Archive for 2014 April

On love and global warming: True Detective

The HBO show True Detective included some of the most compelling filmed drama seen here in many a moon. But as much as most critics liked the show, what everyone liked was the credit sequence. Created by an Australian studio called Antibody, the creators told Art of the Pitch what they envisioned:

We boarded out the sequence with full photographs very early on. The production was inspired by the work of photographer Richard Misrach. We started with that and also folded in other evocative and strangely beautiful shots of pollution, prostitution, and wildlife across the Gulf Coast. 

They reference an influential Misrach show called Cancer Alley, about the heavily industrialized Louisana coast, which features this spooky shot of an an old Dow Chemical plant, clearly a touchstone to the designers of the haunting credit sequence:


The images deeply impressed this environmental-type reporter, but the former script reader in me was impressed by the dialogue, which turned philosophical readily, but never lost the heightening power of drama.

Here from The Locked Room episode is an exchange that illustrates the strange power of college- professor-turned-writer Nic Pizzolatto's exploration of pollution. 

One police detective, played by Woody Harrelson, Marty, a man struggling with family life, thinks out loud to his partner, the classic obsessive loner, played by Matthew McConaughey, who has much different concerns on this mind: 

"Hey — think a man can love two women at once? I mean — be in love with them?"

"I don't think that man can love — least not the way you mean. Inadequacies and reality always set in. This pipeline is covering up this coast like a jigsaw –this place is going to be underwater in thirty years. 

It's even better with the haunting music, courtesy of T-Bone Burnett and The Handsome Family:

HBO's True Detective – Main Title Sequence from Patrick Clair on Vimeo.

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Between every two tall cacti is a door to a new way of life

On the PCT, in the Anza-Borrego desert, seeing two ocotillo beside the trail like gate posts reminded me of a famous quote of John Muir's. (Okay, I'm a nerd, I admit it.) 

The quote, from a note Muir made in a margin, goes something like this: 

Between every two pine trees is a door leading to a new way of life. 

Could the same be said of two ocotillo on the PCT?


Hope so. 

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PCT section A: Pioneer Mail to Warner Springs

Last week I completed the second half of the first section of the Pacific Crest Trail, through the Anza-Borrego Desert, which turned out to be a good little adventure. Pics and comments below for anyone who might wonder — what's it like to walk the PCT in SoCal just 50-100 miles north of the border? 

Let me start with a moment of mild drama…ran into this fellow hanging out in the trail:


Fortunately he was very mellow, and hardly seemed to notice as I skirted him and the trail to pass, (after trying to move him on with a couple of chucked rocks). 

After the picnic area known as Pioneer Mail, where (for logistical reasons) I had to leave the trail last year, and where I resumed this past week, the trail climbs a low ridge, then begins a long gentle descent towards the Anza-Borrego Desert. A walker begins to see a few cacti amidst the chaparral. 


After about fifteen or more miles of dryness, water can be found at what is known as Rodriguez Spur. Lots of hikers gathered there this past year, clustering within a few feet of the spring (captured in a concrete box). I camped a 100 feet down the way, behind a sheltering tree. Not a spectacular place, but the intersection of a jeep road and the cattle fence made for an interesting night pic.


My second day on the trail led me gently down, down, down towards the desert floor, with some impressive views and nice flowers (April is the season for desert flowers).


The desert isn't my fave ecotone, but this was an easy trail to like.


After an hour or two I reached the desert floor, and boy did it fit the profile. 


The trail crosses two highways in short order, 78 and 79, and beneath a bridge I found a half-dozen hikers hanging out in the shade, enjoying some grapes brought by Crash Test, who was resting a pinched nerve in her shoulder. Had a nice chat with a helpful fella known as Rock Ocean (more later on this trail saint, er, angel). 

No shortage of water at this cache — wish I had known. Wouldn't have schlepped 7 liters.


After crossing the highways, the trail heads up into the San Felipe Hills, the most desert-y and spectacular section of this sixty miles or so.


Ran into some folks on horseback who told me that in a normal (non-drought) year, every step of this way at this time of year would be wildflowers. Plausible. Thought this was about cutest little barrel cacti I've ever seen. 


