Archive for 2013 September

Edward Hopper’s mom, drawn by Edward Hopper

From a fascinating exhibit at the Whitney Museum, here's a drawing by the great American realist of his mother. The curators mentioned in a note on the wall that Hopper was considered by his peers at art school, including Rockwell Kent, to be literally the best in his class at drawing. 

He used this talent as part of his slow, meticulous work as a painter, but occasionally apparently simply drew for the sake of drawing. Think you can see in this work his raw ability/talent. It's not an example of his famous melancholia, which so angers people, so perhaps that's my point — that Hopper was an artist first, that his melancholia was an expression, not an attitude. 

NYC 1029.13 046

A choice, not an affliction. Does that make any sense? 

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Patzert: The history of the world is written in droughts

From the most prominent and respected expert on climate and weather in Southern California:

Our water supply depends on the snowpack in the northern Sierra and the eastern Rockies. It also depends on the population growth in the Southwest. We share the Colorado with seven states and six Indian nations. Everybody gets an allocation and we leave a couple of drops down at the bottom for Mexico. That’s the background info on water in the West. We capture it, we ship it.

Let’s look back over the last 20 centuries: We’ve seen tremendous droughts in the American West. In the 11th century there was an 80-year drought along the Colorado. This is before global warming by anthropogenic—or man-made—sources. The 20th century, which is when we built our civilization in California, was one of the wettest in 2,000 years. It was an anomaly. We know this from tree ring records. We have built a civilization, which is the sixth- or seventh-largest economy in the world, based on imported water in a wet century. How do you like that?

We have built a civilization in an extremely dry place. The limiting factor in any civilization is primarily water. Look at all the great civilization collapses. The 11th century is when the Anasazis had to disperse because of the 80-year drought on the Colorado. The same is true for many civilizations in Mesoamerica. This story can be told for the civilization that built Angkor Wat in Cambodia. It can be told in the Middle East. One of the primary determinates of human civilization has been drought: natural climate variability. We’ve seen this is our history. The history of the world is written in droughts.

Which is alarming, given the recent behavior of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. When it's negative we tend to have droughts in California, especially SoCal. 


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How to dramatize climate change: Eric Holthaus

When I met Eric Holthaus at the American Meteorological Society's convention about six months ago, he was a journalist reporting on weather for New York City to the Wall Street Journal. At the time he was a little frustrated, I think it's fair to say, because he wasn't able to talk about big picture issues like climate for the national audience. Now he's working for the interesting Quartz/Atlantic publication — and telling a big story. 

In tweets this week re: the fifth assessment (on climate) from the IPCC: 

I just broke down in tears in boarding area at SFO while on phone with my wife. I've never cried because of a science report before.

I realized, just now: This has to be the last flight I ever take. I'm committing right now to stop flying. It's not worth the climate.
This second tweet came two minutes later. Always interesting, deeply committed, and highly recommended: Eric Holthaus.

His tweets raise a crucial question for reporters who care about the climate — how to do more than relate facts, and find ways to dramatize our concern. I can only admire Holthaus for his decision (though I wonder how he'll cover the news, if he can't fly to conferences, such as the AMS or the AGU). 


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Murder or wilderness? A choice for October

Have been distracted from the PCT by a reporting assignment — covering a murder trial. Alex Medina, age eighteen, is on trial for the killing of Seth Scarminach, age sixteen at the time of his death 2009. Here's a story I wrote for the local paper on this for Wednesday:

An eyewitness to a slaying at a party in Meiners Oaks in 2009 testified Tuesday morning that he saw accused killer Alex Medina stab Seth Scarminah repeatedly and then kneel over him and “cut his throat.”

Alexander Gabriel, who was 18 at the time of the slaying, testified that he was standing behind the back porch, urinating, at a late-night party in the 2400 block of Maricopa Highway when he heard the defendant approach Scarminach.

“I finished and I turned around and Alex approached Seth saying, ‘What do you claim?’” Gabriel testified. “Seth said ‘Meiners Oaks.’ Alex said ‘OSL 13’ and they were about to fight.”
Gabriel testified that Scarminach gave him his hat and went with Medina to a driveway to fight, followed by Gabriel and two other partygoers.

“I had seen a lot of fights and was expecting a regular fight,” Gabriel testified. “They started fighting and there were a couple of blows each and then within 10 seconds I saw Alex make a stabbing motion. I saw a shiny thing and I knew it was a knife. Seth dropped to the ground and Alex got on top of him and cut his throat.”

Yikes! Lots of fascinating issues on the table — gang violence, rapping on such from both the accused and the victim, life in prison without the possibility of parole, mental health, legal strategies, the dark underbelly of Ojai…but not much beauty! Here's where I would like to be…


Though now that I think about it, if there's a government shutdown — as is expected Monday — then the national parks will close. So maybe it's not such a choice after all!

