From PostSecret a three or four months or so ago:
Water use actually has fallen over 10% this summer in SoCal.
Or, to be precise, the drought hits my backyard.
Yesterday the second of two enormous oak trees that have fallen in the same area in the past month came crashing down.
About a year ago an even bigger and more beloved oak in vicinity split apart and fell. Here's a basic phone pic that gives a sense of the chaos and devastation.
Drought related you must figure. I'm still shaken.
Of all the stories I have heard of in this year's environmental journalism convention (held in New Orleans) none dropped my jaw quite like Meera Subramanian's long-form piece in VQR India's Vanishing Vultures.
I hope to quote just enough to convince you folks to read the whole thing -- it's just great. And it's worth mentioning, after seeing Meera speak at a seminar on how to survive as a freelancer, how wandering her road to this success was, beginning with an obsession with peregrine falcons in New York City that she could not sell as a book, which led to a discovery about vultures, which led to a small article in an obscure religious magazine about the vultures, which led to this great VQR piece, which led to more opportunities and eventually a book about something else entirely.
But! Back to the vanishing vultures.
At first, no one noticed they were missing.
Vultures—massive and clumsy, their naked faces buried in rotting flesh along the roadside, on the banks of the Ganges, lining the high walls and spires of every temple and tower—were once so ubiquitous in India as to be taken for granted, invisible. And something in us didn’t want to see them.
But for all of human history, vultures served India faithfully. They scoured the countryside, clearing fields of dead cows and goats. They soared over the cities in search of road kill and picked at the scattered refuse of the region’s ever-expanding populace. For a subcontinent where religious and cultural mores restrict the handling of the dead, human and animal alike—Muslims won’t eat an animal that hasn’t been killed according to halal; Hindus won’t consume cows under any circumstances—vultures were a natural and efficient disposal system.
Just fifteen years ago, there were at least fifty million vultures on the Indian subcontinent; today, according to Britain’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, less than sixty thousand individuals of the three species survive in the wild—and a newly-completed Indian-sponsored census, the first in three years, is yielding even more distressing results. Several hundred long-bills still fly over the cliffs of Ranthambhore in Rajasthan, some perch high on the domed pavilions of Orchha’s cenotaphs in Madhya Pradesh, and I have seen a colony of twenty white-backs on stick nests in the crooks of trees along a hidden riverbank in Bandhavgarh, but some scientists have started calling these species “functionally extinct” and refer to their own research as “monitoring to extinction.”
I found Nikita [Prakash]’s apparent love for the birds contagious. I felt the same intimate wonder I have when watching any creature up close, but there was something else that I can only define as a pre-nostalgia, an ache for something that will soon be gone.
Great great story. Please, even if it is three years old, please, read the whole thing.
And he puts the language of the report itself front and center:
"Throughout the 21st century, climate change impacts will slow down economic growth and poverty reduction, further erode food security and trigger new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger," the report says. "Climate change will exacerbate poverty in low- and lower-middle income countries and create new poverty pockets in upper-middle to high-income countries with increasing inequality."
The warnings pull no punches:
The report says scientists have high confidence especially in what it calls certain "key risks":
—People dying from warming- and sea rise-related flooding, especially in big cities.
—Famine because of temperature and rain changes, especially for poorer nations.
—Farmers going broke because of lack of water.
—Infrastructure failures because of extreme weather.
—Dangerous and deadly heat waves worsening.
—Certain land and marine ecosystems failing.
Reminds me of a tweet today, that actually comes to us from deep in the past:
...there is no folly of the beast of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men.— Moby Dick (@MobyDickatSea) August 28, 2014
Which raises the question: Well, how dangerous is the methane that is emerging from the Arctic? Is it just blowing holes in the permafrost, or does it presage global atmospheric doom?
It's not a small volume of methane, after all, and we know that methane in the short term is a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2-- about 30x more potent, to be exact. So the concept of a "methane time bomb" that will set off the greatly feared runaway global warming seems plausible at a glance.
