Archive for 2014 December

The Vatican: Climate change is an inequality issue

2015 will be the world's last, best chance at climate stabilization. (As we heard two weeks ago from the U.S.'s leading representative at the Lima climate talks, Jeffrey Sachs.)

So its good news, in a paradoxical way, that the Vatican is leading the charge for real action on emissions control this year by talking very tough on climate and the economy, and linking inequality in income to inequality in climate. Bold new action is promised by the Pope.  

The growth in GDP has been accompanied by unacceptable gaps between the rich and the poor, who still have no access to most of the advancement of the [Anthropocene] Era. For example, about fifty-percent of available energy is accessed by just one billion people, yet the negative impacts on the environment are being felt by the three billion who have no access to that energy.  Three billion have so little access to modern energy that they are forced to cook, heat and light their homes with methods dangerous to their health.

Andrew Revkin at Dot Earth, reporting from the Vatican meeting before the launch of their promised bold new action by the Pope on climate in 2015, sounds surprisingly hopeful. Revkin concludes: 

"Here’s how [he] described this theme in the summation [he] delivered on the final day at the Vatican:

It says much that even some of the most accomplished scientists at this meeting articulated that progress on climate, energy, equity, education and conservation of living resources will be driven by values and faith more than data and predictive models.

In a discussion over dinner, Walter Munk, at 96 one of great oceanographers of modern times, spoke not of gigatons of carbon or megawatts of electricity: “This requires a miracle of love and unselfishness,” he said.

Almost all you need is love. Here’s to Pope Francis, and Walter Munk."

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No uninteresting things: Chesterton and Redmond

There are no uninteresting things, only uninterested people.

I've seen a lot of talks on a lot of specific topics, mostly climatological, at scientific conferences, but at the AGU's fall meeting this year was lucky to hear a talk in honor of a great scientist named John Tyndall given by the wonderfully eloquent and generous Kelly Redmond of the Desert Research Institute.

This talk included plenty of science, but ranged much more widely than most, and had not just fact to offer but also inspiration. It even touched the heart. While I'm trying to find out if the video version is readily available to the general public, as I think it should be, let me quote for Google's sake some of its highpoints, including an aphorism Redmond came across in high school, from G.K. Chesterton.

There are no uninteresting things, only uninterested people. 

(Redmond actually improved it a little: Chesteron's original is a little more plodding.) 


Words to live by — as an individual, a scientist, and a journalist. Here's Kelly. I'm a big fan. 


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Chris Rock on Christmas and Jesus: a rant

Back in 1965, Charles Schultz gave us perhaps the best of all Christmas TV specials. Because it's not just about the season, it's about all that comes with it: depression, loneliness, and self-doubting, as well as family and the sweetness and holiness of the Nativity. It's sad, silly, funny, touching. It won all the big awards, the soundtrack went triple-platinum, and anyone open to convincing that the holiday season has been corrupted by sell sell sell had to hear the message. 

I mean, after all, how can anyone forget the Charlie Brown Christmas tree?


But that was nearly fifty years ago. Time for an televised anti-commercialization booster shot, which this month came from a surprising quarter: Chris Rock, appearing on Saturday Night Live. Saying lots of rude things, as is his wont, and making a lot of sense. 

I admire it, want to make this part of it more search and findable on the web.  

Take it away, Chris Rock

In America there are no sacred days. We commericialize everything. Do you realize we are only five years away from 9/11 sales? Yeah, [TV voice] come on down to Red Lobster. These shrimp are only 9 dollars and eleven cents. [normal voice] It doesn't matter what the holiday is. Martin Luther King Day is going to be the same thing. [TV voice] "These Toyotas are practially free at last, free at last!" "This MLK birthday, McD has got a dream!"

It's Ameica, we commercialize everything. Look what we did to Christmas. Christmas. Christmas is Jesus's birthday. 

Jesus's birthday. Now, I don't know Jesus. But I've read that Jesus is the least materialist person to ever roam the earth. No bling on Jesus, and we turned Jesus's birthday into the most materialistic day of the year. In fact we have the Jesus birthday season. It's a whole season of materialism. And at the end of the Jesus birthday season, we have the nerve to have an economist come on the TV and tell us how horrible the Jesus birthday season was this year!

[TV Voice] Oh, we had a horrible Jesus birthday season this year — hopefully business will pick up by his cruxifiction. 

