superior thinking. Both the Greeks and the Chinese had colossal contempt for barbarians. (In both cases it went so far that the Greeks lost everything, and the Chinese came very close to annihilation).

Around the year 1000 CE, the Vietnamese (it seems) invented new cultivars of rice, which could produce an entire crop, twice a year. The population of East Asia exploded accordingly.

A bit earlier, the Franks had invented new cultivars of beans. The Frankish Tenth Century was full of beans. Beans are nutritious, with high protein.

Homo is scientific and technological. Thus, two million years ago, pelt covered (tech!) Homo Ergaster lived in Georgia’s Little Caucasus, a pretty cold place in winter. And the population was highly varied genetically (showing tech and travel already dominated).

A GREATER OBSESSION WITH FREEDOM MADE THE WEST SUPERIOR:

Here is the very latest. Flour was found in England, in archeological layers as old as 10,000 years before present. It was pure flour: there were no husks associated. The milling had been done, far away. How far? Well the cultivation of wheat spread to Western Europe millennia later. The flour had been traded, and brought over thousands of miles. Most certainly by boat. Celtic civilization, which would rise 5,000 years later, was expert at oceanic travel.

What’s the broad picture? Not just that prehistoric Englishmen loved their flat bread, no doubt a delicacy. Advanced technology has permeated Europe for much longer than is still understood now by most historians. Remember that the iceman who died in a glacier, 5,000 years ago, was not just tattooed, and had fetched in the lowlands a bow made of special wood. More telling: he carried antibiotics.

Then in a subsequent essay, What Is It To Think Correctly?, Patrice opens, thus:

What Is It To Think Correctly?

Some say that correct thinking has to do with avoiding “logical fallacies”. That is, of course, silly. Imagine a pilot in a plane. Suppose she avoids all logical fallacies. Where does the plane go? Nowhere. Thinking correctly is more than avoiding logical “fallacies”.

One needs more than logic, to proceed: one needs e-motion, or motivation (both express the fact that they are whatever gets people to get into action; the semantics recognizes that logic without emotion goes nowhere).

There is another, related, fallacy in thinking that correct thinking is all about avoiding “logical fallacies”.

I don’t have the answers to the conundrum of stupid thinking a la Walmart and the United Nations (not an exclusive list; by far) but I do believe that the only way for humanity to overcome what looks like a very dangerous era ahead is through smarter thinking!

Oh, nearly forgot.

Oliver will be happy to run classes on smart thinking!

Good news is never far away

We all need a reminder of the many good things happening in our world!

It’s common knowledge that homo sapiens is wired to react to the threat of danger in a rapid manner.  But while the danger of a bear or a lion jumping on us from out of the trees is much diminished in the 21st century, our fear-response circuits are still alive and active.  One of the fundamental reasons why so much of the media ‘sells’ stories via alarmist headlines.

Thus it was a real delight to come across a magazine with the simple, yet powerful, brand name of YES!

Cover of the current issue of YES!
Cover of the current issue of YES!

Even better than coming across YES! was receiving a complimentary subscription for Jean and me!  (Thanks John H!)  Jean and I took to the magazine immediately.  Not only because of an active blog but also because of their support for sharing their content.  I quote:

Reprints & Reposts

We want you to pass along the work of YES! Magazine. All we ask is that you follow these easy steps:

Text

For all material designated Creative Commons (cc):

(as used herein, material means the text of the articles, and does not mean titles, images, or illustrations)

  • Use the same byline information that we have placed at the end of the article. For reposts, keep links intact.
  • Material is free except for commercial use.
  • Do not alter, change, or add to the material.
  • Please notify us that you are reprinting by sending an email to reprints [at] yesmagazine.org.

For full details, see the Creative Commons license.

Copyrighted © text:

We have adopted Creative Commons licensing beginning with our issue #44. We readily grant reprint permission for earlier copyrighted material, upon request. Just ask us at reprints [at] yesmagazine.org. We occasionally reprint or excerpt material that is copyrighted by others, and this material is NOT included in the Creative Commons license.

Moving on to the next good news item.

I forget how but recently came across the Buy Nothing Project.  As the ‘About’ page explains:

Buy Nothing. Give Freely. Share Creatively.

The Buy Nothing Project began as an experimental hyper-local gift economy on Bainbridge Island, WA; in just 8 months, it has become a social movement, growing to over 25,000 members in 150 groups, in 4 countries. Our local groups form gift economies that are complementary and parallel to local cash economies; whether people join because they’d like to quickly get rid of things that are cluttering their lives, or simply to save money by getting things for free, they quickly discover that our groups are not just another free recycling platform. A gift economy’s real wealth is the people involved and the web of connections that forms to support them. Time and again, members of our groups find themselves spending more and more time interacting in our groups, finding new ways to give back to the community that has brought humor, entertainment, and yes, free stuff into their lives. The Buy Nothing Project is about setting the scarcity model of our cash economy aside in favor of creatively and collaboratively sharing the abundance around us.

 

flowers
The gift of flowers. © Liesl Clark

How does the Buy Nothing Project work? Using the free platform provided by Facebook Groups, Buy Nothing Project members can easily participate with their local group. Our rules are simple: “Post anything you’d like to give away, lend, or share amongst neighbors. Ask for anything you’d like to receive for free or borrow. Keep it legal. Keep it civil. No buying or selling, no trades or bartering, we’re strictly a gift economy.” The transparency of Facebook groups’ design allows our members to see mutual friends they share with relative strangers, and to build trust based on real-life connections visible through personal profile information. This trust allows groups to grow quickly and encourages people to both give freely and ask for what they need; everything from toilet paper roll springs to rides home from the doctor; burial sites for beloved pets to freshly-baked bread and casseroles have been given freely; our members share things mundane and meaningful in equal measure, and throughout it all connect with each other by means of the shared personal stories and chatting encouraged by the platform. We rely on our co-founders’ daily guidance and direction for the development of our nascent culture, assisted by a team of volunteer local administrators who have on-the-ground knowledge of their communities.