But look closer, says RealClimate, with lots and lots of data. (From last week.) They conclude:
...the future of Earth’s climate in this century and beyond will be determined mostly by the fossil fuel industry, and not by Arctic methane. We should keep our eyes on the ball.
Took a look at the classic old disaster movie, Earthquake, from 1974, which has a great preview/trailer:
This movie surprises, first of all, because its strongest images inadvertently connote 9/11. Not what one expects from a movie set in a natural disaster.
Of course the plausibility question, so often an issue with disaster movies, cannot even be raised: heck, the Northridge quake of 1994, costing in the range of $40 billion in 1994, remains one of the worst natural disasters ever to befall the US. Earthquakes happen in Los Angeles.
So where do the writers -- including Mario Puzo -- choose to go for drama?
I can tell you where the writers of today go for drama -- in this weekend's Into the Storm, to a couple of teenagers who barely know each other and find themselves on a video shoot in an abandoned factor as a monster torpedo spins near.
Frankly, the dumbness doesn't almost matter -- the movie does flying tumbling vehicles spectacularly well. Perhaps better than anyone. Witness the conclusion of the trailer, which uses silence and darkness to hint at a story -- slightly reminiscent of the great preview for Twister -- but thoughtfully short:
Arguably flying tumbling vehicles -- usually cars, but increasingly semis and even airplanes -- have become the most dramatic visual of action movies (of various types) this century. Look at Fast and Furious, Transformers, The Dark Knight, the list goes on and on.
Yes, all too often, that's what drama has come to on movie screens in 2014: will this tumbling semi-rig spin and tumble and crush our hero/the camera?
Okay, sorry. So in 1974. by contrast, with Mario Puzo of "Godfather" fame writing, where did the filmmakers choose to go for drama?
They focused on a love triangle around a super-successful architect/developer, played by Charlton Heston, who is being pursued by the extraordinarily beautiful Genevieve Bujold, dressed in neat peach-colored pants, turtleneck, and jacket. A single mom, she cares for her young boy more than anything, and saves him from a fiery and water disaster -- in part due to her scandalous friendship with an influential married man.
Probably her greatest role. The movie's great success and her bralessness made her a 70' icon, at least to some of us, and a website that tracks such culture epiphenomena as Susan Dey and Genevieve Bujold.
And how did the writers convince us that Charlton Heston, playing an architect/developer vaguely reminiscent of John Galt, is as successful and worthwhile as he is good looking?
He has a telephone in his convertible. It rings as he's driving and he picks up and answers. Yes, it's true. In l974.
Final point. There are a pair of characters -- a daredevil and his supportive pal -- who play a surprising role in both movies.
In Earthquake, it's the always appealing Richard Roundtree, who has a scruffy white pal who helps him make up the stunts, transport the bike, also wear the leather outfit with lightning bolts, etc. In Into the Storm, it's a couple of redneck stunt-loving bozos who just want to get themselves into a YouTube video and get a million hits. They drive a beat-up old pick-up armored with sheet metal, spray-painted Twista Hunterz. It's pretty hilarious.
So: short comparison/review. Into the Storm is a crummy movie with only one character of any real distinction, a beleagured high school vice principal. A little humor, and a bunch of teenagters who all but snore in speech. Oh well, the images are so strong it almost doesn't matter. Earthquake is a richer and far more cohesive movie, more emotional and less random, and its effects -- which won a slew of awards, and two Oscars-- retain great power. Movie also has a great soundtrack by John Williams, as well a startling character, an angry cop played by George Kennedy. He loses his temper (before the earthquake strikes) and sits down at a bar like a corrupt beat cop in a big city, and has a drink and a smoke while on duty. Unexpected!
Perhaps these people deserve punishment for their sins? It's an interesting question on which to hang a disaster movie. Distantly related to the Grand Hotel/Stagecoach/Lifeboat group drama, but arguably better, if not especially deep. Was nominated for a Golden Globe as a drama.
But forget story about for a minute -- these are disaster movies! What images do we remember?
From Earthquake, a semi tumbling off a high free-way bridge and tumbling down towards another freeway.
