Wounded Earth: poem and photograph

The late great C.K. Williams thinks through the suffering of the earth — whose suffering is it really?

Is it as I suspect not that rare for you to be
wounded ravaged stripped of so much
of what you wore with seeming pride

your seething glittering oceans your forests
nothing new for you meteors comets
volcanoes extinctions the battering ice ages

so perhaps we shouldn’t psalm poor earth
for truly we moan and despair for ourselves
cast into that future we dread while the time

in which we sorrowed you’ll not have regretted
because how can earth not have a past
and how can earth even with a past so fouled

not notice how we departed leaving our heirs
to mourn this patch this sherd of existence
we’d been so confident we’d cherish forever

C. K. Williams

Falling Ill
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The last lines haunt, and bring up the work of the great wounded landscape photographer Edward Burtynksy, recently profiled in The New Yorker (and esp powerful on-line by the way).

Burtynsky photographs the “wounded ravaged stripped” earth without apology, rather like the earth in Williams’ poem I think, and photographically strips it of us and all our wailing and moaning and shows it as it is. Our feelings about the damage mean so little to the planet really.

oilbunkering5nigerdelta2016

 

Or Burtynsky puts it in The New Yorker story:

“I am not out to tell people a unitary story about what they should do to save the earth but, rather, to give people a picture of what it takes to live the way we do.’ ”

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Jerry Brown challenges Trump on climate

In a fiery speech on science, climate, and policy at the American Geophysical Union today, Gov. Jerry Brown challenged the “miasma of nonsense” from the incoming Trump administration on climate questions and promised the thousands of earth scientists in the audience that the state of California would support their work.

“Never has so much power been lodged in so few hands,” Brown said to the scientists. “But it’s not about this politician or that politician. It’s about big oil, big financial institutions. We need to mobilize all your efforts as truth tellers to fight back.”

brownspeech

Brown’s pugilistic rhetoric inspired several standing ovations from the scientists, who are being attacked in the right wing press. The incoming administration has already sent a questionnaire to the Department of Energy asking for the names of scientists working on climate issues — an implicit threat of a witchhunt (Politico).

“The time has never been more urgent or your work never more important. The climate is changing, temperatures are rising, oceans are becoming more acidified, habitats are under stress – the world is facing tremendous danger,” said Brown at the American Geophysical Union’s annual fall meeting in San Francisco. “We’ve got a lot of firepower. We’ve got the scientists, we’ve got the universities, we have the national labs and we have the political clout and sophistication for the battle – and we will persevere. Have no doubt about that.”

Brown reminded the scientists that California has a long history of taking the lead on questions of the environment — with clean air standards from the California Air Resources Board that were eventually adopted by the Obama administration for the nation, for example. He spoke of signing memorandums of understanding with over 100 nations, states, and provinces (for more detail see the statement from his office).

I’ve never seen a more inspiring speech given at the AGU (and I’ve seen many, from the likes of James Hansen, Lonnie Thompson, et al).

“This is a big fight,” Brown said, and made it clear that he welcomed the fight. He even promised that if the incoming administration “turns off the satellites, that California will launch its own damn satellite. We’re going to collect that data.” (From the Sacramento Bee story, the best I’ve seen on the speech.)

But one of the most interesting turns (which has not been reported as of yet) came when the former Jesuit acolyte Brown reminded the scientists of the spiritual vice of “tepidity.” He went on to suggest that by “reduction ad absurdum” the incoming administration will make ridiculous its own dismissal of climate change.

He scoffed at right-wing “clowns in the media,” calling out Brietbart by name, for claiming that global warming is due to “cow farts.”

“Eventually the truth will prevail,” Governor Brown continued. “This is not a battle of one day or one election. This is a long-term slog into the future and you are there, the foot soldiers of change and understanding and scientific collaboration.”

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The mercurial John Lennon: from 12/7/1980

A nice column from conservative Carl Cannon of the OC Register tells the story of what happened when Annie Liebowitz went to the Dakota to photograph John Lennon for Rolling Stone, back in l980:

On the morning of December 8, 1980, Leibovitz arrived at the Dakota, the apartment building west of Central Park where John Lennon and Yoko Ono lived. Although Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner “never told me what do to” when she went on a photo shoot, Leibovitz has said, this one time he did: “Please get some pictures without her.”

Meaning Yoko. But Liebowitz was thinking of the cover of their record, Double Fantasy, and its kiss.

“This was the 1980s—romance was a little dead,” she recalled later. “And I was so moved by that kiss.”