[pic From the generous and irresistible Jeff Sullivan

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Science: As certain of climate change as of smoking

Will Seth Borenstein of the Associated Press ever get the respect he deserves as a science writer?

Doubtful. He's too popular, I guess, and too unpretentious. Covers breaking news still. But let me put it this way: Who has framed the question of the science of climate change more effectively than this

WASHINGTON – Top scientists from a variety of fields say they are about as certain that global warming is a real, man-made threat as they are that cigarettes kill.

They are as sure about climate change as they are about the age of the universe. They say they are more certain about climate change than they are that vitamins make you healthy or that dioxin in Superfund sites is dangerous.

They’ll even put a number on how certain they are about climate change. But that number isn’t 100 per cent. It’s 95 per cent.

And for some non-scientists, that’s just not good enough.

Nothing in his AP story is new — except the effectiveness of the framing. 


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WSJ Expert: We need an alternative to coal for AGW

Because the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) editorial page consistently has found reasons to scoff at the risks of anthropogenic global warming (AGW), it's notable when an expert vetted by the paper — Robert Rapier, an energy specialist – declares that global warming is a problem

In order to address the carbon dioxide problem, we either have to develop low-cost, convenient, and scalable sources of power so developing countries can continue to develop (otherwise they will continue to develop with coal), or we have to find a way to start sucking a trillion metric tons of carbon out of the atmosphere and sequestering it. There are some strategies for sequestering carbon, but so far none that can significantly impact the problem.

A trillion tons! That's how much we all have put into the air since l965. Holy cow. 


From Robert Rapier.

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How Yosemite fire crews saved the giant Sequoias

Awe-inspiring story from Diana Marcum at the Los Angeles Times. Here's a part of it: 

Two days later, on Aug. 17, flames exploded over a ridge above the Tuolumne River. Whitewater rafters navigating the canyon of buckeyes and bald eagles said it sounded like bombs.

It was about 20 miles in the distance, but Yosemite Fire Chief Kelly Martin, a specialist in predicting fire behavior, knew it was headed their way.

"This is it," she said. "This is the Big One."

Now, it had pushed 30 miles inside the park, moving south toward California 120 — the main east-west route through Yosemite. In one day it had burned 50,000 acres inside the park. The biggest fire since the park began keeping records in 1930 had burned 46,000.

The sequoias evolved to face wildfire. But officials feared that this fire could kill even trees that had been shrugging off flames since before Rome burned.


A lot could go wrong. If the backfires were too hot, they could cook the groves. If they did not burn enough ground in time, the Rim fire would roar through unblocked. Those two groves and the Merced Grove to the south would burn, the lookout tower and helicopter base would burn, and the firefighters would have to run.

"We knew it was a longshot," [Taro] Pusina, [deputy fire chief] said. "But no amount of bulldozers or planes or crews had stopped this fire. We were out of options."


Firefighting has come so far since the total fire suppression days — great to see the firefighters who took these chances honored for their success. 

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Speaking of “Biblical” flooding in Colorado…

Chris Mooney is now reporting on climate for Grist, which is great news in and of itself. His latest post looks at the huge and deadly floods of this past week in Colorado, and tries to answer the obvious question — did climate change contribute to or worsen these floods?

The answer is not a simple yes, the experts say,  but correlative and suggestive, as a central graph he posts shows: 

But a good writer such as Money also has an ear for language, and he notes a couple of interesting points in commentary this week. A forecaster for the National Weather Service pointed to "major flash flooding" with "Biblical rainfall events." Words perhaps chosen to make the point to the deeply religious area of Colorado Springs?

And Mooney notes that evenmeterologists and small government advocates and Republicans such as Paul Douglas are seeing a new atmosphere overhead — an atmosphere created by climate change. 

In his exploration of causes, Mooney makes the usual points — more warming means more water vapor in the atmosphere, means more potential for heavy rains — but stops short, as the phrase du jour goes, of pointing the finger or affixing blame. This is the responsbile, scientific choice. 

But free spirits — artists such as Tom Toles earlier this week — aren't as constrained. ColoradofloodingToles

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LA Times calls King Coal a liar

The Los Angeles Times has a heckuva team of environmental reporters, including several Pulitzer Prize winners, but as of late, some of the toughest reporting in the paper has come from Neela Banerjee, who in her latest story in politely calls the coal industry and its employees, the miners, liars.

It's fascinating to see how she does it. She introduces a coal miner, and lets him blame the Obama administration and the Environmental Protection Agency for the decline of the industry, and then, after several paragraphs of fairness, lowers the boom and reveals a simpler truth.

