Following the Wolverine with a camera

Twenty-odd years ago, while walking the John Muir Trail, I glimpsed a flash of black and white running across a snowfield at about 11k feet. The creature looked about the size of a small dog, and I *think* it was a wolverine. The other likely possibility at that elevation would be a marmot, but marmots are brown, and this creature was definitely had white and black colorings. But he was gone in a flash, and I’ll never know for sure.

Photographer Steven Gnam, on the other hand, has been tracking wolverines in the mountains of the West for Patagonia, and has posted some remarkable images of this elusive and gorgeous creature. Worth savoring.

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The future of water in Ojai in drought

Here’s a panel discussion (below) put on by the Ojai Valley Green Coalition and the Ojai Film Festival on the future of water here in town. May I say despite being the moderator that I think it’s a good one. This was for a large audience at the Arts Center on the 27th of October.

The fact that the town and its agricultural growers are facing an existential crisis — a drought that could last for decades — dials up the interest.

Let me just mention a few specific questions that came up, and quote the truly distinguished panelists on the future of water in Ojai in drought. (The video, which was shot and edited by Ray Powers, is a little less than forty-five minutes long.)

On the issues: first, Steve Wickstrum, who has been manager of the Casitas Municipal Water District for thirty years or more, was asked about how much water Lake Casitas has remaining in storage.

He said his calculations showed that the district right now has about four years of water left, but he indicated that with conservation, especially from the agricultural sector — which uses about 70% — the district had perhaps six or seven years worth of water.

And he reminded the audience of 150 or so at the Arts Center in downtown Ojai that state water would be a “Herculean” engineering effort. He said that it wouldn’t be possible for a “nominal fee.”

At the start of the event, I impulsively asked the audience if state water was available and not too expensive, would Ojai choose to join the rest of Southern California or would it maintain its tradition of local sustainability?

In l952, in a drought, the approximately 9000 voters of Ojai in that era voted by a more than 8-to-1 margin to form the water district and build Lake Casitas, which has kept the town in water for nearly seventy years.

Only about two people raised a hand to hook up with state water. One was a member of the Casitas board, and he later suggested that perhaps the audience was taken by surprise and not thinking it through sufficiently — after all, Casitas has been paying for the right to draw on state water for many years.

I asked the panel about the possibility of bringing state water to Casitas. Is that a matter of practicality, or is that a matter of principle? For Paul Jenkin, a civil engineer and a passionate environmentalist who has been working to restore local watersheds for many years as part of Surfrider, it’s a matter of principle.

“I think [local sustainability] is the greatest asset that we have,” Jenkin. “If you saw this film, you know that state water is not going to ever be a reliable source for us. And you have to ask about other agencies that are interested in through passing that water to us. For them to be hooked all the way into Lake Casitas, that’s their backup. And if state water ever becomes unavailable, it’s going the other way.”

I asked about megadrought. A recent study estimated that the Southwest — including Ojai — has a 90% chance of a megadrought, which means a drought of thirty-five years or longer, this century. It’s possible we’re in a megadrought now. I asked if we as a state are systematically underestimating the risk of megadrought.

Tom Ash, a water conservation manager in Irvine Ranch, said no, we are not taking megadrought seriously. “I see that in the context of working with [water agencies] from all over the state, as Stephanie [Pincetl] does as well, and we see a tremendous battle, you could say, in that we see more a desire to sell water than to conserve water. We’ve been talking about efficiency, about non-point source solution, and other conservation measures. We have to do everything and my frustration is that we’ve come a ways, but we haven’t come nearly far enough, fast enough.”

So — besides increasing supply with conservation, what can be done to prevent an increase in demand due to an on-going expansion of housing in Ventura, and in agriculture in Ojai?). Stephanie Pincetl, of UCLA, who has been working in conservation and sustainability for decades, mentioned a couple of possibilities:

“So there is one thing that can be done,” Pincelt said. “And that is to require water neutrality of any new development. And this has been implemented in a number of places across the state. So you can build whatever you want to build, but you’re not getting any new water. So you have to mitigate the water required by that new development with conservation somewhere else…and I agree [with Paul Jenkin] that it’s kind of stunning that new [agricultural] production is coming on line in this drought. It just seems that a moratorium on that sort of development should be considered.”

“Everybody has a part to play,” she said, a little earlier. “It’s not urban or ag. Imagine Ojai Valley without agriculture. How would it feel? Really different, and probably not that great, and you wouldn’t have that fabulous farmer’s market. It has to be not either/or, but us together, or we’re not getting out of the problem.”