She suggested a picture of the two of them naked. Yoko balked, and then began to consider the possibility, but in the meantime the mercurial Lennon with Liebowitz had come up with a new idea — him naked and Yoko clothed.

lenonyoko.0

 

Liebowitz took a Polaroid of the pose: they all three agreed this was the picture for the story.

Cannon writes:

In just 12 hours, John would be dead, shot outside the Dakota by a deranged fan. Six weeks later, January 22, 1981, Rolling Stone gave grieving music fans this last image. It’s was John Lennon’s gift to us, really. When Annie Leibovitz had arrived that morning, he had made it clear he wanted his wife in the pictures. Pointing at Yoko, he had insisted simply, “I want to be with her.”

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Is desalination the answer for drought in Ventura County?

Although climate change was hardly mentioned in the two-hour discussion of desalination led by Ventura County supervisor Steve Bennett last Thursday at the county government center, the question of drought has clearly been very much on the minds of water officials in the county.

Even more alarming, possibly, might be an earthquake that could interrupt supplies to county residents from the State Water Project, which supplies most of the water to about 640,000 people in the county.

Said Susan Mulligan, an engineer who manages the Calleguas district that supplies most of the county, during the discussion:

“The question of an earthquake cutting us off isn’t a question of if; it’s a question of when. If 75 percent of the water [from the State Water Project] is cut off, we don’t even have health and safety water at that point.”

The quote comes from a story in the Ventura County Star by Tony Biascotti. The even-handed story stayed away from conclusions, except to point out one vexing fact. Because it will take on the order of fourteen years to permit, research, and build a seawater desalination plant — according to a study cited by Mulligan — such a plant won’t solve our current water shortage woes right now.

Bennett took an unusual and fresh approach to the water supply question: stating no position of his own, and pointing out that the county has no direct authority over water, he nonetheless brought four real experts to the podium, gave them ten minutes each to make a presentation, and then asked questions — about cost, about permitting, about alternatives, and so on. Here’s the video, from his supervisorial site.

From this reporter’s perspective, the most useful advice came from Joshua Haggmark of Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara was once dependent, as is western Ventura County now, mostly on a local watershed and reservoir (Lake Cachuma in Santa Barbara), augmented with groundwater from wells. After an on-and-off again history with a desalination plant, build in response to the last drought in the late 1980’s early 1990’s, Santa Barbara has now has all but completely exhausted Lake Cachuma. Until it really begins to rain again, if it ever does, the county now relies on a great variety of different sources, as illustrated by this slide from Haggmark’s presentation:

waterhaggmarkpresentation

 

 

 

 

The strongest proponent of desalination was Scott Maloni, a vice-president from a private company called Poseidon that has built a fairly large plant in San Diego that supplies a significant portion of the county’s water. That’s the upside: the downside is that it cost a billion dollars, and took fifteen years to construct and permit.

Two significant questions were not asked, from this reporter’s perspective. What plans, if any, does Mulligan and Calleguas have to develop some form of desalination? They clearly have a need for water for at the minimum health and safety for two-thirds of the county: What are they thinking?

Second, if as much science indicates Southern California is headed for a substantially drier future, is there any real alternative to at least some desalination? (Desalination doesn’t have to draw from the sea — it’s cheaper and easier to desalinate brackish groundwater or effluent from water treatment plants, such as in Oxnard.)

(The climate change/perpetual drought question may be a hyperobject: a fact so big and omnipresent it cannot be mentioned in local reporting. This is part of a fascinating theory being pioneered by a BBC documentarian named Adam Curtis.)

But judging from the tenor of Haggmark’s remarks about what happened in Santa Barbara, my conclusion is that water districts may not have much choice but to develop a diversity of sources to survive, including some desal. He said:

“Desalination is not going to solve all your problems, but it certainly helps to have diversity in your supplies,” said panelist Joshua Haggmark, water resources manager for the city of Santa Barbara. “You want diversity in your stock portfolio, you want diversity in your community, and water supply is the same thing.”

Interesting to hear him connect the concept of diversity to both politics and investments.

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“It’s getting worse”: Alt-Right denies NASA data

Charlie Sykes, a popular and sane host of a right-wing talk show called Right Wisconsin, a man who declared his opposition to Trump early in the campaign, just penned an editorial in Politico that warns that the “Alt-Reality” media attack/denial machine will be “emboldened” by President-Elect Trump’s victory.