From Into the Storm, an image of parked passenger jets at an airport being blown back and ever so gently lifted into the air by the oncoming tornado two miles across...
Yours truly sees all sorts of movies with alleged environmental messages (even the recent Godzilla, for crying out loud) to see how pop culture understands the on-coming prospect of planetary disaster.
One of the best such movies in recent years was "The Host," from South Korean director Bong Joon-Ho, which at least one other critic called "the best monster movie ever made." That 2007 movie had it all: a classic premise, brought to vivid (and anti-American life); a bizarre failure of a man who became a hero more or less in spite of himself; an endearing child battling a ghastly monster; an odd but captivating sense of humor; great action direction; a surly Communist to set events in motion -- surely one of the best genre movies of the century to date.
So yours truly eagerly awaited the director's next major outing, complete with a plethora of stars: young Chris Evans; Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, and the two most memorable Korean characters from "The Host." And so did other critics, evidently, for as a group they have fallen all over themselves in praising it -- jeez, the usually reliable Andrew O'Hehir of Salon has called it "the best action film of 2014, and probably the best film, period."
Its numerical rating on Rotten Tomatoes comes in at an absurd 94%. Metacritic's algorithm puts it at 83% (Though the real people rating comes in lower -- 75%).
But folks, let me tell you, even if you like the global warming analogy (in which a substance sprayed into the sky brings on a freeze fatal to nearly the entire planet, within six months), you won't like this movie. Even if you enjoy the brutal parable of the 99% living on a train, trying to win some decency in life from the 1% who runs the show. Even if you can stand the ghastly axe-battling, the hoary disco decadence, the bizarre schoolteacher ruling the kids -- all the metaphors, in other words -- it's still a crummy movie, with some of the most banal dialogue in memory, the most boring hero imaginable (Chris Evans, showing not a smidge of the wit of his previous outing as Captain America), and a completely unreal setting.
Politically I have no real problems with the movie (except for the preposterous ending). But I don't think it's too much to ask for a veneer of plausibility, or, if that's not possible, at least a compensatory outrageousness or, um, fun? This is grim, bitter, harsh obvious stuff, in look and in plot.
Think you can see its dullness in this publicity still:
Weird thing is that the critics praise the movie even as they damn so many of its individual elements. O'Herir says it has "a creaky start." David Edelstein, perhaps my fave overall critic today, says the action scenes "are choppy and gracelessly staged, and the actors are high on the hog." Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post, another critic who usually keeps her wits about her, calls the movie
a tonal mishmash that can never decide between thoughtful political metaphor, lightheartedness and pulverizing violence. Bong seems most at home with the latter, which he stages with tiresome, slow-motion fetishism, mixing costumes and weaponry in an effort to distract from the scenes’ sheer repetitiveness.
And yet her mostly laudatory review is headlined: "All aboard a cold train to nowhere!'
Inexplicable. Perhaps the legendarily overbearing producer Harvey Weinstein twisted arms, or spiked the critics' drinks, or something.
Demand better environmental apocalypse movies! Avoid this dumb one. Please.
From a panel discussion I covered, here's a fascinating anecdote from Steve Wickstrum, who has managed Ojai's Casitas Municipal Water District for many years. Ojai actually is doing okay with water through the drought right now -- unlike many communities in the state.
According to Wickstrum, Casitas water costs about $400 an acre-foot, which is less than water available through most other purveyors. He gave credit to the agricultural community for taking the initiative to build what became the Casitas reservoir in the late 1950s and early 1960s, saying that the community came together to build a system in preparation for a drought that could last as long as 20 years.
Wickstrum contrasted this foresight to that of California's State Water Project, mentioning that "a gentleman from the Department of Water Resources (DWR)" in the state visited him in the last major drought, in the late '80s and early ‘90s, suggesting that perhaps Ojai could be "less conservative" and more open to supporting development in nearby areas.
In contrast to Ojai, Wickstrum said, the state's water system works on "about a two-year horizon," dependent on snowpack in the Trinity Alps and the Sierra Nevada to feed huge reservoirs such as Shasta Lake and Oroville Reservoir.
