The Climate in Emergency

A weekly blog on science, news, and ideas related to climate change


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Meanwhile, in Congress

For a while, now, I’ve been seeing vague references to the idea that there is a bill in Congress that would end the EPA. Honestly, I was too overwhelmed and depressed over the issue to do anything about it for a few days, which is why I decided to write this week’s post on the issue–make myself accountable for at least finding out what’s going on.

Fortunately, I quickly learned that this bill, by itself is not the problem. Not that we don’t have problems.

H.R. 861 is quite real. You can look up its current legislative status here. But it is essentially a stunt. Not that there aren’t legislators who want the Environmental Protection Administration to go away, but this bill cannot accomplish it. The issue is that several other laws (such as the Clean Air Act) require the Federal Government to do the things that the EPA does. If Congress terminates the EPA without also either repealing all of those other laws or creating some other mechanism to comply with them, the Federal Government will immediately be in violation of a lot of laws. Without the EPA in place, it will also get paradoxically easier to sue polluting companies, so actually removing the EPA probably doesn’t have much corporate support.

H.R. 861 contains no such provisions for dealing with the other laws.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t all raise an immediate hue and cry to protect the EPA. Stunt legislation could well function as a test, a way to gauge public interest in an issue. Call your Congressmembers, and especially call the members of the House Subcommittee on the Environment, and the House Committees on Energy and Commerce, on Agriculture, on Transportation and Infrastructure, and Science, Space, and Technology (that’s four separate committees) as these are the people currently considering the bill. Tell them NO, protect the EPA.

But there are a couple of other problems. Basically, there are other, less dramatic and attention-getting, ways to put the EPA out of commission. It’s budget can be cut to the point that it can’t function, for example, or many of its rules and guidelines can be replaced with much less stringent ones. Or, Congress can pass laws that hamper the EPA in various ways without actually removing it. Here is a good article on what some of those possibilities are. Here is an article on at least one of the measures that has already been proposed. And of course, there was the “muzzling” of the EPA that occurred by Presidential fiat shortly after the inauguration. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find any current information on that. The measures were, supposedly, temporary, but I can’t get confirmation that they are still in force–nor can I find anything suggesting they aren’t. It’s like the issue just fell off the news cycle and hasn’t been back. The Twitter accounts, RogueEPA and AltEPA both still function, and I have sent a Tweet to the former asking for information, but, so far, no word.

Read both articles I just linked to, keep abreast of these issues, and be prepared to raise a big stink as often as necessary. Because I’m willing to bet that the strategy here is going to be to do as much damage to environmental regulation as possible while nobody is looking. Remember that Donald Trump’s backers do not benefit directly from changes to immigration policy or healthcare–all of that is smoke screen and political posturing. The name of the game is to undo environmental regulation.

But I have an even deeper concern.

Many people are comparing President Trump to President Nixon, based on suspicions that the former may be equally a paranoid crook. The comparison between the two men may or may not be apt, as far as it goes. But remember, Richard Nixon created the EPA and signed into law most of the powerful environmental legislation we have. Now, I’ve never heard Richard Nixon himself described as an environmentalist, but he signed those bills because at the time the environmental movement was strong enough that it was the expedient thing to do. Somehow, we’ve lost that.

I keep hearing about how much the American people, including many conservatives, support environmental regulation, including greenhouse gas emission reductions–ok, well, why then can’t we elect climate-sane public officials? Donald Trump ran on an explicitly climate-denier platform and he won. He has since been able to install the most environmentally egregious cabinet picks, mostly without any real opposition.

Something we’re doing isn’t working. We need to regroup and try something else.

 

 


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Spring Weather

Today I’ve been attending to family matters, working for money, and driving from Point A to Point B (and getting lost en route; I am not the world’s best navigator).  So I don’t have time for a big, long, involved post. Fortunately, all I really need to say today fits in one sentence:

Today I was in short-sleeves in February, again.

This February has been ridiculously hot in the Eastern United States, breaking numerous records from Ohio to South Carolina to Vermont. One of the most striking details is that Burlington, Vermont set a record for warmest February day ever on the 25th at 71 degrees, Fahrenheit–breaking the previous record that had been set two days earlier.

Spring is about 20 days early this year, in this region.

A warm period, all by itself, does not confirm global warming any more than a cold period, of course. All this has to be seen in context, and we already know what the context is–the Earth is getting warmer, and the most powerful nation in the world is led by a man bent on doing nothing about it.

