This TED talk includes footage of mile-long chunks of glaciers falling into the ocean. If you’re feeling impatient, the photos start about half-way through the video.
Category Archives: Climate Change
Save the Planet: Buy Stuff!
Funny how capitalism ruins things, even when they set out to do something swell. The Treasure Island Music Festival is a fine example. Not that the fest was ruined as a whole, but their efforts at environmentalism left the stale taste of unfiltered Oakland water in my mouth. They made big efforts to make the show green. Instead of trash bins, you had landfill, recycling and compost bins, with tips on what goes where. Kudos for that. But in other respects their need to be profitable got in the way of their stewardship to mama earth.
Firstly, I was irritated by their transit plan. There was no parking on Treasure Island. Instead one was supposed to take a free shuttle from the ATT Center. The problem with that is that the ATT Center is not on BART. Anyone (such as myself) who doesn’t live in San Francisco is expected to take a one hour BART ride to the city, catch a short cab ride to the shuttle and then shuttle back over the bridge I just came from. So I’m expected to commit to a trip that would likely take upwards of two hours for a destination that is twelve minutes drive from my house? No thanks. I suppose the folks planning the event live in the city and don’t think much of us “bridge and tunnel” types. Their site offered no advice as to how to get there if you weren’t coming from the city. We took a taxi there and hopped on the all-nighter bus to get ho me. Apparently some others had the same idea because the taxi stand had more people waiting than you can fit into your average Mission dive bar. The festival bragged about having zero-emissions buses but when someone who BARTs and bikes to get around has to take a cab just to get to your show, you’ve erred on the green master-plan somewhere.
But this is an understandable problem, considering they are dealing with an island in the middle of the Bay. Their plan to get rid of bottled water on the other hand offered far more reason for me to make my indignant face. A big part of their green plan was not selling bottled water at the festival. We were encouraged to bring our own sealed bottles into the site. I suppose this was to keep people from smuggling liquor in and out of the premises, otherwise I can’t imagine why I couldn’t bring an unsealed, empty bottle and refill it there. So instead of using a container I already had at home, I bought water to take into the fest. It defeats the point of not selling bottled water if I have to buy bottled water at CVS. Then when we get inside, we check out the “refilling stations.” Here they are charging three dollars to refill your water bottle or one dollar to refill the metal canisters they are selling at the festival. These little mementos cost fifteen bucks. So folks who didn’t bring their own water are encouraged to shell down a wad of cash to buy a metal water bottle that they probably don’t need and likely won’t keep after the festival so they can
use less plastic for the next two days. What a blow to consumerism!
OK, I’m through kvetching. The Treasure Island Music Festival is still the coolest music fest I’ve ever been to.
More details on the greatness to follow!
My State Plans Lawsuit Against My Country
My Republican friend says I should just calm down. People all over the world are working hard to stop global climate change. I wonder if he is looking at the same people I am. Scary thing is, he is.
For example, he is probably looking at the new energy bill as a big step forward. The Bush Administration has pledged to a 35-mph fleet-wide fuel economy average by 2020. So in twelve years we are setting a standard for fuel economy that is five miles per gallon higher than the Model A Ford introduced in 1927. Bravo! If you still think this is an accomplishment take a look at SAE Internationalâ€™s Supermileage studies. They run a contest every year to see who can engineer a vehicle with the highest gas mileage. The biggest loser in this competition produced a car that can get 198 miles per gallon. The car made by the 2007 winner could drive 1,541 miles on a single gallon of gas. Now even if we can argue that those cars are expiremental and donâ€™t provide room for groceries or even a CD player, it is still enough to make us ponder the U.S.â€™s status as technological innovators of environmental stewardship.
To top it all off, the Bush administration is using these paltry standards as an excuse to deny California the right to cap its CO2 emissions. The California law requires new automakers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicle tailpipes by 30% by 2016.
In the past, the California standards have paved the way for other states to follow behind with stricter standards. But now the EPA is arguing that California was granted those waivers because their state had special circumstances and the U.S. needs to have a singular, federal standard (So much for the Republicans as the party promoting statesâ€™ rights). With global warming threatening to drop a world of hurt on the whole planet, the EPA says this hardly applies only to California. No matter that this was a bill passed in 2002, long before the national discussion of such standards. No matter that the EPA has historically granted fifty such waivers to California and never once denied them.