Ojai Valley Green Coalition: The Future of Water Panel Discussion 11.6.16 720 from Ojai Valley Green Coalition on Vimeo.

 

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Ojai water district “excited” by report of water in mountains

Yesterday the Casitas Municipal Water District‘s management staff and Board of Directors held a meeting and heard a “Preliminary Water Security Project Analysis” report from two consultants, including hydrogeologist Jordan Kear, who has been surveying the Ojai Valley for years for a groundwater agency, and knows its geology well. (Note: the project analysis is attached to the agenda for the meeting at the bottom of the doc).

Let me just cut to the chase: Kear identified a large geological formation called the Matilija Sandstone that contains — history indicates and the geology verifies — a substantial amount of water.

A band of sandstone runs through the coastal mountains behind Santa Barbara all the way south to the mountains behind Lake Casitas. Drilling long tunnels (or “adits”) into the rock could allow the district to recover water stored in the porous rock over eons without pumping.

Here’s a slide from the presentation. Follow Santa Ana Creek north (up) and you’ll see it almost meets the planned 10,000 foot “Central Hobo” bore line. “HoBos” stands for horizontal bores.

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Kear estimates that the formation, which in this area is about six miles long and 2,000 feet deep, at an elevation of about 3000 feet, contains a minimum of 29,000 acre feet of decent quality mountain water, by a conservative estimate, or as much as 216,000 acre feet of water, by a liberal estimate.

That’s more water that can be stored in Lake Casitas, possibly.

The idea is that the formation will serve as a backup bank for the lake, to be called on in times of drought. The formation does recharge, Kear estimates, at 2,000 acre-feet a year on average, so if the district calls on the bank when in drought, and the formation is what it is estimated to be, that would give the water district access to a large amount of water at a reasonable price — $5.6 million per bore, or less than a $1000 per acre-foot.

Which is a bargain. The city of Ventura has estimated that state water, if available, will cost about $2000 an acre foot, and desalinated water would cost about $2400 an acre-foot, according to board member Bill Hicks.

In his presentation, Kear noted that when Santa Barbara authorities drilled into the same sandstone formation back in the 1950’s to construct the Tecolote Tunnel, they saw “an increase in flow from about 1,000 gallons per minute, to 7000 gallons per minute.” Kear believes that tunnel is an excellent proxy for the proposed HoBos.

The Board approved further investigation of the project by a unanimous vote (although it did not close the door on an “intertie” to the State Water Project with the City of Ventura, which is already working on such a plan).

After the vote, Board Member Russ Baggerly declared “This is exciting!”

A possible solution to drought-caused water panic for one community in Southern California? Yes — exciting is a fair description. Shocking might be another word.

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ON THE BRINK: SoCal faces dire, drier future

Here’s a story I spent a month or so reporting over the summer for the Ventura County Reporter: What the science is saying about the prospects for drought this century in Southern California

ON THE BRINK: Southern California faces dire, drier future

I’d like to dedicate this story to the late great climatologist Kelly Redmond, who died of cancer yesterday. Kelly was a legend in the field for his knowledge and his ability to communicate with others. (As an example, here’s a link to his Tyndall Lecture at the AGU a couple of years ago on accelerating environmental change — not just climate change). I think it’s probably the most thoughtful talk I’ve ever heard at the AGU.

Certainly, Kelly was the nicest guy this reporter ever met on the job. He took a call from me about fifteen years ago, completely out of the blue, from a complete unknown (me) working for a not very big paper, asking a great number of very naive questions about climate, and for well over an hour gave me, impromptu, over the phone, an introduction to the science. Climate 101. Amazing. When I saw him at conferences he always would chat, and always had something interesting to say. In 2012, I think it was, I saw him at a mixer at the AGU, and when I asked what’s new in the field, he said that “We [climatologists] never expected the Arctic to go over to the dark side so soon.” Jeez. I liked to say that he had a bit of the poet in him, as well as the scientist.

Miss you already, Kelly Redmond.

Will discuss the story more in days to come: here’s the cover picture.

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How do we break the silence on climate?

Sam Wang, a pollster affiliated and professor at Princeton, who has a painful-but-no-doubt-true essay on why in these politically polarized times Donald Trump’s support does not flag no matter how outrageous his conduct in today’s Times also sent out an almost hilarious tweet today on a related subject:

Almost, of course, because despite great progress around the world in getting our arms around climate as a problem, including the Paris accord and impressive commitments to reduce emissions from China and even India, we have a presidential issue in which no one is talking about climate. Not even during the debates.