The Buy Nothing Project Connects Us With Our Neighbors. © Liesl Clark
The Buy Nothing Project Connects Us With Our Neighbors. © Liesl Clark

Why the Buy Nothing Project? The Buy Nothing Project is brought to you by the creators of Trash Backwards (www.trashbackwards.com,) an app that helps you with the last of the 3 Rs, “Reusing” and “Recycling” the everyday things in your life. The Buy Nothing Project addresses the first of the 3 R’s, “Reduce” as well as the lesser-known Rs “Refuse” and “Rethink.” Participating in a local Buy Nothing Project group allows individuals and communities to reduce their own dependence on single-use and virgin materials by extending the life of existing items through gifting and sharing between group members. Rethinking consumption and refusing to buy new in favor of asking for an item from a neighbor may make an impact on the amount of goods manufactured in the first place, which in turn may put a dent in the overproduction of unnecessary goods that end up in our landfills, watersheds, and our seas. It most certainly creates connections between people who see each other in real life, not just online, leading to more robust communities that are better prepared to tackle both hard times and good by giving freely. The Trash Backwards app, blog articles, and Buy Nothing Project groups are diverting more materials from our landfills and oceans than we can possibly quantify as hundreds of items are rehomed each day.

The Buy Nothing Project Strengthens Communities.
The Buy Nothing Project Strengthens Communities.

Our Statistics:

With over 25,000 members and growing every day, we have a captive audience in each of our groups. Most members visit the group pages several times a day and many literally spend hours there, commenting, reading posts, while posting their own gifts and wants.

Our Trash Backwards blog, app, and the Buy Nothing Project website garner over 50,000 unique visitors per month. With 7,000 followers on Pinterest and 3,775 “likes” on our Facebook Pages, we have enough sway to bring significant traffic to our sites whenever we upload news or new blog posts.

Funding:

With funding to staff our core project, PR, legal help, design, and developers, the Buy Nothing movement will grow quickly, spreading the joys of gift economy giving and receiving. The world is ready for this experimental model of sharing our possessions and talents to help others, but the endeavor needs its basic operational costs covered to foster the movement even further.

Isn’t that a fabulous idea!

I’m determined to start a local group here in Merlin, Oregon.

My final item of good news, that I’m sure many others read about, was:

A declaration announced as part of a UN summit on climate change being held in New York also pledges to halve the rate of deforestation by the end of this decade and to restore hundreds of millions of acres of degraded land.

The Guardian newspaper released the news, as follows:

UN climate summit pledges to halt the loss of natural forests by 2030

New York declaration on forests could cut carbon emissions equivalent of taking all the world’s cars off the road

PEKANBARU, SUMATRA, INDONESIA - JULY 11:  A forest activist inspects land clearing and drainage of peat natural forest located on the concession of PT RAPP (Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper), a subsidiary of APRIL group which is being developed for a pulp and paper plantation at Pulau Padang, Kepulauan Meranti district on July 11, 2014 in Riau province, Sumatra, Indonesia. The Nature Climate Change journal has reported that Indonesia lost 840,000 hectares of natural forest in 2012 compared to 460,000 hectares in Brazil despite their forest being a quarter of the size of the Amazon rainforest. According to Greenpeace, the destruction of forests is driven by the expansion of palm oil and pulp & paper has increased the greenhouse gas emissions, pushing animals such as sumatran tigers to the brink of extinction, and local communities to lose their source of life. (Photo by Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images)
PEKANBARU, SUMATRA, INDONESIA – JULY 11: A forest activist inspects land clearing and drainage of peat natural forest located on the concession of PT RAPP (Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper), a subsidiary of APRIL group which is being developed for a pulp and paper plantation at Pulau Padang, Kepulauan Meranti district on July 11, 2014 in Riau province, Sumatra, Indonesia. The Nature Climate Change journal has reported that Indonesia lost 840,000 hectares of natural forest in 2012 compared to 460,000 hectares in Brazil despite their forest being a quarter of the size of the Amazon rainforest. According to Greenpeace, the destruction of forests is driven by the expansion of palm oil and pulp & paper has increased the greenhouse gas emissions, pushing animals such as sumatran tigers to the brink of extinction, and local communities to lose their source of life. (Photo by Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images)

Governments, multinational companies and campaigners are pledging to halt the loss of the world’s natural forests by 2030.

A declaration announced as part of a UN summit on climate change being held in New York also pledges to halve the rate of deforestation by the end of this decade and to restore hundreds of millions of acres of degraded land.

Backers of the New York declaration on forests claim their efforts could save between 4.5bn and 8.8bn tonnes of carbon emissions per year by 2030 – the equivalent of taking all the world’s cars off the road.

The UK, Germany and Norway have pledged to enter into up to 20 programmes over the next couple of years to pay countries for reducing their deforestation, which could be worth more than £700m.

Companies such as Kellogg’s, Marks & Spencer, Barclays, Nestle, the palm oil giant Cargill, Asia Pulp and Paper and charities including the RSPB, WWF and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) have signed the declaration.

