Archive for 2009 August

An Idyll in the Southern Sierra to a SoCal Hell

We're only talking about 100 miles and 10,000 feet, but my God, the shock I had, going from serenity at Muir Lake to the hell that is Lancaster/Paledale under the plume of the burning of thousands of acres of chaparral. 

Here's what I'm calling Muir Beach at the spectacular (and empty) Muir Lake:


And here's Palmdale under the plume…yes, that's the sun that the camera is struggling to capture, in this bizarre and frightening lighting…


Seems like every time I come back to SoCal from vacation, it's on fire…

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As If Rejoicing in Strength

I'm headed back to the mountains (this time to the Southern Sierra). Feels appropriate to post some pics from our last trip, this one (courtesy of my friend Cary Odes) from atop Cloud's Rest in Yosemite National Park, looking southeast towards Mt. Clark and the Triple Peak fork. We had company…

IMG_3799 trim 

In the words of John Muir (from his unpublished journals)

A butterfly flew eight or ten times around the summit of the [Joaquin] Mountain on vigorous wing, as if rejoicing in strength. When it alighted on the warm granite near the glacier, it opened and shut its wings as if in a lowland flower garden.

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What If He is Watching Us — Unhappily?

How many folks feel this way, I wonder? From PostSecret:


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California Drought, As Seen from Space

Via NASA's Terra satellite, which uses a MODIS Spectraradiometer to measure plant growth.


In the Central Valley, the drought is worst in the Westlands water district. Many in the area blame Congress for lack of water, and for the 70,000-80,000 farmworkers reported to be out of work.

Interestingly, NASA talks about this in a note that goes with the picture:

The Westlands, reports National Public Radio, is the United State’s
biggest irrigated region. Water pumped into the region from the Delta
via the San Luis Reservoir supports farms where much of the nation’s
fruit, nuts, and produce are grown. It was the last water district to
join the federal irrigation agreement, and therefore it is the first to
face restrictions during water shortages. Meanwhile, the Fresno
District, immediately east of Westlands, had far fewer bare or failing

According to the LA Times, Westlands just got $9.5 million in Federal stimulus money, a down payment on $260 million pledged by Dept of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Squeaky wheel gets the grease?

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The American Way to Find God

God has become a dirty word among many scientists and leftists, I'm sorry to say, because so many Christians use their interpretation of an old book to control their fears and blame others — immigrants, scientists, gay people — for the woes of the world.

Meanwhile the real possibility of a societal disaster this century caused by global warming seems impossible to face, perhaps because it's not human and can't be vilified.

But on national television, bless his heart, Ken Burns — touting his new documentary on the national parks on the David Letterman show — reminds us of one of this nation's most original and most successful ideas, which was rooted in God and the Bible. He said, speaking of how John Muir and other conservationists set out to save wild lands for development with Biblical rhetoric:

The first impulses [to save the national parks] were spiritual. This is the American impulse: That I can find God in these places in nature, better than in a dogmatic devotion in a cathedral. 

Burns, unsurprisingly, is super-articulate. (And Letterman, to his credit, gave him and the documentary countless props, unlike an earlier guest, movie star Mike Myers, whom Dave barely introduced, and whose new Tarantino film he all but ignored.) 

Burns also said that the national parks are "the Declaration of Independence applied to the landscape."

Fascinating idea. Check out the whole interview below, if you like your Ken Burns straight up.

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Arnold Slashes Williamson Act: Pay Back to Developers?

Although not extensively reported in the big city papers, in the California state budget passed a couple of weeks ago, Sacramento and Governor Arnold eliminated funding for the Williamson Act.

This act, dating back to the l960's, gives farmers and ranchers a 20-70 percent break on property taxes. helping to preserve agriculture and open space, not to mention reducing CO2 in the atmosphere.

As Tom Elias wrote in an editorial for the Ventura County Star:

Schwarzenegger wanted to ax it for at least the last two years, even
though it eliminates far more climate-changing carbon from the
atmosphere than any other program now in effect or contemplated
anywhere in the world, including the cap-and-trade proposals of both
President Barack Obama and the California Air Resources Board.

The Williamson Act is a 43-year-old program named for John
Williamson, a 1960s-era assemblyman from Kern County, that gives
farmers a property-tax subsidy if they pledge to keep their land in
agriculture for 10 to 20 years. It currently protects 16.4 million
acres of farm and ranch land from development.

And here’s what that has to do with being green: A Purdue University
study earlier this decade found that every acre of farmland in that
state pulls an estimated 0.107 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the
air each year. That’s for all types of farmland, including grazing
land, vineyards, rice fields, cotton fields, orchards and more.

This is a lowball figure, of course, because it’s based on Indiana
lands. No green leaves or blades of grass take carbon from the air
there during the winter, as they do here. But even under those
conditions, far less advantageous than in California, the math works
out to a minimum total of 1.754 million tons of carbon absorbed yearly
by those 16.4 million Williamson Act acres. Or 3.5 billion pounds.
Nothing else planned anywhere involves more than a fraction of those

Schwarzenegger, the much-hyped champion of the battle against global
warming, knows this. He was given the numbers during a 2007 press
conference after his press secretary admitted the governor and his
staff knew nothing of the Williamson Act’s climate-changing relevance.
This was immediately after he first proposed cutting out the state’s
support for the program, a cut that did not happen because legislators
restored funding. The governor, no longer able to deny knowledge of his
hypocrisy, also tried to chop the program in budget negotiations
earlier this year, but was thwarted again by lawmakers.