Stephen L. Johnson, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, put it this way, â€œThe Bush administration is moving forward with a clear national solution â€” not a confusing patchwork of state rules.â€ Or to put it totally the same way, David McCurdy, president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said, â€œEnhancing energy security and improving fuel economy are priorities to all automakers, but a patchwork quilt of inconsistent and competing fuel economy programs at the state level would only have created confusion, inefficiency, and uncertainty for automakers and consumers.â€ What a remarkable coincidence that couldnâ€™t possibly be explained by the EPA taking their cues from an oil lobbyistâ€™s press release!
In fact, both journalists and politicians are making the claim that the energy lobby allowed the government to proceed on their new emissions standards in exchange for a denial of Californiaâ€™s claim.
According to the L.A. Times:
Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the state Air Resources Board, said the California standards, which are scheduled to begin to take effect in 2009, could be met by auto companies with existing technology. So far, she said, 12 states have chosen to adopt Californiaâ€™s standards, pending a waiver approval. Others are in the process of doing so. If all 50 states adopted Californiaâ€™s law, it would reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emissions by 1.4 gigatons, about twice what the federal standards would achieve by then, Nichols said.
So now Barbera Boxer, (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has subpoenaed the EPA to provide a better reason and they have replied with a box full of censored paperwork. Apparently such top secret info cannot be entrusted to the U.S. Congress. Oh and Governor Schwarzenegger has made it very clear that California is suing the EPA. Who said politics is boring?
So, in summary, our government must get the permission of the auto/oil industry to pass even the most pitiful legislation. And to get such permission, they must stab another hole in the lifeboat on this sinking ship.
An Open Letter to Al Gore
I know you’re busy so I’ll keep it short. Now that you’ve won the Nobel Peace Prize (congrats!), more folks are asking you to toss your hat in the presidential ring.
I’d like to counter that opinion. First of all — and please don’t take this personally — you’re a white guy. Isn’t it about time we had someone for president that isn’t a WASP (yeah, Kennedy was Catholic: we’re so diverse!). There is no affirmative action policy up in the White House, but I think it’s time for a change from the same ole same old.
Second, and far more importantly, there are a lot of folks that don’t take you seriously. I know, it’s sad that people don’t want to accept that climate change is real. But those people justify their skepticism by claiming all your good work is just a vy for the presidency. Don’t feed into this way of thinking.
I know lots of people are saying that being president would give you the power to implement the changes that need to be made. But think of all you have accomplished in the last four years. Do you really want to stop all your good work and start fundraising? Do you want to talk about social security and learn how to laugh in such a way that the media does not find offensive? Then, once elected, you cannot focus exclusively on global warming. You would have to meet foreign dictators and do photo-ops with crippled puppies and sign or veto bills. Not to mention getting entangled in this war, dealing with Korea and Iran.
Wouldn’t you rather keep hanging out with Polar scientists and spreading the good gospel of truth?
The American people didn’t really get to know you until you “lost” (I was in Florida; I know the truth) the presidency and devoted yourself whole-heartedly to your true calling.
Thanks for your time.
The Fire in My Kitchen, My Belly
As a birthday present to myself, I bought a copy of Poet’s Market 2008. I’ve put my novel aside for a bit but a sudden fire under my bum has been lit to get some of my other stuff published. I think Evan set this fire, by mentioning in his blog that he is interning with Sharon Olds, who is my favorite living poet. Or maybe it is this thing stirring in my belly, this turmoil about the state of the world and a desire to express that in writing. A lot of people ask me where the best places are to go dancing, etc, but I am not really interested in that. I want to go to poetry readings or stay at home and write.
The other day when I posted that article about global warming, wherein a scientist said that in one week the arctic had lost an area of ice almost twice the size of the United Kingdom, another interesting thing happened. My boss came back to work from his basketball game. The game ended early. Why? Because two players got into an argument over a foul. Not usually a game-ending event, but in this case one of the players left the game and came back half an hour letter and put a case full of bullets in the other guy. Somehow no one felt like playing basketball when one of their teammates was lying on the court full of more holes than blood. My boss seemed to be taking this pretty well.
The most striking to me about this was its insignifigance in the grand scheme of things. Oakland has a serious problem with the whole shooting thing (maybe you’ve heard about it). I’m not playing that down by any means, nor the suffering of the family. But the high murder rate in Oakland is not going to kill as many people as global warming, not even close.
This is what I want to capture in my writing: this feeling that the issues humanity is facing right now are huge, but they don’t feel huge. The day of the shooting, I also set a fire in the kitchen. I remember the exhileration of that moment, the thrill of the temporary emergency. No matter how much perspective I have intellectually, it is hard to feel the difference, it is hard to feel the suffereing of the vicitims of the shooting or global warming when that fire is the danger in front of me. And that same fire is a thousand other things, social conflicts or career concerns or a packed to-do list and on and on.