But the weather is a reminder.

 


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What the Frack?

I heard a few days ago that Pennsylvania had recorded its first earthquakes caused by fracking. I’ve been hearing for a while that fracking causing earthquakes and all sorts of other mean, nasty stuff, but I didn’t know exactly how. I figured this was a good opportunity to read up on the matter and write a neat little science-explainer post.

Except it turns out fracking doesn’t cause most of the earthquakes we’ve been hearing about. Fracking is bad, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that the situation is more complex.

The story in Pennsylvania is that there were a series of very small earthquakes almost a year ago. They were too minor to even notice without the help of instruments and nobody would have cared except that they were centered right next to  fracking operation. So, the authorities investigated and decided that yes, the fracking probably caused the shaking.

No, it didn’t, said the Daily Caller, a website about which I knew nothing and was frankly suspicious. I poked around on the site, and offhand, it looks to be a legitimate newspaper with a conservative, anti-environmental bias, but so far I haven’t seen anything too far off that wasn’t on the opinion page. More to the point, they’re almost right about fracking.

Fracking can cause earthquakes, but they are typically too small to feel, just as the quakes in Pennsylvania, were. The Daily Caller’s contention that the story is some kind of liberal media conspiracy seems off-base at best. But they are correct in noting that the US Geological Survey (USGS) says that fracking does not cause strong earthquakes.

As the USGS explains, induced earthquakes are caused by the injection of fluid into rock near faults capable of producing earthquakes, but how much fluid and when it is injected both matter a lot.

Fracking (or hydraulic fracturing) means using water and chemicals (mostly acids, lubricants, and poisons–the poisons are used to kill microbes that might otherwise damage the equipment. And yes, you can look up these chemicals) to break up deep rock layers so that oil or natural gas can flow more easily into the well. Once the fracture occurs, it doesn’t have to be done again, not for that well. Extraction commences, and most of the fracking fluid comes back up, along with the oil or gas. Because the injection operation is brief, involves relatively little fluid, and normally occurs in rocks that have already had some of their oil extracted by conventional means (thus freeing up some space) the resulting earthquakes are small.

What causes the big earthquakes is wastewater injection.

When oil or gas are pumped out of the ground, water comes, too. It may be a little water or a lot of water–usually, the proportion of water increases as the well starts to empty out. Wells are often abandoned, not because there isn’t any more hydrocarbon down there, but because there is to much water and separating it out gets too expensive. The water can come from a number of sources. Some of it was pumped into the well as part of the drilling process (either for fracking or for other forms of drilling), and then withdrawn again along with the oil. The water picks up substances from the rock in the process an becomes salty and toxic. Water can also leak into a well when the bore hole passes through an aquifer–though drilling companies try to prevent those leaks because the water causes various expensive complications for them. Sometimes when oil or gas are pumped out of the rock, water from nearby flows in to take up the newly emptied space. But oil and gas pockets generally contain their own water as well, because the organic ooze that became the hydrocarbon and the sediment that surrounded it were wet. Some of that water is salty because it’s seawater. Sometimes it’s fresh. For some reason I find the idea of underground pockets of ancient seawater charming.

But no matter how the water gets in there, it’s not safe to drink when it comes back out. Water is very good at dissolving things, and while it’s underground, it usually picks up several different toxins or radioactive substances. There are various ways to dispose of this stuff (some places spray it on roadways to control ice and dust, a practice of questionable wisdom). Injecting it back underground is not a new idea, and has obvious advantages–if it’s injected into the space that used to contain oil, the water can prevent subsidence. But if the wastewater is injected into rock that hasn’t had anything removed, it can cause earthquakes. Serious ones.

Wastewater disposal involves a lot more fluid than fracking does, and it continues as long as the oil pumping. Its impact on the rock is therefore much greater. And yet, even then, most wastewater injection wells don’t cause earthquakes. For the rock to move, there must be a pre-existing fault capable of causing earthquakes either near the injection site or somewhere the water can flow to from the injection site–sometimes the earthquake is up to ten miles away. So, the take-home message is that injection can’t cause an earthquake in a place where no earthquake could happen otherwise, but it can make those earthquakes much more likely. Like, hundreds of times more likely, as is happening in Oklahoma, and will likely continue happening for years after the injection stops.