The declaration’s supporters say ending the loss of the world’s natural forests will be an important part of limiting global temperature rises to 2C, beyond which the worst impacts of climate change are expected to be felt.

It comes after analysis suggests that land use change such as deforestation accounts for around 8% of the world’s carbon emissions, with carbon dioxide released when trees are felled and burned to free up land for agriculture or development.

“Forests represent one of the largest, most cost-effective climate solutions available today,” the declaration says.

“Action to conserve, sustainably manage and restore forests can contribute to economic growth, poverty alleviation, rule of law, food security, climate resilience and biodiversity conservation.”

Signatories to the declaration are committing to a number of steps to halt forest loss, including backing a private sector goal of eliminating deforestation from producing agricultural products such as palm oil, soy, paper and beef by no later than 2020.

They are also seeking to support alternatives to deforestation which is caused by subsistence farming and the need for wood fuel for energy and reward countries that reduce forest emissions.

Read the full article here.

I first picked up on this news courtesy of the Grist blog:

rainforest-e1411587105860

Cargill promises to stop chopping down rainforests. This is huge.

By Nathanael Johnson

Everything I’ve been reading about the U.N. Climate Summit had been making me pretty gloomy, until I read about the New York Declaration on Forests.

The first notice was a press release from the Rainforest Action Network informing me that Cargill, the agribusiness giant, had pledged “to protect forests in all of Cargill’s agricultural supply chains and to endorse the New York Declaration on Forests.” Cargill has a big handprint — they have soy silos in Brazil and palm oil plants in Malaysia. So as of now, if you want to carve a farm out of the jungle, you’re going to get the cold shoulder from a company that is a prime connector to world markets.

And this isn’t limited to hot-button crops like soy and oil palm. Here’s what Cargill’s CEO Dave MacLennan said at the U.N.: “We understand that this sort of commitment cannot be limited to just select commodities or supply chains,” said MacLennan. “That’s why Cargill will take practical measures to protect forests across our agricultural supply chains around the world.”

It’s not just Cargill. Kellogg’s, Unilever, Nestle, Asia Pulp and Paper, General Mills, Danone, Walmart, McDonalds, and many other corporations have committed to the New York Declaration on Forests. But, here’s why Cargill is interesting: It’s making a concrete pledge, while the actual declaration is pretty mushy at this point. The declaration calls for ending forest loss by 2030. And, to quote a U.N. brief: “It also calls for restoring forests and croplands of an area larger than India. Meeting these goals would cut between 4.5 and 8.8 billion tons of carbon pollution every year — about as much as the current emissions of the United States.” Or about as much as taking all the cars in the world off the roads — that’s another comparison I’ve seen. The details are supposed to be hammered out in time for the 2015 convention in Paris.

Again, read the rest of the article here.

So as much as you, I and hundreds of thousands of others get battered with ‘gloom and doom’ stories every single day, we do need to balance that out from time-to-time with the good things around us. Also every single day.

Now where’s a dog to hug!

AS18

Happy lives!

Happiness.

I guess that it would be difficult to find a greater change in topic than going from America’s relationship with war to the secret of happiness!  But that’s what’s on offer today!

All as a result of reading a recent article on the Grist blogsite written by one of the Grist staff writers, David Roberts.

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The secret to a happy life: revealed!

By David Roberts
10 Sep 2014

I don’t want to brag, but while I was on sabbatical I discovered the secret to happiness.

The crazy thing is, it was lying right there in the open. It’s been revealed dozens, hundreds of times over the course of human history. It’s revealed every day in ordinary human affairs, if you’re paying attention.

What is it? Let’s ask George Vaillant.

Vaillant is a Harvard psychologist who has been working for over 40 years on the Grant Study, one of the longest-running longitudinal studies in scientific history. It began tracking a set of 268 (white, physically and mentally healthy) men when they were sophomores at Harvard in 1939 and has been tracking them ever since, for 75 years, with exhaustive regular physical and psychological tests. It has followed them as they’ve grown, gone to war, married, divorced, worked, been fired, gotten sick, found God, and so on. (The ups and downs of the study’s history are recounted in this classic Atlantic piece, one of my favorite magazine stories ever.)

Vaillant has spent most of his adult life analyzing the data from the study, attempting to determine which factors most reliably correlate with well-being. He’s probably studied happiness longer, and in greater depth, than any other single human being. So what is it, George Vaillant? What’s the secret to a happy life?

“That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”

Wow. That’s pretty straightforward. But can you boil it down just a little more?

“Happiness is love. Full stop.”

All right then! There you have it. The secret to happiness, revealed. It’s love.

If you want to break it down a little more, there’s plenty of social science research on it. We live longer, healthier, happier lives when we are at the center of overlapping social networks, when we have a devoted life partner, close family and friends (and pets), extensive “weak ties” with acquaintances and colleagues, peer and professional networks that value our skills, and a sense of autonomy balanced with a sense of involvement in something larger than ourselves. We are happiest when we have a place in the world, when we love and are loved, when we make the most of our gifts.

This is all obvious, of course, and has been said a million times. But that’s the point. People want there to be a what of happiness, a secret, an epiphany that once you learn it changes you forever. But the what of happiness is banal. It’s been confirmed by research. It’s in a kajillion self-help books. It’s cliché.

The what of happiness is not the hard part. The how is the hard part. As a million deathbed testimonials have taught us, when we look back on our lives, we won’t wish we’d worked harder, maintained Inbox Zero, finished those reports on deadline, gotten more promotions, owned a nicer car. We’ll wish we’d spent more time appreciating the ones we love and who love us, that we’d done more meaningful work, that we’d traveled more and had more memorable experiences.