As Trump slouched toward the nomination he was backed by a conservative media that had successfully created an alternative reality bubble around his candidacy. When Trump claimed that “thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey had celebrated the attacks on 9/11, for instance, callers to my show lined up to provide supporting evidence the only source of which was an echo chamber of partisan bloggers; listeners chimed in with evidence they had seen on Facebook linking Ted Cruz’ father to the JFK assassination.

Sykes is talking about a problem for the conservative media (such as himself) that opposed Trump, but he quickly adds that the problem will be even worse for the mainstream media.

For years, Rush Limbaugh has gibed about what he calls the “state-controlled media”—the fawning liberal news outlets that Limbaugh has long decried for their lack of critical coverage of President Obama—but we may be about to see what one actually looks like—an alt-reality news outlet operating from within 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. The new media will not only provide propaganda cover for the administration, but also direct the fire of a loose confederation of conservative outlets against critics and dissenters. Already, Fox’s Sean Hannity has urged Trump to freeze out the mainstream media and talk directly to the nation.

Worse, Sykes — who was vilified by Trump followers for his lack of faith — warns of “counter-narratives” to be launched by conspiracy theorists such as Alex Jones and alt-right warriors such as Breitbart, run by Trump’s newly named chief advisor. Such as denying global warming for example — as in a post this week from Brietbart. Also known as lies and lying.

The headline says it all. No need to read it in the original German.

http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2015/11/24/german-professor-nasa-fiddled-climate-data-unbelievable-scale/

So the battle lines are drawn: the Trumpers will deny NASA data on global warming, using “politcally correct environmental monitoring‘ as an excuse to defund the agency, according to his science advisor Bob Walker.

Even as the Arctic is 36 degrees above normal in November (not reflected in this graph of a couple of years ago).

Which is more terrifying: the lying of the Alt-Right or a physical reality our species has never experienced?

arctic-temperature-increase-since-1880-nasa

Guess we’ll find out.

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What put Trump over the top?

According to The Economist it was the sick.

….even after controlling for race, education, age, sex, income, marital status, immigration and employment, these figures remain highly statistically significant. Holding all other factors constant—including the share of non-college whites—the better physical shape a county’s residents are in, the worse Mr Trump did relative to Mr Romney.

For example, in Knox County, Ohio, just north-east of Columbus, Mr Trump’s margin of victory was 14 percentage points greater than Mr Romney’s. One hundred miles (161 km) to the east, in Jefferson County, the Republican vote share climbed by 30 percentage points. The share of non-college whites in Knox is actually slightly higher than in Jefferson, 82% to 79%. But Knox residents are much healthier: they are 8% less likely to have diabetes, 30% less likely to be heavy drinkers and 21% more likely to be physically active. Holding all else equal, our model finds that those differences account for around a six-percentage-point difference in the change in Republican vote share from 2012.

The data suggest that the ill may have been particularly susceptible to Mr Trump’s message. According to our model, if diabetes were just 7% less prevalent in Michigan, Mr Trump would have gained 0.3 fewer percentage points there, enough to swing the state back to the Democrats. Similarly, if an additional 8% of people in Pennsylvania engaged in regular physical activity, and heavy drinking in Wisconsin were 5% lower, Mrs Clinton would be set to enter the White House.

Substantiating this result is the independent work of the incredibly good reporter Sam Quinones, whose “Dreamland” is about opioid addiction in the USA. From a post Quinones put up recently:

Though this scourge has affected every region of the country, it is felt most intensely in rural, suburban – Heartland – areas of America where Donald Trump did extraordinarily well.

Some of these areas did not fully rebound from the Great Recession of 2007 (southern Ohio). Others fared much better (North Carolina). A common denominator, I think political scientists will find, is that in these areas since the last presidential election the incidence of opiate addiction spread, grew deadlier, more public, and went from pain pills to heroin. In southern Ohio, where heroin has hit like pestilence, particularly Appalachia, Trump trounced his opponent in counties that Mitt Romney barely won four years earlier – though unemployment in many of these counties is at its lowest level in years, sometimes decades.

Shannon Monnat, a rural sociologist and demographer at Penn State I talked with, found strong correlations between suicides and fatal drug overdoses in counties where Trump’s increase was larger that the share of the vote compared to Romney’s four years earlier – this in six Rust Belt states, another half-dozen state in New England and all or part of the eight states comprising Appalachia.

“The situation is worse than it has ever been” was a line that struck me from Donald Trump’s acceptance speech at the GOP Convention. To whom would this be more resonant than to those struggling from addiction?