It seems that the only way people can reach these higher, more important concerns, is through art. Books and music allow us to feel, rather than only think about, these problems. And you can hear a lot of artists now are immeshed in it, this compulsion to capture the direction the world is heading. The Besnard Lakes, in a recent interview, explained it as the reason their new album is so dark. And Tom Morello described it recently in an interview on Sound Opinions, “Its preaching to the converted, well I strongly believe the converted need a kick in the ass. Why the White House is not ringed by pitchforks and torches I don’t know.” And the new (and frankly, the previous) Modest Mouse record captures that spirit as well.
This juxtaposition of what we are feeling and what we should be feeling is my new obsession. I know how to capture it artistically and maybe that’s why I have been so interested in drawing lately. I am only just beginning to explore what it means for me as a writer. I am very interested in how this conflict between the struggles of day-to-day life and the larger problems facing the world have affected the rest of you. Does it change your passion for the things you are pursuing? Some days, it makes my desire to be a writer feel like empty egoism.
On other days, that same desire seems like the only power I have to affect the world at all.
Life is Beautiful; I do nothing to Stop the Blaze
We go into the city to celebrate my fantastic new job, bar hopping in the Mission with Jeremy and Jenifer.
Jeremy and Jenifer are a bit older than my sweetie and I and they have the kind of financial stability we are striving for and the suburbanism we are trying to avoid.
The bars close at two and we go up to their hotel. It occurs to me that my visits to hotels have mostly been connected to conferences and road trip stopovers. The very idea that my friends are paying to spend the night in the city is exemplary of the kind of luxury that makes me bashful.
At the room, we spend a lot of time bitching about the motion sensor refrigerators. They have fridges in every room but they are already fully stocked with drinks. If you take one, the sensor records it on your bill. This is a good way to take advantage of wasted partiers and it also means that every room has a refrigerator that can’t be used. If one wants to use it, they charge a twenty dollar fee to have its contents removed. This resonates with me as a symbol of what’s fundamentally wrong with this society: the hotel pays for every room to have an unusable fridge while so many people in the world still don’t have refrigeration. It is the same as the empty houses in a city with so many homeless, the same as the wasted, unpurchased food that rots in the trash while so many people starve.
The only word to justify such logic is profit.
I have been reading Derrick Jensen and he is caught up in the idea that the dominant culture is insane. The only way to choose sushi and freeways over birds and tuna and the preservation of the climate, he argues, is to be crazy. It is crazy to destroy one’s landbase for any reason, much less so we can all pay for minibars in our hotel rooms. But I don’t think the dominant culture is crazy. It does not have, as Jensen puts it, a death wish. I believe we are merely short-sighted.
Leaving the hotel room I couldn’t help but see how easy it is to fall into this luxury, how very second-nature it is to me.
Standing in the big glass elevator, I hear its mechanical WOOSH and we are swept past eight floors, each one arranged precisely to be sterile and beautiful and non-offensive. Everywhere I look I am surrounded by artifice. There was no elevator muzak, but in such a moment there should have been. Sean was saying something about how all these hotels are designed the same way, like a formula. Briefly I feel science fiction, like this can’t be real, these smooth and perfect elevators in this smooth and perfect structure. Some day people will look back in awe, trying to imagine living in a world so pristine, in the same way impoverished Cubans wonder at the splendor of Batista’s muraled and gilded palace. Some day this same building will be dark and dirty and people will try to imagine how beautiful it must have been to ride in those glass elevators (It’s the same hotel featured in the 1977 Mel Brooks movie, High Anxiety).
Yet this kind of luxury has been omnipresent my entire life. Even as someone that has tried to take a step back and evaluate where my culture has come from, where it is going, the electric glow of the hotel lobby is expected, commonplace. Nature is what’s alien.
Humans are not good at connecting the dots. Even if I can see the connection between eating sushi and the “clear-cutting” of the oceans, it doesn’t touch my life. I have my own dreams, things I’ve been aspiring to as long as I can remember. Everyone does. Rarely does the trajectory of our lives come unhinged by the things we read about in the news. I know the polar bears are dying but there are so many things I want to do with my life that have nothing to do with polar bears. These few who say, “this is more important than my life, more important than anything I have ever wanted for myself,” are far out-numbered by those who are following their dreams in the system that perpetuates the destruction. Not sinister desires: musicians and writers, lawyers and firemen, chefs and film makers all rely on the continuation of the current system. And how could they not? Their dreams are born in it, they have never known anything else.