We all know this. But it is no easy matter to translate that knowledge into action. Why? Vaillant is insightful about that, too, as The Atlantic explains:

Vaillant [says] positive emotions make us more vulnerable than negative ones. One reason is that they’re future-oriented. Fear and sadness have immediate payoffs—protecting us from attack or attracting resources at times of distress. Gratitude and joy, over time, will yield better health and deeper connections—but in the short term actually put us at risk. That’s because, while negative emotions tend to be insulating, positive emotions expose us to the common elements of rejection and heartbreak.

Gratitude and joy are emotions we can muster when we don’t feel threatened, when our lizard brain calms and our prefrontal cortex takes over. But it’s very difficult when our egos feel under siege. Relationships are more meaningful the more we open and extend ourselves (and are reciprocated), but our degree of openness is also our degree of vulnerability. Often we close off, deciding, consciously or not, that it’s not worth the risk of getting hurt; our lizard-brain fear overpowers us.

We cannot control this dynamic entirely. As the Atlantic piece explains, researchers believe that about 50 percent of our happiness is determined by our internal “set point,” which is shaped by genetics and early childhood and mostly fixed in place. About 10 percent is determined by circumstances. But that other 40 percent comes from how we react to circumstances, and over that we do have some control.

We can learn to detach from fear and anger, to let them go, to take deep breaths, return our focus to the present, and choose positive emotions. That, as I wrote yesterday, is what mindfulness is all about. It’s what the entire discipline of positive psychology (which counts Vaillant as a founding father) is about: strengthening the prefrontal cortex so that it’s more able to override instinctual fear and anger. The more inclement the circumstances we face, the more we need it. That’s why mindfulness training is catching on in low-income communities, the military, and elderly care.

So when people ask, as they have many times in the last week, “What did you learn over your break?” … the honest answer is, nothing. I already knew the what of happiness, just as you already know it. The break was about more consciously practicing the how, and on that score I’m afraid I have no grand epiphanies, only a few baby steps down a road I’ll be walking all my life.

ooOOoo

The original Grist article was headed with a picture of a group of happy dogs and it seemed almost an automatic response from me to close today’s post with a picture of happy dogs here in Oregon. But rather obvious, don’t you think!

Instead, I’m going to use a photograph of me being ‘loved’ by Ben so soon after he came to us in April; Ben being one of the two horses (Ben and Ranger) to come here that were rescued by Darla Clark, as explained here.

P1140593

Now going to offer my own reflection on happiness.

Animals that are comfortable being around us readily display unconditional affection to humans.  All that these dogs, cats, horses, and others, require is trust in us.  The knowledge that we are there to care for them, to comfort them, to cuddle them, to love them for the majority of the interactions between the person and the creature.  That doesn’t rule out chastisement, far from it, just that it comes from a heartfelt desire to care for the animal.

I now have a life surrounded by loving animals.  It has been that way since I started living with Jean back in 2008. Yes, I had had Pharaoh in my life since 2003.  Still have him; the precious animal. But the one-on-one bond that existed between Pharaoh and me hadn’t previously opened my heart in the way that all 14 dogs and 5 cats did that were living with Jean when I joined her.

The unconditional love shown by those animals in my life for the last six years has profoundly affected me.  We are now ‘down’ to 9 dogs and 4 cats plus we have the 4 horses (2 rescue quarter-horses and 2 miniature horses). Still there are very few moments in the whole of my day, either day or night, where I am not in the company of, or in contact with, an animal that offers me unconditional love.

Recall earlier in the David Roberts article: “We are happiest when we have a place in the world, when we love and are loved, when we make the most of our gifts.

Of course, I have ‘off’ days!

But down to my core, I know that being loved by Jean and all the animals and returning that love provides me with a deep happiness unimaginable prior to 2008.

It is better to have a heart that makes love than a mind that makes sense.” Robert Keck

This year of separation.

Ultimately, a message of hope.

Today’s title came from a recent chat ‘across the garden fence’ with our neighbours, Dordie and Bill.  At their request we had walked our two horses over to the fence-line between our two properties so Dordie and Bill could meet and fondle them.  The warm afternoon sunshine was beautiful and while the horses munched the newly-found grass, we grown-ups talked about this and that and generally tried to put the world to rights!

Paul with Dancer; Jean with Grace.
Paul with Dancer; Jean with Grace.

We talked about the strangeness of present times.  Not just in the USA but across the world. Bill thought 2013 would be the year of separation.  I queried what he meant by that.

Bill replied, “I sense that by the end of the year, the vast majority of people will have decided if climate change is or is not a significant issue.”  There would be few who remained neither unconcerned nor undecided.

That resonated with me and neatly put the framework to today’s post.  Stay with me while I journey to the destination that this year will be the year of hope.

I am one of many who subscribe to the online magazine Grist.  They describe themselves, thus:

Laugh now — or the planet gets it.

You know how some people make lemonade out of lemons? At Grist, we’re making lemonade out of looming climate apocalypse.

It’s more fun than it sounds, trust us!

Grist has been dishing out environmental news and commentary with a wry twist since 1999 — which, to be frank, was way before most people cared about such things. Now that green is in every headline and on every store shelf (bamboo hair gel, anyone?), Grist is the one site you can count on to help you make sense of it all.

The weekly Grist digest that arrived in my in-box that same day as when we were chatting with Dordie and Bill included a number of key stories.

Here’s one that smacked me in the eye.