Amazingly, thunder was heard, rain came down — and lightning! But after camping hastily, of course the clouds dissipated, which made for some soft air and sweet views:


To make it to Warner Springs, the end of the section, and home with a day to recoup meant a 24-mile schlep, but off I set. At the 90-mile mark I encountered this sign — more aqua I didn't need to carry:


Ran into a group of folks supplying cases and cases of water for the official "kick-off" from Morena Lake on the 24th. They said they were laying in enough water for 500 hikers. Here's Jim Hawkins, a geologist at Scripps, doing his part. I thanked him a bunch. 


Trail wasn't the prettiest, but the views — wow.


Leaving the San Felipe Hills behind, the trail turned north, and the landscape softened.


Delighted to see this in the trail:



 And a gentler kind of floral beauty, w/o thorns:


Starting to feel pretty good in the grasslands before Warner Springs.


Maybe there were pioneers coming through here:

Here's Saunter, a through hiker from a few years back, heading south towards the kick-off at Morena Lake in about a week. 1-DSC00557

And here's humble but charming Warner Springs, where hikers have been congregating and even camping out in the parking lot, much to the surprise of the local Calfire crew. 




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Kingsnorth: Environmental activism doesn’t work

Because the scientific news about climate change continues to cast a gloomy shadow over our future, and perhaps because the press is bored with the usual happy Earth Day talk, two prominent magazines featured this week scathing denunciations of climate activism. 

In Pacific Standard, James McWilliams of Texas State University calls for a Kafka-esque "narrative of complete and utter ruin," as opposed to the false hope offered by the likes of activist Bill McKibben:

…the problem with climate change discourse isn’t the skeptic. It’s the true believer—and the fact that, for him, the slow burn of global warming obviates radical action despite knowing that nothing else will do. This paradox leaves many of us who take climate change seriously more or less speechless—or merely talking about building codes—while the planet cooks due to our hyper-charged consumerism.

Meanwhile The New York Times Magazine features the journey in thought of Paul Kingsnorth, formerly a British environmental activist, now a man who has now simply had it with efforts to slow or halt climate change and environmental degradation. He thinks it's useless. 

“Everything had gotten worse,” Kingsnorth said. “You look at every trend that environmentalists like me have been trying to stop for 50 years, and every single thing had gotten worse. And I thought: I can’t do this anymore. I can’t sit here saying: ‘Yes, comrades, we must act! We only need one more push, and we’ll save the world!’ I don’t believe it. I don’t believe it! So what do I do?”

Kingsnorth and a fellow former activist, Dougland Hine, together — almost accidentally — launched an "Uncivilization" movement. Hine explained:

“People think that abandoning belief in progress, abandoning the belief that if we try hard enough we can fix this mess, is a nihilistic position,” Hine said. “They think we’re saying: ‘Screw it. Nothing matters.’ But in fact all we’re saying is: ‘Let’s not pretend we’re not feeling despair. Let’s sit with it for a while. Let’s be honest with ourselves and with each other. And then as our eyes adjust to the darkness, what do we start to notice?’"

Two points. First, as Lucy Jones the thought leader of the USGS efforts to prepare for disaster (climatogical or geological) in Southern California put it in a talk last December at the American Geophysical Union — Imagine an American without Los Angeles — disasters are inevitable, but catastrophes are not.

Example? She offered the experience of the Northridge earthquake of l994 in Los Angeles vs Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. The Northridge earthquake was one of the biggest disasters in the history of the world in its time, in terms of cost, but the governmental response was effective, and although the regional economy took a dip as freeways, telephone lines, and other infrastructure took a major hit, not to mention the loss of nearly sixty people, Los Angeles recovered quickly.

In contrast the inept governmental response to Katrina turned a disaster into a full-scale catastrophe, resulting in the largest diaspora in the history of the U.S., redistributing over a million people from the region across the country. The city still hasn't fully recovered, and is not expected to. 

The point being that, as Jones said, disasters are inevitable, but catastrophes can be averted. The Kingsnorth/Hine argument is that nothing has yet worked, re: climate and the other big environmental questions, and so we must give up on activism to find the radical solution that will work.