Opiate addiction – to pain pills or heroin — is the closest thing to enslavement that we have in America today. It is brain-changing, relentless, and unmercifully hard to kick. Children who complain at the slightest household chore while sober will, once addicted, march like zombies through the snow for miles, endure any hardship or humiliation, for more dope.

So writes Quinones. Here’s a chart that attempts to quantify this correlation:

trumpvoteandillness

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Following the Wolverine with a camera

Twenty-odd years ago, while walking the John Muir Trail, I glimpsed a flash of black and white running across a snowfield at about 11k feet. The creature looked about the size of a small dog, and I *think* it was a wolverine. The other likely possibility at that elevation would be a marmot, but marmots are brown, and this creature was definitely had white and black colorings. But he was gone in a flash, and I’ll never know for sure.

Photographer Steven Gnam, on the other hand, has been tracking wolverines in the mountains of the West for Patagonia, and has posted some remarkable images of this elusive and gorgeous creature. Worth savoring.

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The future of water in Ojai in drought

Here’s a panel discussion (below) put on by the Ojai Valley Green Coalition and the Ojai Film Festival on the future of water here in town. May I say despite being the moderator that I think it’s a good one. This was for a large audience at the Arts Center on the 27th of October.

The fact that the town and its agricultural growers are facing an existential crisis — a drought that could last for decades — dials up the interest.

Let me just mention a few specific questions that came up, and quote the truly distinguished panelists on the future of water in Ojai in drought. (The video, which was shot and edited by Ray Powers, is a little less than forty-five minutes long.)

On the issues: first, Steve Wickstrum, who has been manager of the Casitas Municipal Water District for thirty years or more, was asked about how much water Lake Casitas has remaining in storage.

He said his calculations showed that the district right now has about four years of water left, but he indicated that with conservation, especially from the agricultural sector — which uses about 70% — the district had perhaps six or seven years worth of water.

And he reminded the audience of 150 or so at the Arts Center in downtown Ojai that state water would be a “Herculean” engineering effort. He said that it wouldn’t be possible for a “nominal fee.”

At the start of the event, I impulsively asked the audience if state water was available and not too expensive, would Ojai choose to join the rest of Southern California or would it maintain its tradition of local sustainability?

In l952, in a drought, the approximately 9000 voters of Ojai in that era voted by a more than 8-to-1 margin to form the water district and build Lake Casitas, which has kept the town in water for nearly seventy years.

Only about two people raised a hand to hook up with state water. One was a member of the Casitas board, and he later suggested that perhaps the audience was taken by surprise and not thinking it through sufficiently — after all, Casitas has been paying for the right to draw on state water for many years.

I asked the panel about the possibility of bringing state water to Casitas. Is that a matter of practicality, or is that a matter of principle? For Paul Jenkin, a civil engineer and a passionate environmentalist who has been working to restore local watersheds for many years as part of Surfrider, it’s a matter of principle.

“I think [local sustainability] is the greatest asset that we have,” Jenkin. “If you saw this film, you know that state water is not going to ever be a reliable source for us. And you have to ask about other agencies that are interested in through passing that water to us. For them to be hooked all the way into Lake Casitas, that’s their backup. And if state water ever becomes unavailable, it’s going the other way.”

I asked about megadrought. A recent study estimated that the Southwest — including Ojai — has a 90% chance of a megadrought, which means a drought of thirty-five years or longer, this century. It’s possible we’re in a megadrought now. I asked if we as a state are systematically underestimating the risk of megadrought.

Tom Ash, a water conservation manager in Irvine Ranch, said no, we are not taking megadrought seriously. “I see that in the context of working with [water agencies] from all over the state, as Stephanie [Pincetl] does as well, and we see a tremendous battle, you could say, in that we see more a desire to sell water than to conserve water. We’ve been talking about efficiency, about non-point source solution, and other conservation measures. We have to do everything and my frustration is that we’ve come a ways, but we haven’t come nearly far enough, fast enough.”

So — besides increasing supply with conservation, what can be done to prevent an increase in demand due to an on-going expansion of housing in Ventura, and in agriculture in Ojai?). Stephanie Pincetl, of UCLA, who has been working in conservation and sustainability for decades, mentioned a couple of possibilities:

“So there is one thing that can be done,” Pincelt said. “And that is to require water neutrality of any new development. And this has been implemented in a number of places across the state. So you can build whatever you want to build, but you’re not getting any new water. So you have to mitigate the water required by that new development with conservation somewhere else…and I agree [with Paul Jenkin] that it’s kind of stunning that new [agricultural] production is coming on line in this drought. It just seems that a moratorium on that sort of development should be considered.”