The 32 most alarming charts from the government’s climate change report

By Philip Bump

Just reading about the government’s massive new report outlining what climate change has in store for the U.S. is sobering. In brief: temperature spikes, drought, flooding, less snow, less permafrost. But if you really want to freak out, you should check out the graphs, charts, and maps.

Now I’m not going to republish all 32 charts but will include just these two, because the message is clear.

It’s possible that sea levels could only rise eight inches. It is also possible that they could rise over six-and-a-half feet.

sea-level-range

—-

7-sea-rises

Sea-level rise will affect different areas to different degrees — but note the map at lower right. On the Georgia coast, “hundred year” floods could happen annually.

OK, that first chart takes a while to absorb the full implications. The second one doesn’t!

The full range of charts is chilling.  While they refer to the USA, the messages apply to the whole world.

Then in that same Grist weekly summary was this story.

If you aren’t alarmed about climate, you aren’t paying attention

By David Roberts

There was recently another one of those (numbingly familiar) internet tizzies wherein someone trolls environmentalists for being “alarmist” and environmentalists get mad and the troll says “why are you being so defensive?” and everybody clicks, clicks, clicks.

I have no desire to dance that dismal do-si-do again. But it is worth noting that I find the notion of “alarmism” in regard to climate change almost surreal. I barely know what to make of it. So in the name of getting our bearings, let’s review a few things we know.

We know we’ve raised global average temperatures around 0.8 degrees C so far. We know that 2 degrees C is where most scientists predict catastrophic and irreversible impacts. And we know that we are currently on a trajectory that will push temperatures up 4 degrees or more by the end of the century.

David then works his way through those ‘things we know’ in a powerful manner.  Do read the full article, please!  This is his conclusion:

All this will add up to “large-scale displacement of populations and have adverse consequences for human security and economic and trade systems.” Given the uncertainties and long-tail risks involved, “there is no certainty that adaptation to a 4°C world is possible.” There’s a small but non-trivial chance of advanced civilization breaking down entirely.

Now ponder the fact that some scenarios show us going up to 6degrees by the end of the century, a level of devastation we have not studied and barely know how to conceive. Ponder the fact that somewhere along the line, though we don’t know exactly where, enough self-reinforcing feedback loops will be running to make climate change unstoppable and irreversible for centuries to come. That would mean handing our grandchildren and their grandchildren not only a burned, chaotic, denuded world, but a world that is inexorably more inhospitable with every passing decade.

Take all that in, sit with it for a while, and then tell me what it could mean to be an “alarmist” in this context. What level of alarm is adequate?

So am I stark staring mad for having hope in my mind?  Stay with me for just a little longer.  Then form your own judgment.

Recall the post that I published on Tuesday hitting out at the British newspaper The Daily Mail.  Towards the end of that post, in discussing the recently released American National Climate Assessment, I wrote this:

That’s why this report is to be encouraged, nay embraced.  Of all the nations in the world, the one that should be setting the lead is the United States of America.  As the banner on that globalchange.gov website proclaims: Thirteen Agencies, One Vision: Empower the Nation with Global Change Science

So go and read the report.  For your sake and all our sakes.

Because the more informed you and I are, the better the chances of real political leadership taking place in this fine nation.

Now with that in mind let’s go to the final Grist article.

A new grand strategy for the U.S., built around sustainability

By David Roberts

Let’s just accept it: America’s current political and economic systems are incapable of responding adequately to climate change. As things stand, reducing carbon emissions — or more broadly, shifting to sustainability — is a kind of add-on, a second-tier consideration, bolted onto systems and institutions that were built for other purposes.

A little later, David writes:

So what would a new U.S. grand strategy built around sustainability look like? That’s the question tackled by “A New U.S. Grand Strategy,” a piece in Foreign Policy by Patrick Doherty, director of the Smart Strategy Initiative at the New America Foundation.

It’s a hugely ambitious and wide-ranging piece, far too much to even summarize adequately here. Bookmark it. Instapaper it. Pinterest it to your iCloud, or whatever kids do these days. But let’s take a quick look.

Doherty identifies four central challenges facing the U.S.:

  • Economic inclusion: People are swarming out of poverty around the world (especially in China). Over the next 20 years, the global middle class will welcome around 3 billion new members. That’s going to put intense stress on natural, economic, and political systems that are already showing signs of strain.
  • Ecosystem depletion: Pretty sure Grist readers are familiar with this one.
  • Contained depression: Rather than a recession, the U.S. faces a “constrained depression,” with the full effects of low aggregate demand and high debt being masked by policy. No amount of fiscal or economic stimulus will revive a system that has exhausted itself.
  • Resilience deficit: Our industrial supply lines and value chains are efficient, but lack redundancy; they are brittle. Our infrastructure is old and crumbling, $2.2 trillion in the hole, and that’s just for the aging Cold War stuff, never mind building water, power, and transportation systems suited to an era of climate disruption.

“These four challenges,” Doherty says, “are the four horsemen of the coming decades.” And they are inter-dependent. They must be solved together. It’s a rough situation.

With these in mind, Doherty proposes a new grand strategic concept: “The United States must lead the global transition to sustainability.