Andrew Revkin blogged about this at Dot Earth after the failure to ask a single question about climate during any of the debates, He cited research from a pollster affiliated with Yale showing that the failure to ask a single question about climate during the debates echoes the fact that people in this country don’t talk about climate much if at all.

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How will we change this pattern? Is it even possible?

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Earth will become like Mars: Discoverer of Global Warming

The great science reporter Andrew Revkin has been posting early newspaper stories about global warming (as we call it today). These stories go back a hundred years and more.

From his Twitter account, here’s an interesting example, featuring a talk given at a Midwestern college by the Swedish scientist, Svante Arrhenius, who first calculated the consequences of adding vast amounts of a trace gas, carbon dioxide, to the atmosphere.

In an Illinois paper focusing on a talk Arrhenius gave in May of 1911, the story is headlined:

EARTH LIKE MARS?

The subheadlines (characteristic of the era) read:

Dr. Arrhenius of Sweden says Change is Gradually Taking Place

WILL NOT SUSTAIN LIFE

However, It May be 10,000 Years or More Before Carbon Di-Oxide Is Exhausted. 

The first lines of the story (sent by a reader and excerpted by Revkin) read:

“That this earth will become like the planet Mars, incapable of sustaining life, was the prediction made by Dr. Svante A. Arrhenius, Stockholm, Sweden, in a lecture at Augustana college on the subject, “The Development of the Atmosphere of Planets,” Saturday night. Dr. Arrhenius, who won the Nobel prize in chemistry in l903 because of his electrolytical dissociation theory, is regarded as the world’s foremost authority on cosmogony.”

Arrhenius may have been too optimistic by 9795 years, argues Matt Davies, a Pulitizer Prize winning editorial cartoonist for Newsday.

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Baked Alaska

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From The New Yorker, of course, in today’s daily cartoon.

It’s worth noting that in earth’s long history yes, evidence of the existence of palm trees and other tropical plants living at the North Pole has been documented. A tropical Arctic existed for over a million years. Runaway global warming is not only possible, it’s already happened.

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Low fat, saturated fat, and sugar: the confusion continues

This month two reputable doctors, horrified by the rise in bariatric surgeries to reduce the harms associated with diabetes, published an op-ed on the front page of the Sunday Review of the NYTimes sharply suggesting that we’re doing it all wrong with it comes to medical measures recommended for diabetics.

Most doctors — and the diabetes associations — portray diabetes as an incurable disease, presaging a steady decline that may include kidney failure, amputations and blindness, as well as life-threatening heart attacks and stroke. Yet the literature on low-carbohydrate intervention for diabetes tells another story. For instance, a two-week study of 10 obese patients with Type 2 diabetes found that their glucose levels normalized and insulin sensitivity was improved by 75 percent after they went on a low-carb diet.

At our obesity clinics, we’ve seen hundreds of patients who, after cutting down on carbohydrates, lose weight and get off their medications. One patient in his 50s was a brick worker so impaired by diabetes that he had retired from his job. He came to see one of us last winter, 100 pounds overweight and panicking. He’d been taking insulin prescribed by a doctor who said he would need to take it for the rest of his life. Yet even with insurance coverage, his drugs cost hundreds of dollars a month, which he knew he couldn’t afford, any more than he could bariatric surgery.

Instead, we advised him to stop eating most of his meals out of boxes packed with processed flour and grains, replacing them with meat, eggs, nuts and even butter. Within five months, his blood-sugar levels had normalized, and he was back to working part-time. Today, he no longer needs to take insulin.

The paper ran a follow-up story by one of its best medical reporters, Gina Kolata, that cast some doubt on the simplicity of this recommendation.

But there are no large and rigorous studies showing that low-carbohydrate diets offer an advantage, and, in fact, there is not even a consensus on the definition of a low-carbohydrate diet — it can vary from doctor to doctor.

“There have been debates for literally the whole history of diabetes about which kind of diet is best,” said Dr. C. Ronald Kahn, chief academic officer at Joslin, and no relation to Dr. Richard Kahn. But, he said, “the answer isn’t so straightforward.”

The diet question arose again in the public discourse with the revelation last week that the sugar industry (the Sugar Foundation) backed a study way back in the 1960’s that shifted blame for heart disease from sugar — which is where the evidence was pointing at the time – to saturated fat.