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2014 Poem of the Year: “A Moment in a Room”

Of course yours truly "achange" has not read a thousandth of the poems published this year, and this poem I submit below as poem of the year doesn't even come from 2014.

But it's great, it's by Tennessee Williams, and it's never been published before, I don't believe. It comes from a magisterial biography of this great writer with an absurdly dramatic life. (The book's by the great critic John Lahr and it's called Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrammage of the Flesh.) 

Most important, the poem's a beaut, about the love of Williams' life, Frank Merlo. From l952:

A Moment in a Room

Coarse fabrics are the ones
for common wear,
the tender ones are those
we fold away.

And so I watch you quietly
comb your hair.
Intimate the silence,
dim and warm.

I could but do not break
a thing so still,
in which almost a whisper
would be shrill…

For time's not cheated by
a moment's quiet,
the heart beats echo to
eternal riot…

But while it waits, I speak not
false to you,
something unspoken in 
this room is true,

And still it goes as though
it longed to stay,
this tender moment we
must fold away. 


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On the work of writing: Kent Haruf

A beautiful little essay/autobiography from the late Kent Haruf, which Granta generously makes available on-line. As the modest Haruf says, he devoted himself to writing like an acolyte, which no doubt has everything to do with the quality of his work:

A couple of favorite passages:

On inwardness:

I learned to live completely inwardly in those years. I wouldn’t show anyone anything of myself. I never told anyone anything. The last thing I wanted was to draw attention to myself. If you had told me when I was fourteen or when I was twenty-two that some day I would come to regard my cleft lip as a gift, I would have said you were a fool and completely and utterly crazy. But, the truth is, I have come to think so now, to think that perhaps those years of unhappiness and isolation and living inwardly to myself have helped me to be more aware of others and to pay closer attention to what others around me are feeling. 

On the extraordinary power of some writers:

I entered college thinking I wanted to be a biology teacher, but once I took American literature classes, and once I began to read Faulkner and Hemingway, my life and my intentions were changed forever – I knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life reading great writing and thinking about it. I was just shocked by what Faulkner and Hemingway could do on the page – it was as if the words they wrote were raised up off the page, as if there were a kind of shimmering aura about them, as if the stories were holy, and sacred, the most important matters in the world to know about – and I’ve never gotten over that feeling, and I don’t want to.

On workshops at Iowa:

I took workshops with various writers, including one with John Irving, and the way they all taught writing then was different from what teaching tends to be now: they didn’t mess around with your manuscript; what they did was more descriptive than it was prescriptive. They told you what they thought worked in a story and what didn’t and left it up to you to figure out how to fix it. 

As they say, read the whole thing. It's short but that only makes it all the more memorable.  


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NOAA: Arctic Warming = cold winters for Eastern US

Today the National Atmospheric and Oceanographic Administration released the Arctic Report Card for 2014. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, but the first consequence of that warming, according to our national experts, is very very cold winters for the eastern United States. 

To quote: 

The warming Arctic atmosphere was strongly connected to lower latitudes in early 2014 causing cold air outbreaks into the eastern USA and warm air intrusions into Alaska and northern Europe.

An image depicting this coldness from January of this year makes the point graphically:



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Everybody Loves Walter (Ormond beach, take two)

Today Longreads picked up my story about Walter Fuller and the life he has devoted to Ormond Beach, right here on the far shores of Ventura County. Good for Latterly and nice for me and Walter too. 


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Paris meeting on climate in 2015 “last chance”: Sachs

In a talk in the largest room at the Moscone Center of the American Geophysical Union today, Jeff Sachs, an economist from Columbia-Doherty, currently working for the United Nations, said frankly that the meeting of nations in Paris next year will be the world's "last chance" at climate safety. 

Sachs just came from the climate talks in Lima, which he said was a stage-setter for the deal-making to come in Paris next December. Suzanne Goldenberg reported on the Lima talks for The Guardian:

There was one thing above all others that wealthy countries wanted out of the Lima negotiations and that was a method of accounting for emissions cuts.

The issue that mattered above all to developing countries was deciding who should carry the burden of emissions cuts, and getting the money flowing for climate aid.

For small island states, acknowledgement of “loss and damage” due to climate change was critical. All three contingents got what they wanted – sort of. The deal reached on Saturday afternoon was critical in keeping the talks on track. The US and the European Union had pushed hard for a text that would require countries to offer upfront information about the nature of their pledges to cut emissions – “clarity, transparency and understanding”.