I am consumed by these thought as we drive home over the bay bridge. Sean is talking about how much he enjoys the ride. It is all downhill and easy turns. The cars speed at 80. The bridge has two levels and we are on the lower. In the distance there is a column of smoke. It goes higher than the concrete ceiling that limits our view. The smoke is so black it stands out against the navy of the night sky. It is four a.m.
As we leave the covered part of the bridge, the traffic slows to gaze at the biggest fire I have ever seen. Flames are easily shooting seventy feet into the air (later figures are 250 feet). The onramp we are passing is on fire. People are pulled over to look and take pictures. A firetruck is arriving at the scene and even the fireman is using his camera phone to take pictures. The fire is on the “maze,” a cluster of ramps that go onto the bridge. It has entirely consumed whatever started it. The lower ramp is broken in two and, as we drive by, the people gawking gasp: there is a crack as the flames consume the higher overpass like so much kindling in a giant campfire.
This awakens me from my daze. Through the glass and steel encasing of the car, the fire beckons, a bright bold reminder of nature, powerful and awesome. It is enormous. The firetrucks are powerless to stop it, at most they can only hope to contain it.
Tomorrow, I will hear radio recordings of of penguins making distress calls because their ice is melting. I will learn that the bluebell flowers are dying and thus so are the orange tipped butterflies and the birds that eat those butterflies (and so on). Just as every day I hear of the disappearance of some frog or the bleaching of the coral reefs. And I will go on singing and blogging and drawing.
But on this night my animal instincts are touched, the blaze attacking my artificial world like a giant pillaging the village. Still, I am civilized. I know there are firemen whose job it is to confront this giant. My job is to stay in my car. This is my place, our place, to sit by and watch as the whole world burns.
The recent dangers of flying rocks and CO2.
By far the most disturbing class I ever took in college was astronomy. The planetarium shows always featured either the theme, “Look how insignificant we are,” or ,”We could all die at any minute.” Our instructor told us about asteroids that hit our little planet all the time. We saw pictures. The conversation goes…
“So if this had been a major city, millions would have died.”
“Shouldn’t we be concerned?”
“Oh, well, it’s unlikely.”
“Yeah, but that one you have on the screen happened about two years ago.”
“Yes, but it is most likely to hit the ocean, or an unoccupied land mass. Like this giant crater in this slide… anyway, if they see it coming, they could nudge it several inches from thousands of miles away and that would be enough to steer it off course.”
“Didn’t seem to work in this picture.”
“Well, yes, no one knows about most of them until after they hit.”
“So, what you’re saying is, there’s always a slight chance that a giant asteroid could come hurtiling towards my window and pulverize you, me, and everyone we know; we have the capability to stop this and we don’t bother to hire two or three grad students to stay on top of this sort of thing?”
“Well, yes, except that a large asteroid really has the potential to destroy all life on earth. But really, it’s quite unlikely. So here’s another picture from 1992; this crater is about the size of New Hampshire…”
I have only felt that sort of terror and shock over the fate of our world on one other occasion — last week. I went to go see this film called “An Inconvenient Truth.” It’s about the presentation that Al Gore’s been giving in cities all over the world to spread the truth about global warming.
I’m sure you’re thinking, a slide show about Al Gore? zzzzzzz …. SNORE…. zzzzzz….
Yet the facts alone are compelling enough to make this required watching for anyone who has or is thinking about having children. Or anyone who cares about the future of humanity. Or anyone that’s planning on living to a ripe old age. Or anyone who was affected by Hurricane Katrina. Or anyone whose noticed that summers keep getting hotter and hotter. Or — Okay, you get the idea.
The presentation of the film is engaging without being too flashy. I was watching Ebert and Roeper (I don’t really like either of them but I like to watch them bicker — now that’s reality TV!) and Ebert said that for the first time in his entire career he felt that it was apt to say, “You owe it to yourself to see this movie.”
On another note, I think its fantastic that Al Gore hasn’t gone into retirement. But where was this side of him when he was running for office? If he’s so concerned about global warming than it should have been a huge part of his campaign. In the movie Gore has wit and character. Where was this in the speeches and debates? Of course the Democrats don’t want to step on any toes. There so worried about stepping on toes they can barely cross the street.
Whatever your opinions of Al, please go see this movie. You won’t regret it.