The sugar industry paid scientists in the 1960s to play down the link between sugar and heart disease and promote saturated fat as the culprit instead, newly released historical documents show.

The internal sugar industry documents, recently discovered by a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, and published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, suggest that five decades of research into the role of nutrition and heart disease, including many of today’s dietary recommendations, may have been largely shaped by the sugar industry.

“They were able to derail the discussion about sugar for decades,” said Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at U.C.S.F. and an author of the JAMA Internal Medicine paper.

It’s now the medical consensus that processed foods — which typically include unnecessarily added sugar — worsen heart disease. But it’s easy to overlook the fact that — then and now — researchers also suspect that saturated fat worsens heart disease. Saturated fat vs fat overall was an issue I wrote about a couple of years ago: although unsaturated fats, such as the olive oil that is at the heart of the Mediterranean diet, are considered healthy, the saturated fats found in butter, meat, and cheese do not get off so easily.

As NPR said, discussing the sugar study from the l960’s:

The review minimized the significance of research that suggested sugar could play a role in coronary heart disease. In some cases the scientists alleged investigator incompetence or flawed methodology.

“It is always appropriate to question the validity of individual studies,” [JAMA author] Kearns told Bloomberg via email. But, she says, “the authors applied a different standard” to different studies — looking very critically at research that implicated sugar, and ignoring problems with studies that found dangers in fat.

Exactly. As Dr. David Katz, editor of Childhood Obesity, and a professor at Yale, put it in a Forbes column:

Almost everyone who ultimately winds up considering bariatric surgery has tried every diet under the sun. When you recall that some of the most popular diets of recent years, from Atkins to South Beach, have been “low-carb,” the notion that this is the road too seldom taken can only be proffered by those lost in the woods.

A low-carb diet has certainly been among the attempts made by almost every patient I have ever referred for bariatric surgery, helped to find an alternative to it or treated after. Low-carb diets work in the short term like almost every other diet, and generally fail over time like every other diet for just about everybody.

Katz writes unusually sharply for a doctor:

As I noted recently, there is a booming cottage industry now, amplified at every turn by those directly interested in selling beef and perhaps butter, in peddling the notion that saturated fat has not only been exonerated of all ills (it has not), but is actually good for us now (but for biochemical nuance, this is plain baloney).

The problem with “the sugar did it!” is that we tend to process such revelations as an endless sequence of either/or choices: it was either sugar or saturated fat. That’s perilously silly.

Leaving aside the truly devastating environmental implications of encouraging moremeat intake by nearly 8 billion Homo sapiens at a time of climate change, desiccating aquifers, deforestation and biodiversity itself on the endangered list–there is the simple fact that dietary patterns reliably associated with good health outcomes across study methods, global populations and decades are high neither in sugar nor in saturated fat. They are, instead, high in wholesome foods, mostly plants–every time.

Or, as HL Mencken put it:

There is always a well-known solution for every problem — neat, plausible, and wrong. 

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Who is the biggest climate villain in the land?

Well, we know who is the biggest, um, talker:

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From Tom Toles, of course, who follows up with a Denier’s Club of the usual misleaders. A deep post, adapted from his new book The Madhouse Effect with scientist Michael Mann, who originated the famous “hockey stick” graph that some folks very much do not want to see, and, having seen, want to forget.

The almost famous stick figure cartoonist XKCD came up with a wonderful and clever version of that graphic that’s just too darn big to post here, but is very much worth seeing.

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Tennessee Williams and the “basket of deplorables”

Hillary Clinton stepped in it over the weekend by throwing “about half” of Donald Trump’s supporters in a “basket of deplorables.” She said (to repeat her phrasing, a lumpy blend of awkward and wonky):

To just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up.”

Sharp commentators like Jamelle Bouie at Slate have pointed out that there is a good data to back up the idea that half or more of Trump’s supporters exhibit racist attitudes in polling, such as believing against all evidence that Barack Obama is a Muslim, and was born perhaps in Kenya, or in any case outside the United States.

But Bouie bemoans the “theater criticism” of the remarks, saying that questions of how the remarks “might play with a broader audience” misses the point. He goes on to marshall an impressive array of numbers pointing to a truth that by now is not even controversial among the well-informed:

The Republican Party of the Obama years is an ethno-nationalist formation of white Americans. the ideological conservatism of its elites is less important than the raw resentment of its base.