So why is "Ahnold" bound and determined to eliminate funding to preserve ag and open space, even if it means adding CO2 to the air?

Could his decision be influenced by the twenty million in contributions he's gotten from developers?

(graph courtesy of ArnoldWatch)


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Climate Change: Facing the Unpleasant Facts

George Orwell, who specialized in facing unpleasant facts, would be in his element in the climate change discussion today, because the extremely unpleasant fact is that the situation is far worse than nearly anyone wants to say.

Sharon Begley, formerly of the Wall Street Journal, now Newsweek's science correspondent, lays it out

Among the phrases you really, really do not want to hear from climate
scientists are: "that really shocked us," "we had no idea how bad it
was," and "reality is well ahead of the climate models." Yet in
speaking to researchers who focus on the Arctic, you hear comments like
these so regularly they begin to sound like the thumping refrain from Jaws: annoying harbingers of something that you really, really wish would go away.


The loss of Arctic sea ice "is well ahead of" what the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change forecast, largely because
emissions of carbon dioxide have topped what the panel—which foolishly
expected nations to care enough about global warming to do something
about it—projected. "The models just aren't keeping up" with the
reality of CO2 emissions, says [polar scientist] David Carlson. Although
policymakers hoped climate models would prove to be alarmist, the
opposite is true, particularly in the Arctic.


Scientists have long known that permafrost, if it melted, would release
carbon, exacerbating global warming, which would melt more permafrost,
which would add more to global warming, on and on in a feedback loop.
But estimates of how much carbon is locked into Arctic permafrost were,
it turns out, woefully off. "It's about three times as much as was
thought, about 1.6 trillion metric tons, which has surprised a lot of
people," says Edward Schuur of the University of Florida. "It means the
potential for positive feedbacks is greatly increased." That 1.6
trillion tons is about twice the amount now in the atmosphere. And
Schuur's measurements of how quickly CO2 can come out of permafrost,
reported in May, were also a surprise: 1 billion to 2 billion tons per
year. Cars and light trucks in the U.S. emit about 300 million tons per

We have a phrase for those who deny the evidence that the climate is changing, taking us towards what Jim Hansen calls simply "a different planet." If we're polite, we call these people "sceptics." If we're angry, we call them "deniers" or "denialists."

But we have no phrase for those people who know that the evidence is much worse than has been reported. Should we call them "Believers?" "Worriers?" "Doomsters?" 

Or just…climate scientists? 

[Pic below from Coastal Eddy is of melt ice lakes forming along western Greenland]


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Sex is the Environment (sez Wallace Shawn)

Wallace Shawn, as Wikipedia notes, is considered by the world to be a comic actor. But read the essays of Wallace Shawn (son of the famous New Yorker editor), or see his plays, and you will quickly realize that this man, ordinary looking though he may be is, is as he was described in Manhattan — a sexual animal. Unashamedly so.

(Woody Allen fans will recall that the Diane Keaton described her ex-husband that way in the movie to the Woody Allen character, and may recall as well how stunned Allen was when he found out that this "sexual animal" was a balding, nerdy looking character — aka Wallace Shawn.)

But sex happens to nearly everyone, and takes us all by surprise. Which is one of the things that makes it so fascinating…and so enviro. As Shawn writes (in an essay from the Guardian, and Harpers):

…when I form a picture of myself, I see myself doing the sorts of
things that humans do and only humans do – things like hailing a taxi,
going to a restaurant, voting for a candidate in an election, or
placing receipts in various piles and adding them up. If I'm
unexpectedly reminded that my soul and body are capable of being
totally swept up in a pursuit and an activity that pigs, flies, wolves,
lions and tigers also engage in, my normal picture of myself is
violently disrupted. In other words, consciously, I'm aware that I'm a
product of evolution, and I'm part of nature. But my unconscious mind
is still partially wandering in the early 19th century and doesn't know
these things yet.

Writing about sex is really a variant of what
Wordsworth did, that is, it's a variant of writing about nature, or as
we call it now, "the environment". Sex is "the environment" coming
inside, coming into our home or apartment and taking root inside our
own minds.

Shawn goes on to argue that falling in love with beauty is akin to falling in love, period:

So it might not be absurd to say that if you love the body of
another person, if you love another person, if you love a meadow, if
you love a horse, if you love a painting or a piece of music or the sky
at night, then the power of sex is flowing through you.

Yes, some
people go through life astounded every day by the beauty of forests and
animals; some are astounded more frequently by the beauty of art; and
others by the beauty of other human beings. But science could one day
discover that the ability to be astounded by the beauty of other human
beings came first, and to me it seems implausible to imagine that these
different types of astonishment or appreciation are psychologically

Could Shawn be right? Without sex, we would not be able to love at all? Even this world, our home?

The Fever

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The Pathos of Global Warming

So many artists have taken on the issue of global warming, and so few have surpassed the real images we all know (calving ice banks, storm surges, and so on).

Perhaps that's the way it should be, or perhaps it represents a failure of our species' imagination.

But Bioephemeraa found a young Japanese artist, Kawano Takeshi, with a new idea or two on the subject: 



For some reason this last image hits me especially hard…

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“Living on their Fears”…

That is how one thoughtful character describes life in South Africa after the arrival of the "Prawns" featured in the stunning new film District 9…and it's also a description of much too much life in the US today.

Fascinating movie , with many many levels, of character, metaphor, and violence. (May have gotten a release due to a slim similarity to "Transformers," but never mind.) A must see for movie fans.

Here's the original short on which the new film is based:

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