But what victories have ever been found in failure, in giving up? Makes no sense to yours truly. 

On a personal scale, we don't stop living, even when faced with the inevitability of death. Far from it. And in the environment, as the renowned poet Wendell Berry points out in The Peace of Wild Things, nature is its own reward:

The Peace of Wild Things


When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Most tellingly of all to yours truly, Kingsnorth in his personal life has moved away from conventional civilization, to remote Scotland, but has chosen to marry and have children.
That in itself is a living faith in "the grace of the world," is it not? 

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At such times I knew I was worthy of myself: Jung

From C.J. Jung's "Memories, Dreams, Reflections," chapter two ("School Years"):

Nothing could persuade me that "in the image of God" applied only to man. In fact it seemed to me that the high mountains, the rivers, lakes, trees, flowers, and animals far better exemplified the essence of God than men with their ridiculous clothes, their meanness, vanity, mendacity, and abhorrent egotism — all qualities with which I was only too familiar from myself, that is, from personality No. 1, the schoolboy of 1890. Besides his world there existed another realm, like a temple in which anyone who entered was transformed and suddenly overpowered by a vision of the whole cosmos, so that he could only marvel and admire, forgetful of himself. 

Here lived the "Other," who knew God as a hidden, personal, and at the same time suprapersonal secret. Here nothing separated man from God; indeed, it was as though the human mind looked down upon Creation simultaneously with God. 

What I am here unfolding, sentence by sentence, is something I was then not conscious of in any articulate way, though I sensed it with an overpowering premonition and intensity of feeling. At such times I knew I was worthy of myself, that I was my true self. I therefore sought the peace and solitude of this "Other," personality No. 2. 

[which is why I am off to the trail for a few days — in the Anza-Borrego desert] 


The play and counterplay between personalities No. 1 and No. 2, which has run through my whole life, has nothing to do with a "split" or dissociation in the ordinary medical sense. On the contrary, it is played out in every individual. In my life No. 2 has been of prime importance, and I have always tried to make room for anything that wanted to come to me from within. He is a typical figure, but he is perceived only by the very few. Most people's conscious understanding is not sufficient to realize that he is also what they are. 

Think that's sharply articulated — and I suspect often confused with Nature in and of itself. 

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Has regulation halted fracking in California in 2014?

That's the suggestion from an environmental law blog forwarded by the able, thoughtful attorney Brian Segee of the Environmental Defense Center

According to the post by attorney Mike Mills, Fran Pavley's AB 4, approved by the mostly Democratic legislature last year and signed by the Governor in January was clearly not intended to halt fracking. The bill instructed DOGGR (California's Department of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources) to allow oil well stimulation practices as long as the noticing and permitting requirements were met.

But, Mills writes:


"The emergency regulations appear to not only have created significantly more problems than they solved for the industry in California, they also have created by administrative regulation the moratorium that the Legislature and Governor rejected at the end of 2013 legislative session."

Yesterday I spoke to a "land man" (for a small oil company in Texas) who has spent substantial time in Ventura County buying mineral rights in recent months. He said that most of the millions of dollars spent in this area on such leases, spurred on by fracking, came from the Occidental and Vintage Petroleum companies, in the Santa Paula and Fillmore areas. He said that despite the millions they have spent there actually has been little development or fracking, due in part to opposition at the county government level.

He speculated out loud — not prompted by yours truly — that most of these leases, which are usually for a five-year span, might not be renewed when they come due starting next year. 

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66% chance of an El Niño — a big one — in 2014: NOAA

Scientists now are closely watching the Pacific and will know with more certainty in two or three months what the winter should bring. For now, all the trend lines are showing a greater likelihood of a wet winter than a dry one, particularly with the massive Kelvin wave still moving.

“Don’t hyperventilate yet,” Patzert said. “It’s a little too early to say the drought will be over, but this Kelvin wave is no dud. This is a stud.”

In March, the climate/weather experts at NOAA/the CPC/JPL/etc declared we had a 52% chance oi an El Niño. 

In April yesterday they said the chances had jumped to 66% –and it looks like a big one. 

