Archive for 2015 January

The power of Deportees: Lance Canales + the Flood

Sixty-eight years ago today Woody Guthrie wrote a poem about a plane crash, in which three dozen field workers died, but were not even named [Rui Brai] in media accounts (including the NYTimes).

Ten years later Guthrie's words were put to music by school teacher Martin Hoffman. This became the song Deportee, surely one of the most powerful folk songs ever, covered by everyone from Joan Baez to Johnny Cash.

The power of this anger, these words. Their roar still echoes down all these years. 

Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted, Our work contract's out and we have to move on; Six hundred miles to that Mexican border, They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.

We died in your hills, we died in your deserts, We died in your valleys and died on your plains. We died 'neath your trees and we died in your bushes, Both sides of the river, we died just the same.

The sky plane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon, A fireball of lightning, and shook all our hills, Who are all these friends, all scattered like dry leaves? The radio says, "They are just deportees"

Via Eliza Gilkyson's fb page, here's a truly great new version by Lance Canales and his band, in a video that powerfully and allusively tells the story of how the unnamed deportees were at last named and honored.

We won't have a name when we ride the big airplane
All they will call us is thirty-four dead…

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Uh-oh CA: Ridiculously Resilient Ridge is back

Despite a couple of mild rains, we haven't seen any sizeable precipitation in some time. Craig Miller of KQED in San Francisco explains why:

You might’ve noticed a conspicuous absence lately: rain.

In fact, with a scant few days remaining in the month, much of Northern California is on track for a record-dry January. The winter storms that had us scrambling in December have largely dried up, raising the prospect of a fourth year of drought. We had two big bursts that qualify as atmospheric river storms and then … crickets.

If this sounds somewhat familiar, flash back to the beginning of 2013, when, after a similarly soggy December, almost in sync with the New Year’s ball dropping in Times Square, the tap suddenly shut off — and stayed off.

It turned out that a big, bloated bubble of high pressure had parked itself over the West Coast and did not move. It caught the eye of Daniel Swain, then a 23-year-old doctoral student in climate science at Stanford University.

“It was going on and on, well beyond that maximum that we normally see and persisting over months,” Swain recalls. “And not only over months but then recurring essentially over the course of two consecutive winter seasons.”

He started writing about it on his California Weather blog and decided to give it a name: the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge. It stuck. In fact, the “Triple-R” as it’s now known in weather geek shorthand, has become enough of “a thing” that it has its own Wikipedia page.

We've discussed the "RRR" on this site before: Is this is a repeat of our unhappy experience in 2013 and 2014?.

“No,” California State Climatologist Mike Anderson told [Craig Allen of KQED] at a recent drought briefing. “This is very different from the pattern that set up last year, where we had a ridge that extended up into Canada, and was reinforced and lasted six weeks.”

“The pattern we’re in now is more of a transient pattern where you may see a ridge develop but it may just as easily break down,” Anderson continued. “In this case, the patterns that we see in the jet streams and the oceans are not all moving in the same direction to create such a ridge. The jet stream is in a position where it will push through and will have an easier time than it did last year.”

Boy do I hope Mr. Anderson is right. Otherwise we might get a pattern something like this.



Plus, Michelle L'Heureux writes for NOAA, chances of an El Nino are fading.

Mid-week update: latest forecast shows sun with little or no precipitation this week in SoCal. 

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Huge blizzard to hit NYC: Homer Simpson bent out of shape

Joe Romm of ThinkProgress points out that scientists believe that the finger of blame has already been pointed at climate change when it comes to the size of storms hitting the mid-Atlantic and New England coastal regions.

Romm writes:

"Another epic blizzard is bearing down on New England. There is a “big part” played by “human-induced climate change,” especially warming-fueled ocean temperatures, according to Dr. Kevin Trenberth, former head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

I asked Dr. Trenberth to comment on the role climate change has on this latest storm, which is forecast to set records. He explained:

The number 1 cause of this is that it is winter. In winter it is cold over the continent. But it is warm over the oceans and the contrast between the cold continent and the warm Gulf Stream and surrounding waters is increasing. At present sea surface temperatures are more the 2F above normal over huge expanses (1000 miles) off the east coast and water vapor in the atmosphere is about 10% higher as a result. About half of this can be attributed to climate change.