The other take-home message is if someone ten miles away agrees to put an injection well on their land, the earthquake might happen under your house.

But there is a connection between fracking and strong induced earthquakes.

Scientists have known for decades that wastewater injection can cause earthquakes under some circumstances. They’ve known that there are some places where these wells just shouldn’t go. But in recent years, the economics of exploiting certain very wet carbon deposits has simply gotten too good to pass up–and fracking and horizontal drilling together have made it so. The result is more injection wells where they’re not supposed to be. So far, Pennsylvania has not had many injection wells, which is part of why it hasn’t had many induced earthquakes, but that could change.

As long as large volumes of wet hydrocarbons are being exploited, there will be large volumes of wastewater to be disposed of, somehow. It may be difficult to restrict disposal wells to those places that are not going to cause earthquakes. And as bad as injection is, all the other forms of disposal seem to be worse.

So it comes down to a societal choice–how much are we willing to pay to have oil and gas? Ad are the people making the decisions really the same people who end up paying the cost?

 


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Dam Problems

So, California is at serious risk of flooding.

As readers may be aware, the Oroville Dam’s emergency spillway came very near to failing a few days ago, triggering massive evacuations for people who live downstream. The situation has been stabilized, and people may now return home, but more storms are due in tomorrow, and so everything is very precarious.

Before I get to my point (climate change), I offer a brief synopsis of the situation and of the dam.

The Dam Situation

The Oroville Dam* blocks the Feather River, a tributary of the Sacramento River, and thus creates Oroville Lake, near Oroville, California. The dam was first proposed in 1951 and was finally completed in 1968 (and dedicated by then-governor, Ronald Reagan).  It is the tallest dam in the United States. Its primary purpose purpose is flood control, though it also collects water for both municipal use and for irrigating the San Joaquin Valley, and generates hydroelectric power.

Under normal circumstances, water released by the dam flows out through pipes at its base, to rejoin the Feather River. During floods, a spillway off to the right of the dam (that is the dam’s right, river-right) can be opened. Since the spillway gate is high up, close to the level of the top of the dam, water must flow from the gate down a long, concrete-lined path, to get back to the Feather River. So far so good. But on February 7th, a week ago today, the rushing water eroded a hole in the floor of the spillway. The concern was that if the hole grew large enough, it could undermine the spillway gate and cause it to fail–so the gate was partially closed. And the water started to rise.

Fortunately, there was a plan B in place. The earthen embankment to the right of the spillway is topped by a secondary dam that is lower than the primary dam. If the spillway system fails, water will spill over this secondary dam–called the emergency spillway–instead of over-topping the main dam (and possibly damaging it). On February 11th, for the first time in the facility’s history, water did flow over the emergency spillway–and began eroding the embankment.

Had the erosion gone on long enough, it would have undercut the secondary dam, washing it away, and sending a giant wall of water down over the homes of almost 190,000 people. Hence the evacuations.

Officials were able to drop the lake level enough to stop the flow over the emergency spillway and to make emergency repairs, but California’s rainy season still has at least two more months to run. A catastrophic failure at Oroville is still not out of the question.

Dam Climate Change

The Oroville Dam, like much of the rest of California’s water infrastructure, suffers from several problems.

American infrastructure generally is in poor shape, largely because it is politically much easier to fund new construction than to fund repair (I wonder, too, whether changes in the tax structure have starved public works–much of our infrastructure dates back to a time when America was much more civics-minded than it is today). So many dams are past due for maintenance. Oroville specifically might have gotten a concrete lining for its emergency spillway–as was suggested and rejected in 2005–had more funding been available. In that case, erosion would not have been a threat.

But Oroville was also designed for much smaller flood volumes than are now considered likely. Part of that is simply that the modeling is more accurate now, but part of it is that floods are bigger. There is more impermeable surface, preventing water from seeping into the ground before it reaches a river, and there are more extreme weather events, thanks to climate change. Droughts, like the one California just came out of, are deeper and longer, while rainy periods are wetter than ever before, too. The state is currently having its wettest year on record–2017 has topped the region’s typical annual rainfall already. The system just wasn’t designed for this.

Scientific American (as seems to be its usual) cautions that it’s too soon to tell whether there’s any link between Oroville’s dam problem and climate change, but acknowledges that problems like this will occur more frequently because of climate change. However, a study published six years ago explains that storms associated with “atmospheric rivers” do hit California more intensely in certain climate change scenarios–specifically, while average atmospheric river (AR) activity stays the same, the extremes become more so, with more storms, more intense storms, and warmer storms in some years. The recent storms have been AR storms, and at least some have been notably warm. That seems like a pretty clear link to me.