Sachs said that world governments and populations — even the American population — have been expressing a great deal of concern about what he calls "climate safety." The Congress is a different story, he says. 

David Koch owns it. A game of sorts is being played, to see how much money can be poured into how many districts to defend the interests of coal, oil, and natural gas. 

The NYTimes made the same point in June of this year, in an editorial and image:


Nonetheless, Sachs remains confident the wheel will turn, pointing to Teddy Roosevelt, the rise of the Progressive Movement, and even the 60's as examples. He said. 

I don't believe it's impossible. Major systems do undergo change. We're long overdue for another one. 


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The unbearable whiteness of Wild: a black perspective

Perhaps the most interesting meditation on the movie Wild to date comes from Brandon Harris on the Talking Points Memo site. He frames the question a little less provocatively than my headline wondering:

Why is camping a white thing? 

He points out that the one black character of any stature in Wild, a self-described hobo, appears not to have been a black character in Cheryl Strayed's famous book, upon which of course the movie is based. As a black man, he takes no great offense at this "tokenism," but as a hiker and camper does explore the subject, noting a Sierra piece about black mountaineers, and pointing out that in the not-that-distant past, black people often did camp out — for their lives. 

For many blacks in the antebellum south, camping skills were essential. The faintest hope of freedom depended on surviving in the forests of the deep, still-wild south upon escaping from bondage, as some 100,000 African-not-yet-Americans did between 1810 and 1850. Mentions of rock shelters and bluff tops, which were used as hideouts and improvised camp sites, course through many of the most significant fugitive slave narratives, from Frederick Douglass to Sojourner Truth and onward. The ability to manipulate fire and navigate was often the difference between life and death. The railways one imagines when first hearing the term “underground railroad” were in fact swamps and streams, caves and rivers.

And then adds:

It’s not hard to see how this history of roughing it in the wild just for a chance to live free pushed black folks away from camping and hiking. For them, America’s great natural bounty has always signified more than leisure time.

Both the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Committee, perhaps the two most prominent of grassroots environmental organizations, have come out in support of protesters in places like Ferguson. 

When Al Huang, an attorney for the NRDC, is asked why his group and the Sierra Club supported the Ferguson protests, he replied:

Why wouldn't we? Our mission is to advocate on behalf of issues that impact the environment. We talk about protecting the ecosystem. Well, one of the most important part of any ecosystem is the people who live in it — without diversity, it's unhealthy. Without diversity in our human community, it impacts all of us. 

Good to see these groups doing something for the unrepresented — human and wild. 


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Atmospheric River to hit Bay Area, maybe SoCal

Eric Holthaus, a journalist/meteorologist for Slate, fills us in on the good news of an atmospheric river hitting California this week. 

This week’s storm will usher in an atmospheric river event, also known as the “pineapple express,” peaking late Wednesday and Thursday. The National Weather Service office in the Bay Area has predicted “the strongest storm of this season to date,” and possibly the strongest since 2008 or 2009, with potential results including “downed trees, power lines, flooding and mudslides.” Wind gusts could exceed 80 mph at higher elevations.

Heavy rainfall could fall at rates up to an inch an hour and could exceed 8 inches in the mountains. The high Sierras are in line for up to 4 feet of fresh snowpack. The National Weather Service notes there’s potential for this storm to stall out over the Bay Area as well, in which case the risk of mudslides and dangerous flooding could quickly increase. Just offshore, ocean temperatures are much warmer than usual, which the NWS says could argue in favor of the more intense rainfall scenario.

The pics posted by the national weather service show it reaching SoCal too:


The great news is that, as Kevin Roderick at LA Observed noted, the high pressure system that had been blocking these storms has shifted eastward, opening the door to real weather for us. This cannot possibly prove or disprove anything climatological, as Holthaus alluded to in his separate discussion of the NOAA study of causation of the California drought, but it's certainly well-timed. 

The rain is coming thanks to an eastward shift in the rain-blocking ridge that dominated the Pacific Coast last winter and helped intensify the drought. That shift is helping to open the door for major storms to approach the state from the tropics.

No matter how much rainfall the storm brings, this year’s heat will have already left its mark. Amid controversy over the drought’s place in climatological history, there’s now a 100 percent chance of 2014 becoming California’s warmest on record.


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