What a vision for the United States of America.  That this Nation will be the most wonderful example of how man can learn, adapt and change.  David Roberts concludes:

Here are Doherty’s main suggestions for how to realign the U.S. economic engine:

  • Walkable communities: More and more Americans want to live in dense, walkable areas; get rid of regulations that hamper them and start building them.
  • Regenerative agriculture: Farmers can produce “up to three times the profits per acre and 30 percent higher yields during drought” with agricultural techniques that also clean water and restore soils. America must “adopt modern methods that will bring more land into cultivation, keep families on the land, and build regional food systems that keep more money circulating in local economies.”
  • Resource productivity: “Energy and resource intensity per person will have to drop dramatically.” That imperative can drive “innovation in material sciences, engineering, advanced manufacturing, and energy production, distribution, and consumption.”
  • Excess liquidity: Channel all the corporate cash that’s sitting around in funds into long-term investments in America by taxing waste and creating regional growth strategies.
  • Stranded hydrocarbon assets: Figure out how to devalue the immense amount of carbon that’s still sitting underneath the ground without unduly traumatizing the economy.

Obviously the devil is in the details on this stuff, but at a broad level, this is about as eloquent and forward-thinking as it gets. I love the idea of using sustainability in a muscular way, to revive regional economies and nurture the middle class. I recommend reading the whole thing.

I, too, recommend reading “A New U.S. Grand Strategy – Why walkable communities, sustainable economics, and multilateral diplomacy are the future of American power.” (NB: You will have to register with Foreign Policy before access to the report is possible, but it’s free.)

So, the wall-to-wall stream of information that is shouting out how quickly the planet is changing is the fuel that is going to feed the fires of hope.

Let me leave you with the most beautiful words of an ancient philosopher – Aristotle.

Hope is a waking dream.

What part of the word ‘no’ are you having trouble with?

So long overdue to saying ‘no’ to more drilling for oil and gas!

Just five days ago, I republished an essay from Tom Engelhardt of TomDispatch fame called The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing.  Despite Tom’s permission for me to republish any of the essays that appear on TomDispatch, I do try to be very selective and not republish too often.

However, what was published by Tom on the 18th, just three days ago, is so powerful that it requires the widest readership possible.  That’s why Tomgram: Ellen Cantarow, “Little Revolution,” Big Fracking Consequences is being republished on Learning from Dogs today and tomorrow.  The reason I have split the essay into two parts is because I want to add some other material. Tom’s publication is in one part so if you can’t wait for my sequel tomorrow, then click here.

Here’s something that I want to draw your attention to:

If you’re 27 or younger, you’ve never experienced a colder-than-average month

By Philip Bump
This image sums up 2012, temperature-wise.

Nowhere on the surface of the planet have we seen any record cold temperatures over the course of the year so far. Every land surface in the world saw warmer-than-average temperatures except Alaska and the eastern tip of Russia. The continental United States has been blanketed with record warmth — and the seas just off the East Coast have been much warmer than average, for which Sandy sends her thanks.

I saw this on the Grist website yesterday.  Here are the next couple of paragraphs from that Grist article:

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration summarizes October 2012:

The average temperature across land and ocean surfaces during October was 14.63°C (58.23°F). This is 0.63°C (1.13°F) above the 20th century average and ties with 2008 as the fifth warmest October on record. The record warmest October occurred in 2003 and the record coldest October occurred in 1912. This is the 332nd consecutive month with an above-average temperature.

If you were born in or after April 1985, (i.e. now 27 years old or younger), you have never lived through a month that was colder than average. That’s beyond astonishing.

You might want to go to the NOAA State of the Climate report just issued to read more.  Indeed, go to read this: (my emboldening)

The average temperature across land and ocean surfaces during October was 14.63°C (58.23°F). This is 0.63°C (1.13°F) above the 20th century average and ties with 2008 as the fifth warmest October on record. The record warmest October occurred in 2003 and the record coldest October occurred in 1912. This is the 332nd consecutive month with an above-average temperature. The last below-average month was February 1985. The last October with a below-average temperature was 1976. The Northern Hemisphere ranked as the seventh warmest October on record, while the Southern Hemisphere ranked as second warmest, behind 1997.

So with all that in mind, here’s the first half of Ellen Cantarow‘s essay including the ‘must-read’ introduction from Nick Turse.

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Tomgram: Ellen Cantarow, “Little Revolution,” Big Fracking Consequences

Posted by Ellen Cantarow at 5:59pm, November 18, 2012.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch.

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Back in May 2005, this site posted “Against Discouragement,” a graduation speech by the late, great Howard Zinn.  Though it hardly needs be said, it was, of course, inspiring.  I also interviewed him for TomDispatch and hewrote for the site.  A last book of his has just been published, Howard Zinn Speaks: Collected Speeches (1963-2009).  How could I not recommend it?  After all, he still speaks to us all. 

Also a reminder for TD readers: we don’t encourage you to become Amazon customers, but if you already are, and you go to that site via a TomDispatch book link like the one in the previous paragraph (or any book cover image link on the site), we get a modest cut of anything you buy, book or otherwise.  It’s a way to support this site at absolutely no cost to you!  Tom]

To say the Central Intelligence Agency has had an uneven record over its 65 years would be kind.  It found early “success” in plotting to overthrow the legitimate governments of Iran and Guatemala (even if it did fail to foresee the Soviet Union going nuclear in 1949).  Then, it had a troubled adolescence.  The Bay of Pigs.  Vietnam.  Laos.  Spying on Americans.  As the Agency matured, it managed to miss all signs of the oncoming Iranian revolution — the natural endpoint of its glorious 1953 coup that brought the Shah to power — and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.  (It did, however, manage to arm America’s future enemies there, sowing the seeds of 9/11.)  Then there was the Reagan era Iran-Contra affair, the failure to notice the fall of the Berlin Wall until it was on CNN, the WMD “intelligence” of the Iraqi leaker codenamed “Curveball,” the Iraq debacle that followed, and…

Well, you get the picture.  Recently, however, things seemed to be looking up.  The most popular general in a generation or two, a soldier-scholar-superman who could do no wrong, became its director.  Just before that, the Agency helped take out America’s public enemy number one in a daring night raid about which Hollywood is soon to release a celebratory movie.