Variation in precipitation is not the only factor, either.

Snowmelt in California’s mountains has been getting earlier and earlier since the 1940’s. Regional, and possibly natural patterns are involved, and back in 1994, when this paper was published, researchers weren’t sure anthropogenic climate change was a factor. But that was 23 years ago. I bet they’re sure, now, I just haven’t tracked down a more recent paper on the subject, yet. Earlier snowmelt and warmer winters (in which more moisture falls as rain rather than snow) together mean that more water runs off the land without having time to soak into the ground–or be used by agriculture. That means both more trouble with flooding and with California’s aging dams and more serious droughts, potentially in the same year.

In fact, parts of California (though not Oroville or, as far as I can tell, the watershed that feeds Oroville Lake) are still in a drought, according to the US Drought Monitor (unfortunately, you won’t be able to find this week’s report is you visit the monitor after it next updates).

What does all of this mean for Californians? It means they need us to stop causing climate change, obviously. But the state will also need to make decisions about its infrastructure, its water-use plans, and its development patterns that are more in keeping with the climate change we’ve already locked in–and those decisions depend on accurate and up-to-date data and analysis.

Next time anyone asks you if it’s really important for state and Federal governments to have access to accurate climate science, you can talk about the thousands of people who might drown this winter if the Oroville dam fails after all.

We already know that the evacuation clogged the highways. Had the spillway failed, some people could have been overtaken by water in their cars.

*Yes, I linked to Wikipedia, even though I generally consider it an unreliable source. In this case, the details of the Wikipedia article are consistent with, and largely seconded by, what I’ve read elsewhere, but I’d have to cite a half-dozen other articles at once if I wanted to avoid Wikipedia in this case.-C.


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Nuclear Opinions

I’ve been thinking.

I’ve just watched a documentary from last month in which Miles O’Brian explored nuclear power. It was an interesting show, full of detailed but easy-to-understand descriptions of various types of reactors. The basic thrust of the piece was that resistance to nuclear power is wrong-headed in light of the threat of climate change and the existence of new, much safer, reactor designs.

My immediate impulse is to be suspicious of such claims. Like many people, I have a very negative association with anything nuclear–which may be deserved, but is knee-jerk nonetheless. I am suspicious of the jerking of knees. You’re never too smart to be dumb, as Jimmy Buffet says, and I doubt my emotional impulses are any wiser and more reliable than anyone else’s.

What I have heard is that the potential harm of a nuclear accident is so great that even a small chance of that accident happening is too great. That even a properly functioning nuclear power plant produces large amounts of radioactive waste that nobody knows what to do with. That although a nuclear power plant is free of carbon emissions in the sense that it has no smoke stack, huge amounts of fossil fuels are used to build the plant, to mine and mill the fuel, to transport it, and to decommission the plant afterwards. So nuclear power is actually carbon-intensive.

But I have heard all these things from people who are already opposed to nuclear power.

I am not a nuclear physicist. Neither am I an engineer. I do not understand the operation of nuclear power plants unless someone explains it to me in very simple terms, and I am not equipped to differentiate the accurate descriptions from the inaccurate ones. I am reduced, therefor, to deciding whether to accept the message based on whether I trust the messenger. I have friends whom I trust who are anti-nuclear activists. They aren’t physicists, either, but they are highly educated in other fields and seem to know what they’re talking about. Therefore, I am anti-nuclear as well. When I hear Miles O’Brian on television implying that nuclear power might be a good idea, my impulse is to distrust him, to wonder if perhaps he is on the take somehow (despite the fact that I generally admire his work).

Pay attention to how this works:

  1. I do not understand a topic, but I feel the need to have an opinion.
  2. I therefore adopt the opinion held by people I like and trust, even though my trust in them has nothing whatever to do with their expertise in the relevant topic
  3. Because I am now emotionally invested in my adopted opinion, the mere fact that someone disagrees with me is enough to make me question their competence and their professional ethics.
  4. Miles O’Brian is not a physicist, but he is a professional science journalist who has obviously spent several years intensively researching the nuclear energy field, including talking to a lot of physicists–and yet my impulse is to assume he is deliberately lying because he contradicts people who, so far as I know, have no more real expertise in the matter than I do. Thus have I made myself impervious to learning on an important topic.