Even if this is about as verifiable as data about “racial attitudes” will allow, it also misses the point of political speech. “How remarks play with a broad audience” — articulation, in a word — is the essence of political skill, and very much to the point of any candidate’s ability to bring together a coalition, especially a coalition of diverse peoples.

It’s also the essence of dramatic speech, and it so happens that one of this nation’s greatest playwrights — who had to suffer the ill effects of many of the attitudes deplored by Clinton — movingly dramatized the dangerousness of racism in a play that’s now running in a little theater in Hollywood.

Although the 1956 “Baby Doll” is famous for its sexual look, at the heart of its drama is a burning motivated by a Trumpian blend of xenophobia, racism, and resentment. The play includes a memorable passage on how this can happen. A bright young immigrant named Silvia (a dark-skinned Sicilian, as it happens) tries to explain to a poor but unbigoted white American why racist language is dangerous to the community and to the Republic:

“I believe in evil spirits,” the character of Silva begins. “…Spirits of violence — and cunning — malevolence — cruelty — treachery — destruction…”

“Oh, them’s just human characteristics,” responds Baby Doll practically.

“They’re evil spirits that haunt the human heart and take possession of it, and spread from one human heart to another the way that fire goes springing from leaf to leaf and branch to branch in a tree till a forest is all aflame with it,” says Silva. “The birds take flight — the wild things are suffocated…everything green and beautiful is destroyed…”

Baby Doll still isn’t having it.

“You have got fire on the brain,” she says, knowing that Silva suspects her husband Archie Lee of burning down Silva’s cotton gin the night before in a rage of resentment.

“I see it as more than it seems on the surface,” Silva replies. “I saw it last night as an explosion of those evil spirits that haunt the human heart — I fought it! I ran into it, beating it, stamping it, shouting the name of God at it! They dragged me out, suffocating. I was defeated! When I came to, lying on the ground — the fire had won the battle, and all around me was a ring of human figures. The fire lit their faces! And they were illuminated! Their eyes, their teeth were SHINING! SEE! LIKE THIS!

He twists his face into a grotesque grimace of pleasure. He thrusts his face at her. She springs back, frightened.

“Hey! Please!” says Baby Doll. “Don’t do that! Don’t scare me!”

“The faces I saw — were grinning!” he warns her, and holds her at the door, not letting her leave his presence. “Then I knew! I knew the fire was not accidental!”

“Not accidental?”

“No, it was not accidental! It was an expression, a manifestation of the human will to destroy.”

“I wouldn’t feel that way about it…” counters Baby Doll weakly.

“I do! I do!” replies the immigrant. “And so I say I believe in ghosts, in haunted places, places haunted by the people who occupy them with hearts overrun with hatred and destruction. I believe this place, this house is haunted…”

Williams, following Abraham Lincoln, more than once chose the metaphor of a house to stand in for the Republic. In the l950’s, arguably, that house was on fire with racism. Despite decades of assiduous effort on the part of many national leaders, including conservative Republicans such as George Bush, racism has not vanished but moved into the political arena. It’s now up those who would prevent those fires from destroying our union to find a way to keep these “evil spirits” from flaring up again.

Is it asking too much to expect Hillary to dispel evil spirits? To unhaunt this house of ours?

Perhaps — we can’t blame her when we see an elderly protester at a Trump rally smashed in the face for protesting. Josh Marshall at TPM describes what happened today:

Shirley is apparently a lifelong protester. She told local reporters she participated in Civil Rights and anti-war protests in the 1960s. And now Donald Trump is among her list of people she’s protested against. As she describes it, the early part of the protest was relatively good natured: Trumpers shouting, Trump, Trump, Trump; her crew would respond Dump, Dump, Dump.

Then this happened. I quote from Western NC’s WLOS 13

After the rally, Teeter experienced something she had never seen in all of her protests. Peace teetered over into something else.”I said you better learn to speak Russian, and I said the first two words are going to be, ha ha. He stopped in his tracks, and he turned around and just cold-cocked me,” Teter said.

She was punched in the face.

She says she fell on her oxygen tank and has sore ribs, a sore jaw, and cut her elbow. She later went to the hospital and is thankful she did not break any bones.

In case you’re keeping score at home, this is the same rally where a Trumper inside the arena assaulted three other protesters. Police have so far made five arrests during and after the rally, not including the man they plan to arrest for assaulting Teeter.

To expect Hillary to explain why racism is dangerous may be too much. But she might do better by taking a tip from Tennessee Williams. When talking about a difficult subject (racism) bait the audience with something else.

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