Before this latest storm, we’ve seen a long-term pattern of more extreme precipitation, particularly in New England winters. Climate scientists had long predicted this would happen in a warming world.

Here’s why."



But Mr. Romm, this doesn't sound logical. Global warming leads to more blizzards? 

Homer Simpson expresses this frustration better than anyone, I think:

Simpsons take on Global Warming from Jørgen Larsen on Vimeo.

Let me add one personal note, as someone who had the pleasure of spending the last week in New York City. Blizzards in New York can be fun!

Without overlooking the risks, I hope some people in the region can enjoy this rare time when Mother Nature takes over and asserts herself with the quieting and beautifying powers of snow.  

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Is a climate disaster inevitable? Adam Frank/NYTimes

Astrobiologist Adam Frank looks at climate change from a deep time perspective, and speculates that perhaps the reason we're having difficulty with adjusting is that it's a really hard problem that few if any civilizations in the history of time have managed to figure out. 

Frank points out that science now knows that virtually every star we see in the night sky has a system of planets, billions upon billions of which have come into existence. 

So where is everyone? Why do we seem to be so alone?

Hundreds of billions of planets translate into a lot of chances for evolving intelligent, technologically sophisticated species. So why don’t we see evidence for E.T.s everywhere?

The physicist Enrico Fermi first formulated this question, now called theFermi paradox, in 1950. But in the intervening decades, humanity has recognized that our own climb up the ladder of technological sophistication comes with a heavy price. From climate change to resource depletion, our evolution into a globe-spanning industrial culture is forcing us through the narrow bottleneck of a sustainability crisis. In the wake of this realization, new and sobering answers to Fermi’s question now seem possible.

Maybe we’re not the only ones to hit a sustainability bottleneck. Maybe not everyone — maybe no one — makes it to the other side.

It's a great little column: I fervently encourage you to read the whole thing

But on a deeper level, the column has a strangely calming aspect, because it takes away the blaming. We still have a chance of finding our way to safety. The bacteria felled by the Great Oxidation Event on the planet billions of years ago never did 

Here's an image from NASA: their rendition of the idea of astrobiology  apparently. Kewl. 


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Rant of the Year (2014): Emma Stone in “Birdman”

You know what's painful? Meaninglessness is painful. It really is. Life is absurd, to have so much for such a long time, then nothing, and it's painful to know that none of us can escape that fate. 

Plus, here in the crowded 21st century, we cannot help but notice that the more there are of us, the less any one of us means.

Or matters.

What does that mean psychologically?

(Or do I imagine this perception — perhaps it's just me?)

Well, on this subject I think the younger generation, with its gently cynical take on the "precious snowflake" theory of importance through uniqueness, has a point.

"Nobody cares," said Jonah, perhaps the single most striking character on Veep, trying to explain this to his mother at an inopportune moment, when she just screwed up a chance for him to get his job back.

A "useless waste of bleeping carbon," was another example from that show, of someone speaking about Jonah, the White House staffer, a monster of selfishness.

And in Birdman, in a movie full ofastonishing rants, great swaths of words fired by characters blasting away as if on machine guns at each other, perhaps the single best outburst comes from an unforgettable (and Oscar-nominated) character played by Emma Stone.

As Sam, trying to put her life together after a stint in rehab, she loses patience with her father, who is putting on a play to prove that he's more than a movie star. She really lets him have it, after he dared judge her for smoking a joint, and she lets him know he's not all that. 

It's called Relevant.

 We are all big confused carbon-based life forms who want to be so much more. 

Update: An obituary for the big novel writer Robert Stone in the LA Times includes a nice quote along these lines. We think meaningless is a concept only for French philosophers; actually, no, it's a concern for nearly all of us — even if we can't articulate it as clearly as Stone. 

"Writing is how I justify my existence," he told the AP in 1992.