This is exactly the same psychological process that causes some people to doubt the reality of climate change.

Now, the fact that I’ve apparently taken leave of my senses is not proof, all by itself, that I’m wrong about nuclear power being bad news. As they say, just because you’re paranoid is no proof they’re not out to get ya. But the jerking of my knee is a good indication that I need to open my mind back up, even if I have to do it with a crow bar.

Offhand, the new reactor designs do sound promising. Whereas the water-cooled reactors build in the 1960’s and ’70’s more or less have failure as a default mode, other designs exist that simply turn themselves off if anything goes wrong. For example, some use liquid fuel that expands if it gets too hot. In an expanded state, the uranium atoms are too far apart to sustain nuclear fusion, and the reactor cools back down again. Sounds perfect.

Except I don’t know what happens to the spent fuel afterwards or what the environmental cost of uranium mining and processing is. So maybe not so perfect. But it’s worth noting that the environmental cost of fossil fuel mining and processing is truly awful, so it might come out even.

I should do some research on this, but have not yet done so. My point is not to argue in favor of nuclear in this post. I can imagine that I might do so in the future, depending on what else I learn–while I doubt nuclear power can ever be rendered truly safe, the small risk of local or regional disaster might be better than the absolute certainty of global disaster we face otherwise. But I’m writing this post today because I’ve had an even more unsettling thought.

I’ve long maintained that we don’t need nuclear power and its various risks and costs, nor do we need new technological advances in renewable energy and alternative fuels. All of those approaches make saving the planet conditional on our getting “enough” energy by other means, but we’re never going to get enough because the human capacity for consumption has no lid. Some of us use tens or hundreds of times the energy our fore-bearers did, and, given the opportunity, I’m sure we could find some use for tens or hundreds of times more than what we use now.

Rather than committing ourselves to filling our hunger for energy and then engaging our ingenuity to find ways to live sustainably anyway, we should commit to living sustainably and then engage our ingenuity to fin ways to keep our luxuries and gadgets anyway. We should just turn the polluting machines off. Today.

But of course, I know we’re not going to. Hell, the United States of America doesn’t seem capable at the moment of electing people who think climate change is real, let alone mounting a grass-roots movement to radically re-shape our way of life. Ideal solutions are important to hold on to for perspective and as a useful starting point for brain-storming, but I’m in no way suggesting that we reject partial and imperfect solutions when they come along. We must cope with political reality just as we must cope with physics.

And herein lies the disconcerting thought.

Are we in a position where nuclear power, whatever its costs and hang-ups and difficulties, may be the best we can get?

 


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For a Little Boy

I first posted “A Family Expecting” shortly after the birth of my nephew. I have re-posted it occasionally since then, and rewritten it at least once under a new title. I’m re-posting again now for reasons that should be obvious to friends and family–and I figure now is also a good time to remind people that what we’re doing really matters.  Although this story is a fantasy, it is based on the published results of climate models. Please check out the original for the research links posted at the bottom

Yesterday, my first nephew was born. He is small and wrinkled and has acne on his nose. He has wispy black hair and silvery-blue eyes. He knows the voices of his family and the scents and sounds of the hospital. He does not know about his home, going to school, or getting a job. He doesn’t know about casual friends, mean people, or birthday cake. He doesn’t know what the world will be like for him.

Neither do we, obviously, but if he lives to see his 89th birthday then his life will touch the end of the century, spanning the same period of time across which many climate models dare to predict. He comes from farming people in the Piedmont of the Mid-Atlantic. If he stays here and inherits his parents’ farm, as he might, then his life will also be the life of this landscape. What will he see?

This child will go home soon, and become the son of the land. He’ll rest in a cradle on the floor of a barn, his mother rocking him with one bare foot as she directs customers picking up vegetables in June. In two or three years, he’ll carry handfuls of squash guts as gifts for the chickens and a rooster as tall as he is will look him in the eye and decide he’s ok. He’ll listen to his parents worry about droughts. He’ll learn to hope the heavy rains don’t rot the tomatoes and that rising gas prices don’t break the bank. There will likely be more such worries as he gets older. Summers will be hotter. His mother will say it didn’t used to be like this, but grown-ups always say that.