"Coal is the only industry we've got, all we've ever had," said Serafino Nolletti, Logan's mayor.

But coal's role in the state economy has been waning for 50 years.
Mechanization stripped away mining jobs, and the shuttering of the
domestic steel industry and much other manufacturing eroded coal

Coal is the third-largest contributor to the state's gross domestic
product, but employs less than 5% of the state's workforce — far less
than other industries, according to Jeremy Richardson, a West
Virginia-raised physicist and fellow at the Union of Concerned


"For the last 100 years, coal has been king in this state," said Jeff
Kessler, a Democrat who is president of West Virginia's Senate and a
sponsor of the so-called future fund. "But it's a king that hasn't
always been good to its subjects. Just because it's all we've known as a
state doesn't mean that's all there is."

As Joel Pett illustrates for the McClatchey chain:


Coal is losing power in this country — and popularity overseas too, as AP's BigStory of the day documents "the beginning of the end":

The U.S. will burn 943 million tons of coal this year, only about as much as it did in 1993. Now it's on the verge of adopting pollution rules that may all but prohibit the construction of new coal plants. And China, which burns 4 billion tons of coal a year — as much as the rest of the world combined — is taking steps to slow the staggering growth of its coal consumption and may even be approaching a peak.

Michael Parker, a commodities analyst at Bernstein Research, calls the shift in China "the beginning of the end of coal." While global coal use is almost certain to grow over the next few years — and remain an important fuel for decades after that — coal may soon begin a long slow decline.


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Dengue fever hits the USA (as seen in “Fevered”)

A few days back I pointed out that Linda Marsa in her new global warming book Fevered dug up a central fact about the Dust Bowl that few others had noticed — that it only took one degree of warming to set that disaster in motion. This concern was echoed in a report on National Public Radio that focused on another reason to fear the reoccurence of a new dust bowl. 

Today let me mention another projection in Fevered, which is that dengue fever has landed again in the United States, thanks in part to mosquitoes empowered by climate change.

NPR echoed this concern in a report on All Things Considered too, on Friday. 

To wit:

Public health officials in Florida are once again scrambling to contain an outbreak of dengue fever, a disease spread by mosquitoes.

Until 2009, when it surfaced in Key West, the tropical disease hadn't been seen in Florida in more than 70 years.

Now there are concerns dengue may establish a foothold in the state.

Wrote Marsa, in chapter one of Fevered:

Over the last half-century, as the planet has experienced a warming trend, dengue has spread into more temperate areas. In that time its incidence has spiked 30-fold, according to the World Health Organization, and it now causes an estimated 100 million infections annually in more than 100 countries, especially in densely populated and developing megacities in the tropical belt, where a high percentage of the population lives in urban shantytowns. The Aedes aegypti mosquito that transmits dengue is a sociable urbanite that feasts mainly on humans…because of the speed of its sprad and the overwhelming budens of illness and death it causes, the WHO considers dengue the world's most serious insect-transmitted viral disease. But many doctors are unfamiliar with the symptoms and fail to make an accurate diagnosis. As a consequence, the CDC believes many cases are never counted, making these figures estimates of its prevalence. 

In Florida this past summer, said the ATC story:

It's not unusual for travelers to the Caribbean, Africa or Latin America to return home with a case of dengue acquired overseas. But in Stuart, dengue spread to the local mosquito population, says Dr. Aileen Chang, an expert on dengue fever at the University of Miami Health System.

And those mosquitoes have infected others with the disease. It's an outbreak similar to one seen in Key West in 2009 and 2010.

Only about a quarter of those infected with dengue become sick enough to see a doctor. So far, health officials haven't been able to identify the person who brought dengue to the area.

In Stuart — and everywhere there's a dengue outbreak — officials find themselves in a race against the disease. They have to work to educate the public and control the mosquito population before it spreads more.

Dr. Chang has been advising health authorities in Stuart, and judging from the numbers of cases coming in, she believes this particular outbreak may have peaked. But it's not likely to be the last, she says.

"The temperature and weather patterns are changing. We're seeing more dengue throughout the entire world," she says. "So now, having it creep up to Florida, the most southern part of the U.S., is not that surprising."

Note that the National Public Radio report didn't breath a word of dengue's rare but deadly sibling, dengue hemorrhagic fever. Appropriate because no one, evidently, has contracted that strain in Florida. Marsa in Fevered points out that that the mortal disease has been documented in Brownsville, Texas, in 2005 and, she suggests, will show up soon enough wherever dengue fever is found. 

I wonder about California, given dengue fever's prevalence in Mexico…


[map from Florida Bureau of Environmental Public Health Medicine]

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