From Paul Rogers' story in the San Jose Mercury News:

"Considering the desperate situation we are in here in the American West, wouldn't it be sweet if the great wet hope came riding over the horizon on these Kelvin waves?" said Bill Patzert, a research scientist and oceanographer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

The Kelvin wave now in the central Pacific is larger and warmer than any since records were first kept 35 years ago — even exceeding the Kelvin wave of 1997-98. That winter was the last major El Niño event, when rainfall across California was double the historic average, rivers flooded and mudslides closed highways. Seeing similar conditions shaping up, even early in the year, is attracting scientists' attention.

Patzert is only the most colorful of the many experts quoted on the building ENSO of 2014. 

"We're seeing a pretty strong tilt toward El Niño," said Michelle L'Heureux, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center in College Park, Md.

But what could end one extreme could begin another: Researchers are particularly intrigued by an enormous mass of warm water flowing through the Pacific that has been linked to heavy winter downpours and flooding in the past.

The satellite picture of the Kelvin wave is indubitably awesome. 


Scientists now are closely watching the Pacific and will know with more certainty in two or three months what the winter should bring. For now, all the trend lines are showing a greater likelihood of a wet winter than a dry one, particularly with the massive Kelvin wave still moving.

"Don't hyperventilate yet," Patzert said. "It's a little too early to say the drought will be over, but this Kelvin wave is no dud. This is a stud."

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Montecito rich ignore drought, guzzle millions of gallons

A great story on the drought in Santa Barbara from the innovative Mission and State publication includes this jaw-dropper on the rich in Montecito from Alex Kacik:

Despite a combined population of about 10,400 people, Montecito and Summerland residents use much more water—particularly when it comes to maintaining their lush landscapes—than most cities in the county. According to the Santa Barbara County Water Agency, Goleta residents used an average of 66 gallons per person per day in 2012, compared to 86 gallons in Santa Barbara, 84 gallons in Carpinteria and 290 gallons in Montecito.

In fact, Montecito’s single-family residents use the most water, accounting for about 74 percent of the district’s 6,017 acre-feet of total water use last year. To put that in perspective, an acre-foot is 326,000 gallons of water, and a five-minute shower uses 10 gallons, while a typical 15-minute lawn watering uses about 700 gallons. There are three customers who used 92 acre-feet between them last year, which is nearly 30 million gallons. Combined, the 6-acre, 20-acre and 40-acre properties used more water than the 110-acre Westmont College, which used 88 acre-feet last year. It takes about 2 acre-feet to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

“It’s almost as if [those customers] are in a bubble and that they truly aren’t aware of the situation we’re in,” said [General Manager Tom] Mosby, adding that about 200 Montecito single-family residences [5 percent] use 25 percent of the district’s water. “But they have to become aware of it. These people will come down one way or the other.”

Read the whole thing, and you'll see as he indicates that the water agency does have fines in place, and even the ability to shut an egregious customer off.

But still!

Talked to Renee Roth, a G3 gardener who spoke eloquently on drought-tolerant and ocean-friendly landscapes at our drought symposium a few weeks back, and she said that she is taking a master gardening class in Santa Barbara, and heard from a couple of her classmates that they have no intention of changing, as many SoCal gardeners are trying to do, in the face of this drought.  

This despite the fact that Lake Cachuma, the city's reservoir, is at just 39% of capacity. 


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I heart the Sespe Wilderness

Looking south, towards Santa Paula Peak.


Looking south, towards Santa Paula Peak.

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Pulitzer Prize-winner on Shakespeare: What the hell?

From a great and wonderfully long interview with Tracy Letts, who won a Pulitzer for his knock-out play "August Osage County":

I like Shakespeare, but I never know what the hell is going on. The actor David Pasquesi is a dear friend of mine, and we’ve talked­ about this before. He says, “I don’t know why directors bother setting Shakespeare in different places, on the moon or in a resort.” He’s like: “I understand Verona. It’s what they’re saying that I don’t understand.”

Fascinating to hear an actor say this. Always thought part of the fun of being an actor must be to learn to truly understand Shakespeare.

Here's Letts in another play, as an actor, in "Who's Afriad of Virginia Woolf?"


Letts, as George, is the strangler.

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