According to the IPCC, by the time he’s a teenager, temperatures in the Mid-Atlantic will average maybe two degrees higher than they did during his mother’s childhood. That does not sound like much, but averages rarely do. One degree can turn a pretty snow into a destructive ice storm.

Warming, in and of itself, will be good for the crops; only a local rise of about five degrees Fahrenheit or more hurts productivity. That’s unlikely to happen here until my nephew is a very old man. But the Great Plains may warm faster, enough to cause a problem; he could study the shifting agricultural economics in college.

Our area could either get wetter or drier. Parts of northern and central Mexico will almost certainly get drier, maybe dramatically so. These areas are dry already, so I imagine a lot more people will start heading north. My nephew will discuss the refugee problem with his friends, lean on his shovel in the morning sun, and wonder if the United States has a responsibility to keep Mexicans from dying when Congress is already deadlocked over how to pay for the flooding in New England. Seems you can’t keep a bridge built in Vermont, anymore. He takes off his sun hat and scratches his thinning hair.

Years pass. My nephew thinks about his upcoming fiftieth birthday, and also about New York City, where three of his grandparents grew up. It’s turning into a ghetto. It’s not under water, exactly, though the highest tides creep slowly across abandoned parking lots in some neighborhoods, spilling over the older seawalls. The problem is this is the second time it’s been stricken by a hurricane, and now no one can get the insurance money to rebuild. The same thing has happened to New Orleans and Miami. Boston may be next. Those who can get out, do. Those who can’t, riot. They have a right to be angry. His daughter is pregnant with his first grandchild. My nephew cannot keep his family safe indefinitely, but he’s glad his parents taught him how to grow food.

More years pass, and my nephew turns sixty-five. He proud of his skill as a farmer, especially with the way the rules keep changing. The farm seems to be in Zone 8, these days. He’s got new crops and new weeds. He has friends in southern Maryland who haven’t had a hard frost in two years. Maybe this year they will; Farmer’s Almanac says it’ll be cold. Last year, he and his wife took a trip through New England and let his kids take care of the harvest for once. They stayed at romantic little bed-and-breakfasts and took long walks in the woods, holding hands. There was white, papery birch-bark on the ground, here and there, the stuff takes a long time to rot, but he knew he’d have to go to Canada if he wanted to see one alive. The American white birches are all dead, killed by a changing climate. It’s sad.

Eventually, my nephew becomes a very old man, a spry but somewhat stooped 89-year-old, mostly bald, with great cottony billows of hair spilling out of his ears, his breathing deep and slow and marred by occasional coughs and rumbles. He has lived long enough to see more change than any prior human generation has, and that’s saying something. A lot of the change is environmental, but not all of it. Major technological shifts have reworked the country yet again, and the entire political and economic center of gravity has pulled away from the coasts. He is aware of this upheaval intellectually, but viscerally he is used to the world he lives in. He lives well. He is loved and he is useful. No dramatic disasters have befallen him–the worst-case scenarios have not played out, but mostly he’s just been lucky. Plenty of disasters have happened to other people. My nephew is sympathetic. He writes his Congress-people and gives generously through his church whenever he can. But a lot of good that could have been done decades ago wasn’t.

I saw my nephew tonight. He’s at home now, wrapped in a blue blanket like an animate dumpling, slowly fretting against the swaddling. His wrists and ankles are as thin as my thumbs. He’s too young for baby fat. He doesn’t know what his future holds. And neither, really, do we.

——————–

I wrote the above fantasy several years ago and many of my predictions have already come true. My little nephew has indeed learned about birthday cake (I hope he does not yet know about mean people) and has carried treats to the chickens, though he prefers the company of the goats and can imitate their voices. More darkly, Manhattan was hit by a major storm-surge (Superstorm Sandy) and Miami Beach now floods regularly due to sea-level rise. I don’t think my nephew knows it, but the years of his  life thus far have seen consecutive global heat records broken, two successive record-breaking tropical cyclones (Haiyan and Patricia), rumors of “jellyfish seas,” a major climate-related refugee crisis, the possible California Megadrought, and dramatic, unprecedented fires in Canada, the United States, and Indonesia. Among other deeply worrying developments.

Come on, people, put your backs into it, whatever we make of the future, my nephew will have to live there.


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Step by Step

So, a few people took a walk together on Saturday. Perhaps you were among them?