“Everybody has a part to play,” she said, a little earlier. “It’s not urban or ag. Imagine Ojai Valley without agriculture. How would it feel? Really different, and probably not that great, and you wouldn’t have that fabulous farmer’s market. It has to be not either/or, but us together, or we’re not getting out of the problem.”

Ojai Valley Green Coalition: The Future of Water Panel Discussion 11.6.16 720 from Ojai Valley Green Coalition on Vimeo.

 

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Ojai water district “excited” by report of water in mountains

Yesterday the Casitas Municipal Water District‘s management staff and Board of Directors held a meeting and heard a “Preliminary Water Security Project Analysis” report from two consultants, including hydrogeologist Jordan Kear, who has been surveying the Ojai Valley for years for a groundwater agency, and knows its geology well. (Note: the project analysis is attached to the agenda for the meeting at the bottom of the doc).

Let me just cut to the chase: Kear identified a large geological formation called the Matilija Sandstone that contains — history indicates and the geology verifies — a substantial amount of water.

A band of sandstone runs through the coastal mountains behind Santa Barbara all the way south to the mountains behind Lake Casitas. Drilling long tunnels (or “adits”) into the rock could allow the district to recover water stored in the porous rock over eons without pumping.

Here’s a slide from the presentation. Follow Santa Ana Creek north (up) and you’ll see it almost meets the planned 10,000 foot “Central Hobo” bore line. “HoBos” stands for horizontal bores.

hobosproject

Kear estimates that the formation, which in this area is about six miles long and 2,000 feet deep, at an elevation of about 3000 feet, contains a minimum of 29,000 acre feet of decent quality mountain water, by a conservative estimate, or as much as 216,000 acre feet of water, by a liberal estimate.

That’s more water that can be stored in Lake Casitas, possibly.

The idea is that the formation will serve as a backup bank for the lake, to be called on in times of drought. The formation does recharge, Kear estimates, at 2,000 acre-feet a year on average, so if the district calls on the bank when in drought, and the formation is what it is estimated to be, that would give the water district access to a large amount of water at a reasonable price — $5.6 million per bore, or less than a $1000 per acre-foot.

Which is a bargain. The city of Ventura has estimated that state water, if available, will cost about $2000 an acre foot, and desalinated water would cost about $2400 an acre-foot, according to board member Bill Hicks.

In his presentation, Kear noted that when Santa Barbara authorities drilled into the same sandstone formation back in the 1950’s to construct the Tecolote Tunnel, they saw “an increase in flow from about 1,000 gallons per minute, to 7000 gallons per minute.” Kear believes that tunnel is an excellent proxy for the proposed HoBos.

The Board approved further investigation of the project by a unanimous vote (although it did not close the door on an “intertie” to the State Water Project with the City of Ventura, which is already working on such a plan).

After the vote, Board Member Russ Baggerly declared “This is exciting!”

A possible solution to drought-caused water panic for one community in Southern California? Yes — exciting is a fair description. Shocking might be another word.

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ON THE BRINK: SoCal faces dire, drier future

Here’s a story I spent a month or so reporting over the summer for the Ventura County Reporter: What the science is saying about the prospects for drought this century in Southern California

ON THE BRINK: Southern California faces dire, drier future

I’d like to dedicate this story to the late great climatologist Kelly Redmond, who died of cancer yesterday. Kelly was a legend in the field for his knowledge and his ability to communicate with others. (As an example, here’s a link to his Tyndall Lecture at the AGU a couple of years ago on accelerating environmental change — not just climate change). I think it’s probably the most thoughtful talk I’ve ever heard at the AGU.

Certainly, Kelly was the nicest guy this reporter ever met on the job. He took a call from me about fifteen years ago, completely out of the blue, from a complete unknown (me) working for a not very big paper, asking a great number of very naive questions about climate, and for well over an hour gave me, impromptu, over the phone, an introduction to the science. Climate 101. Amazing. When I saw him at conferences he always would chat, and always had something interesting to say. In 2012, I think it was, I saw him at a mixer at the AGU, and when I asked what’s new in the field, he said that “We [climatologists] never expected the Arctic to go over to the dark side so soon.” Jeez. I liked to say that he had a bit of the poet in him, as well as the scientist.

Miss you already, Kelly Redmond.

Will discuss the story more in days to come: here’s the cover picture.

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