But just as things were looking up, the rock star general was caught with his pants down, resigning in disgrace after an extramarital affair became public.  That titillating development overshadowed another more serious one: a cry for help about a looming threat from the Agency and its brethren in the American intelligence community (IC).  In late October, the National Research Council was toissue a report commissioned by the CIA and the IC.  Superstorm Sandy intervened and so it was only recently released, aptly titled “Climate and Social Stress: Implications for Security Analysis.” And what a dire picture it painted: security analysts should, it explained “expect climate surprises in the coming decade… and for them to become progressively more serious and more frequent thereafter, most likely at an accelerating rate… It is prudent to expect that over the course of a decade some climate events… will produce consequences that exceed the capacity of the affected societies or global systems to manage and that have global security implications serious enough to compel international response.”

Think failed states, water wars, forced mass migrations, famine, drought, and epidemics that will spill across borders, overwhelm national and international mitigation efforts, and leave the United States scrambling to provide disaster response, humanitarian relief, or being drawn into new conflicts.  That’s bad news for everyone, including the intelligence community.  Even worse, the 206-page report calls for more study, more analysis, and more action — and yet none of that is likely to happen without the assent of Congress.

Keep in mind that Republican members of Congress opposed even the creation of a CIA climate change center and tried starve it of funding while, as Kate Sheppard of Mother Jones noted last year, “Republican lawmakers — including the chairman and ranking member of the House and Senate intelligence committees, respectively — have also expressed skepticism about the CIA’s climate work.”

In other words, add Republicans to the list of those who, like Cuban and Laotian communists of yore, have worked to thwart the Agency.  And cross the CIA off any list of potential environmental saviors.  In fact, when it comes to the health of this planet, saviors seem distinctly in short supply.  As TomDispatch regular Ellen Cantarow reports from the frontlines of a full-scale climate conflict, the only hope for the environment may come from unlikely groups of people in the unlikeliest of places fighting a shadow war more important than any ever waged by the CIA. Nick Turse

Frack Fight
A Secret War of Activists — With the World in the Balance
By Ellen Cantarow

There’s a war going on that you know nothing about between a coalition of great powers and a small insurgent movement.  It’s a secret war being waged in the shadows while you go about your everyday life.

In the end, this conflict may matter more than those in Iraq and Afghanistan ever did.  And yet it’s taking place far from newspaper front pages and with hardly a notice on the nightly news.  Nor is it being fought in Yemen or Pakistan or Somalia, but in small hamlets in upstate New York.  There, a loose network of activists is waging a guerrilla campaign not with improvised explosive devices or rocket-propelled grenades, but with zoning ordinances and petitions.

The weaponry may be humdrum, but the stakes couldn’t be higher. Ultimately, the fate of the planet may hang in the balance.

All summer long, the climate-change nightmares came on fast and furious. Once-fertile swathes of American heartland baked into an aridity reminiscent of sub-Saharan Africa. Hundreds of thousands of fish dead in overheated streams. Six million acres in the West consumed by wildfires.  In September, a report commissioned by 20 governments predicted that as many as 100 million people across the world could die by 2030 if fossil-fuel consumption isn’t reduced.  And all of this was before superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on the New York metropolitan area and the Jersey shore.

Washington’s leadership, when it comes to climate change, is already mired in failure. President Obama permitted oil giant BP to resume drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, while Shell was allowed to begin drilling tests in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska.  At the moment, the best hope for placing restraints on climate change lies with grassroots movements.

In January, I chronicled upstate New York’s homegrown resistance to high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing, an extreme-energy technology that extracts methane (“natural gas”) from the Earth’s deepest regions.  Since then, local opposition has continued to face off against the energy industry and state government in a way that may set the tone for the rest of the country in the decades ahead.  In small hamlets and tiny towns you’ve never heard of, grassroots activists are making a stand in what could be the beginning of a final showdown for Earth’s future.

oooOOOooo

The second part of Ellen’s essay will be published tomorrow.

Ellen Cantarow first wrote from Israel and the West Bank in 1979. A TomDispatch regular, her writing has been published in The Village Voice, Grand Street, Mother Jones, Alternet, Counterpunch, and ZNet, and anthologized by the South End Press. She is also lead author and general editor of an oral-history trilogy, Moving the Mountain: Women Working for Social Change, published in 1981 by The Feminist Press/McGraw-Hill, widely anthologized, and still in print.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on Facebook.  Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.

Copyright 2012 Ellen Cantarow

Extreme weather events

Nature is really starting to speak to mankind!

I started writing this post back on the 25th September.  Why so far back?  Because that day something came into my in-box that deserved the widest circulation.  It’s an event being held just under a month from today, November 14th.  But it seemed worthwhile to give this amount of notice.  However, the reason why I wanted to start it back in September was because in the last 24 hours of that day, the 25th, the UK offered very good evidence of the significant increase in severe weather.

From the UK’s Met Office blog on the 25th September, 2012, (I have included the inches equivalent of the mm figures)

Rainfall figures: over a month’s worth of rain in two days

Rainfall totals for the past few days – from 1:00 am Sunday morning to 8:00 am this morning [Tuesday] – show some areas have already had more than twice their usual September rainfall. Ravensworth, in North Yorkshire, has seen the highest total, with 107.8 mm [4.24 in] falling, over 200 % of its average September rainfall.