First, I’ve just got to say it, THAT WAS A VERY BIG DEMONSTRATION!!! Millions of people across the world stood up and shouted and waved signs for women’s rights and other, related issues. YAY!!!

And yet I’m not feeling optimistic right now.

Too many wrong and dangerous things are happening, and there’s not a whole lot we can do about it right now. We can jump up and down and wave signs, but the sad fact of the matter is that our elected officials have no reason whatever to believe that our enthusiasm is going to translate into political cover at the ballot box–because we just had an election, and right wing climate deniers swept both houses of Congress and the White House.

And to be clear, those electoral losses weren’t entirely our fault. While the many people who simply chose not to vote at all surely bear some responsibility for our current fix, there is also gerrymandering. There is voter suppression. There is the vast influx of money that has been busily building up and entrenching what became Donald Trump’s base for at least the past eight years. The opposition is currently larger than the recent election results imply. But if the system is indeed rigged now, it will not likely be less so by the time the next election comes around. Even if our leaders believe we want to have their backs, why should they believe we can deliver?

I don’t want to vent too much of my personal negativity–I don’t want my bad mood to become contagious. Our focus must be on solving the problems we have, not bemoaning them. But at the same time, I am feeling so personally overwhelmed that there isn’t very much I can do. Honestly, I spent most of yesterday in the grip of an utterly debilitating anxiety attack.

It would be nice if there were simply a to-do list to check off. That way, we could take this whole process step by step, without confusion, digression, or overload. I wrote one up shortly after the election, posted it, and did some of the things on it, but that was a one-off. I need a regularly updated list. I also need that is, within its parameters, reasonably close to exhaustive. A random smattering of things to call my senators about, for example, isn’t good enough–because even if I signed every suggested petition and made every suggested call, there would still be that one bill or that one political appointment that passed, like a thief in the night, utterly without my knowledge until after the fact. And I don’t know about you, but that sort of thing makes me want to weep and rend my garments and star blankly off into space when I should in fact be doing something useful.

I have been unable to find such a list, so far. I am thinking of making one.

Several guiding principles are apparent, right now:

  • The political resistance needs an environmental focus. As I have written before, the central objective of the Trump Administration appears to be the undermining of climate action. While many other aspects of Donald Trump’s plans seem very troubling, as far as I can tell, he and his major investors have little to nothing to gain from either misogyny or racism directly. They stand to gain enormously by forestalling climate action, however. Dog-whistling up deplorables is almost certainly a means to an end for them, therefor, and it is at that end–at the head of the beast–where the battle must be joined.
  • The political resistance must be intersectional, inclusive, and reciprocal. There is a meme going around Facebook right now in which a brown-skinned hand holds a sign, reading “So, all of you nice white ladies are going to show up at the next Black Lives Matter rally, right?” That meme has a point, and it is a point that could be launched at environmentalists just as easily as towards white feminists. There are those among us who are fighting for their survival–the anti-pipeline fights by Native American nations, various economic and political refugees, and trans and gender-nonconforming folk all spring to mind as other examples. For those of us not at immediate risk, supporting those fights is not only the right thing to do, it is also the only way we can, in good conscience, ask the others to sign on board with environmentalist fights. Climate action is part of justice, and we all need it, but we can’t reasonably expect anyone to fight for future generations if they’re busy fighting just to live to see tomorrow.
  • This blog can address a broad spectrum of political issues and yet remain strictly non-partizan. This blog is not Democrat. It is not Republican. It is not Green Party. It is not Libertarian. It is not Democratic-Socialist. I draw a strict distinction between taking a politically controversial position (e.g., transwomen ought to be able to use the same toilets that ciswomen do) and identifying with a specific political party. In general, the focus will remain on climate change, even though I may provide information on engaging with other issues (such as the time and location of the next Back Lives Matter rally, if I can find that information).

What I want to do is to create a couple of pages associated with this site that will list, in a comprehensive way, various actions that readers might want to take. And I’ll update those lists regularly. Perhaps one page for things to write or call elected officials about, one for links to petitions, and one for upcoming marches, direct actions, and related events. I’ve long wanted a page for links to scientific resources and one for other blogs as well, so I’ll do those, too.

And then I can get back to using the blog itself largely to talk about science and current events.

But I can’t do any of this alone. It’s just too much work to do on the limited number of hours per week I can spare for paid work.

I need donations. I need sponsorship. $50-$100 per week would take care of it. Split several different ways, it’s not all that much. Please.