"This is a basic hunger for most people; they want their suffering to mean something. You go through all these things and the idea it's utterly of no consequence is very difficult to work with."

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Can GOP Senators be this dumb on climate?

According to Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority leader, the answer is yes:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday he will allow the Senate to vote on an amendment asking if they agree that climate change is impacting the planet.

At his weekly press briefing, McConnell said "nobody is blocking any amendments" to legislation that would approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. 

That's according to The Hill.
Yours truly is skeptical the Republican party will go actually go ahead and embarrass themselves so completely in an era when even a majority of Republicans believe that climate change is happening.
Can they be as politically idiotic as they are scientifically block-headed?
Well, maybe. 
Give Bernie Sanders some credit for holding their feet to the fire. Here's his amendment, with which he intends to force Republican Senators to deny climate change in front of all the world to see.
Greg Sargent reports for the Washington Post:

"Sanders’ office sends over the text of the amendment. It reads:

It is the sense of Congress that Congress is in agreement with the opinion of virtually the entire worldwide scientific community and a growing number of top national security experts, economists, and others that –

(1) climate change is real;

(2) climate change is caused by human activities;

(3) climate change has already caused devastating problems in the United States and around the world; and

(4) it is imperative that the United States transform its energy system away from fossil fuels and toward energy efficiency and sustainable energy."

Put them on the record. Give them enough rope. 

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Listen (a poem about a dog, by Miller Williams)


I threw a snowball across the backyard. 
My dog ran after it to bring it back. 
It broke as it fell, scattering snow over snow. 
She stood confused, seeing and smelling nothing. 
She searched in widening circles until I called her. 

She looked at me and said as clearly in silence
as if she had spoken, 
I know it's here, I'll find it, 
went back to the center and started the circles again. 

I called her two more times before she came
slowly, stopping once to look back. 

That was this morning. I'm sure that she's forgotten. 
I've had some trouble putting it out of my mind.

From the simply inimitable Miller Williams, who passed away on the first day of 2015.

I love that "she said as clearly in silence as if she had spoken." Don't believe that could have been better written. Believe that Williams listened as well as any American writer to the unheard voices — human and otherwise — all around us. 

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even death can be beautiful under the heartless stars

A whitebark pine at Crater Lake. Photo and commentary below by TJ Thorne of the Guardian:


This is the second image from my two week long artist-in-residency appointment at Crater Lake National Park in October of 2014. The whitebark pines, such that you see in the photo, are one of the more astounding features of the park. Gnarled, twisted masses of wood centuries old. They've withstood weather extremes, intense winds, storms, droughts, you name it. The trees have stood strong and are some of the only species of pine that can survive the sub-alpine, rocky volcanic soil environment that is their home.

But they're dying. And not just a few here.. a few there. They're dying by the acre. In fact.. more than half of the whitebark pines in Crater Lake National Park are either dead or in the process of dying due to infestation by western pine beetles. The beetles have always been around, generally thriving in lower elevation forests, which are much more resistant to the infestations. However, with warmer and shorter winters, the beetles have been moving to higher elevations and persisting through the winter season. They attack these pines, which do not have the ability to defend themselves. In addition, the hotter, longer, and drier summers deprive these trees of the sap producing water they need to help their defense. It's one of the most 'in your face' effects of climate change within the park.

I can't help but think about this tree's future. It's an iconic tree in the park and one of my favorite features, and here it is, finally succombing to the environment that we have given it. These trees provide food, shelter, and survival for numerous other species, yet we have failed it's own survival. How much the park will change in the long-term by the death of these trees is still an unknown, but it will certainly continue to change the face of the park. Thanks for reading.

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Falling oil prices and rising sea levels

Toles notes the irony :


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A really dumb reason not to believe in climate change

From Congressman Jeff Miller of Florida, who doesn't believe in climate change, and somehow thinks this has something to do with the dinosaurs. Via a year-end wrap-up of dumbness by Steve Brodner at GQ:


Yes, he really does believe that humans can't cause climate change, because the dinosaurs went extinct. Go figure. 

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