"If the snowpack isn't there in the mountains — which is what we're into right now —- then DWR doesn't have water to deliver down south," Wickstrum said. "Right now the state is filling only 5 percent of allocations."
From another striking climate change story from Eric Holthaus, complete with superb photos:
"Could there be a connection between climate change and the emerging conflict in Iraq?
The short answer is a qualified yes, according to Frank Femia of the Center for Climate and Security, a Washington-based policy institute advised by senior retired military and national security leaders. He explained in a phone interview:
It's far too early, considering this is happening in real time, to figure out what is motivating [the rebel militia] ISIS and its members. Certainly, the natural resource stresses in the region make things worse. Terrorist organizations can try to control those resources and gain significant influence and power. You can't say climate change is causing ISIS to do what it's doing, but it [climate change] certainly has a role to play in the region."
The agent driving this environmental conflict is drought, and apparently the ISIS group has seized a crucial dam at Mosul. Read the whole thing, as they say, and hear of a comparison between Iraq and the Central Valley in California.
On a recent book tour, promoting his delightful new memoir Little Failure, the mordantly funny essayist/novelist Gary Schteyngart -- who in his last book predicted an economic crash, urban chaos, and the rise of a movement that sounded very much like Occupy -- joked that he was "the Nostradamus of two weeks from now."
The joke brings to mind the remarkable achievement of an Ohio State glaciologist named John Mercer, who back in l978 precisely foresaw the break-up of the West Antartic ice sheet, which two studies published two weeks ago revealed has already begun.
As the those crazy radicals at the Toledo Blade revealed today, Mercer wrote:
“I contend that a major disaster — a rapid 5-meter rise in sea level, caused by deglaciation of West Antarctica — may be imminent or in progress after atmospheric CO2 [carbon dioxide] content has only doubled. This concentration of CO2 will be reached within about 50 years if fossil fuel continues to be consumed at its recent accelerating rate, or within about 200 years if consumption is held constant at today’s level,” Mr. Mercer wrote in his paper.
The newspaper goes on to point out:
Mr. Mercer’s forecast was largely validated recently by evidence presented in two major scientific papers published in the journals Science and Geophysical Research Letters.
Those papers show the breakup of West Antarctica has already begun, and that the pending disaster Mr. Mercer warned about in 1978 is now virtually unstoppable.
About the only thing mankind can do is slow down the rate of melting through greenhouse gas reductions, according to the latest research.
Mr. Mercer alluded to that in his 1978 paper too, when he said the industrialized world needs “to make the changeover from fossil fuels to other sources of energy.”
Or as Wikipedia put it:
Following John T. Hollin's work (1962) suggesting that climatic warming and rising sea-level cause Antarctic ice shelves to retreat , Mercer postulated that the West Antarctic ice sheet, being grounded well below sea-level and terminating in floating ice shelves, was vulnerable to these changes and may have collapsed altogether during the last interglacial when Antarctica may have been warmer and sea-level may have been higher. In 1978, in the science magazine Nature , Mercer pointed out that "green-house" warming from burning fossil fuel could have the same effect during the present interglacial. Two studies published 12 May 2014 may appear to confirm Mercer's assumption.
But the newspaper also took the time to give us some of the marvelous character (not to deny eccentricities) of the far-sighted Mercer, an explorer of Antarctica as well as a scientist, who perhaps not coincidentally came from England.
His favorite shirt, according to Mr. Denton, was a Mickey Mouse shirt.
One of his best friends, Keith Mountain, associate professor and chairman of the University of Louisville’s geography and geosciences department, recalled one particular gaudy pair of red-and-white canvas tennis shoes that were obviously too large for him.
Mr. Mercer told people he liked them because he caught a deal on them “and the price was right,” Mr. Mountain said.
Mr. Mercer had a large office at OSU, but it was notoriously full of clutter. Piles of papers were stacked everywhere.
“John discarded nothing,” Mr. Mountain said. “But he seemed to know where everything was. It was impressive.'”