The rainfall has been widespread, with many areas across the United Kingdom receiving large totals. Killylane, in Antrim Northern Ireland saw 98.2 mm [3.87 in], and high totals were also recorded in the south-west, with 72.4 mm [2.85 in] in Filton and 65.2 mm [2.57 in] at Dunkeswell Aerodrome.

Dunkeswell Aerodrome in Devon was where I used to fly our group-owned Piper Super Cub, still in military markings.

Piper Super Cub at Dunkeswell Aerodrome
A carriage made for two!

Anyway, back to the plot!

Also on that day (September 25th) the website Think Progress released this item,

Markey/Waxman Report: Carbon Pollution Creating A ‘Cocktail Of Heat And Extreme Weather’

By Climate Guest Blogger and Stephen Lacey on Sep 25, 2012 at 3:31 pm

by Katie Valentine and Stephen Lacey

Two House Democrats have released a report that aims to connect the dots on climate change and extreme weather events.

The staff report, issued by Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.), outlines the past year’s record-setting temperatures, storms, droughts, water levels and wildfires, and is being circulated in an attempt to rebuild congressional momentum to address climate change.

“The evidence is overwhelming — climate change is occurring and it is occurring now,” said Rep. Waxman, a Ranking Member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, in a statement.

The report outlines the stunning array of record-breaking extreme weather events throughout 2012 within five categories:

Extreme temperatures

  • July was the hottest month ever recorded in the continental U.S.  Some areas were 8 degrees warmer than average, with the average temperature in the lower 48 states at 77.6 degrees Fahrenheit, 3.3 degrees above the 20th century average.
  • Spring 2012 saw the warmest March, third-warmest April and second-warmest May in history, and was approximately 5.2 degrees Fahrenheit above average overall.
  • Through late June 2011, daily record highs were outnumbering daily record lows by 9-to-1.

Drought

  • As of September, 64 percent of the continental U.S. is experiencing drought, with August and September 2012 comparable to the worst months of the 1930s Dust Bowl.
  • By the beginning of August, more than half the counties in the U.S. had been designated disaster zones because of drought.
  • As of August, 51 percent of corn and 38 percent of soybeans grown in the U.S. were rated as poor or very poor by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Some states’ corn fared worse – Indiana had 70 percent of its corn rated as poor or very poor, and Missouri had 84 percent.

Wildfires

  • This fire season 8.6 million acres – roughly the size of Connecticut and New Jersey combined – have burned in the U.S., with fires still burning in parts of the West.
  • Wildfires in Colorado have killed six people, destroyed 600 homes and caused about $500 million in property damage.
  • There has been nearly a four-fold increase in large wildfires in the West in recent decades, with fires burning longer and more intensely and wildfire seasons lasting longer.

Storms

  • Tropical Storm Debby caused Florida to have its wettest June on record. The storm killed at least seven people and also damaged more than 7,500 homes and businesses.
  • In July, the “derecho” storm system killed at least 23 people and left more than 3.7 million people without power.
  • In August, Hurricane Isaac caused storm surges of up to 15 feet in some places and contributed to Louisiana and Mississippi experiencing their second-wettest August on record and to Florida experiencing its wettest summer on record.

Extreme water levels and water temperatures

  • In July, water in the Great Lakes reached temperatures of 60 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit – more than 10 degrees warmer than the same time last year.
  • In August, water temperatures of up to 97 degrees and low water levels caused tens of thousands of fish to die in Midwestern lakes and rivers.
  • Low water levels in the Mississippi watershed have caused some barge companies to reduce their loads by 25 percent and have caused harbor closures in Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas and Mississippi.

According to the report, 2012 natural disasters (not including wildfires or drought) have caused $22 billion in insured losses and more than 220 deaths as of August. The full cost of 2012’s extreme weather events isn’t yet known, but it’s expected to rival 2011’s record-breaking $55 billion.

The document outlines what scientists following the link between extreme weather and climate change have been saying for years: more carbon pollution adds extra energy in the atmosphere, thus warming the planet and making extreme weather events more likely.

Read the full report here.

So what came into my in-box?  An announcement from The Climate Reality Project: 24 HOURS OF REALITY: The Dirty Weather Report.

NOVEMBER 14-15, 2012

A lot can change in a day. This November 14, we hope you can help us make big change happen.

Join The Climate Reality Project for 24 Hours of Reality: The Dirty Weather Report. This will be our second annual, online event showing how global climate change is connected to the extreme weather we experience in our daily lives. The entire 24-hour event will be broadcast live over the Internet.

We’ll move between our home studio in New York City and into each region of the world, bringing voices, news and multimedia content across all 24 time zones. We’ll feature videos from around the globe, man-on-the-street reports, music, and most importantly, stories from communities moving forward with solutions.

Most of all, we’ll generate new energy and urgency around the fact that we must — and we can — work together to address the climate crisis.

GET INVOLVED

Sign up today to be a part of the global community taking part in 24 Hours of RealityRSVP on Facebook. Share this event with your friends. Submit your own video about the impacts of climate change where you live. And keep checking this page: We’ll post further details as the event draws closer.

Millions of people around the world know that the weather, their climate is changing.  But if you can take some more powerful evidence of just how it’s all changing then go and read a recent report on the Grist website, entitled ‘Deadly connection: New report on extreme weather and climate change’

So one more video to close.