Monday, December 7, 2020

Climate Change Is A Children's Issue

The older generations, having lived through the Great Depression, World War II,  the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and Watergate, look down from their great heights of wisdom gained from the School of Hard Knocks and see climate change as just another thing to live through.  Dennis Miller, a former Exxon employee and supporter of Donald Trump lives in North Carolina.  "The climate has always changed and what's the bad part of it getting a bit warmer?  I like warm days," he says. 

The younger generations, however, consider any existential threat alarming, but Miller believes they have been misled, especially in thinking that humans can do anything about it, up or down.  Miller's granddaughter, Gemma Gutierrez has a sense of despair and outrage over global heating being met with indifference and dismissal by her elders. 

Kids not yet able to vote feel powerless, but they demonstrate in the streets and on social media to make their voices heard.  Some, like Greta Thunberg, find they can make their voices heard all the way to the United Nations.  And then they turn 18 and vote!  Youth voter turnout was 10% higher in this election.  And 61% voted for Biden.

Now Biden has to deliver on his climate promise.  The Sunrise Movement, a progressive climate group led by young people, want to see if Biden will hold to his word that climate change is his number one issue.  Biden's popularity among 18-29 year-olds 6 months ago was abysmal, but his stance on climate changed all that. 

Climate change is not something happening in the future.  It's happening now and is well underway.  Children are already being harmed.  As wildfires sweep across the land in ever greater size, intensity, number and duration, children's lungs are filling with smoke.  It matters where a child lives.  California's Central Valley, with some of the state's most polluted air, was particularly hard hit by record-breaking wildfire smoke.

It also matters what color and how rich a child is.  Can a family afford an air purifier?  Can they afford air conditioning?  With windows open, smoke comes into the house, and kids breath it all day and all night.  Smoke, particulate matter pollution, damages children's lungs.  It causes asthma and compromised immune systems.  The effects of air pollution caused by wildfires, which are in turn exacerbated by changes in climate, give kids an impending sense of doom.  They wonder if they will live to see the future.

But even kids that can avoid air pollution by staying indoors with air purifiers and air conditioning are affected adversely.  Mental health is affected too.  As we all know after this year of covid-inspired "sheltering" in place, a normal human, child or adult, goes stir crazy. 

It is no wonder that people of child-bearing age are becoming more and more likely to forego having children.  600 people aged 27 to 45, in a recent study, were considering the direction of the climate in their reproductive choices.  They fear any child brought into this world will have to survive what could be apocalyptic conditions.

The older generations are walking on.  The younger generations are waking up.  Under new management, climate change can be slowed, stopped, reversed, before there's no place on Earth left where humans can live.

The Guardian, "Climate crisis breaks open generational rifts in US families"
The Guardian, "A youth group helped Biden win. Now they want him to fix climate crisis"
New York Times, "Wildfire smoke harming children
The Guardian, "Climate ‘apocalypse’ fears stopping people having children"

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Where Do We Go From Here?

 I stepped out of the shower this morning and looked at my body in the mirror.  Not very exciting, but that's okay.  We humans are animals that have to eat and poop and make babies.  Well, we don't have to make babies, but we carry the equipment to do that, and half of us carry the equipment to feed babies, with us all the time, 24-7.  Isn't that interesting?  The thing that makes us not animals is the way we can have thoughts and communicate those thoughts via finger movements to paper (or stone or a computer screen) in front of us, via sound waves across a table or over the back fence, and via electromagnetic waves across continents and worlds.

So where do we go from here?  The last four years have seen so many monkey wrenches thrown into the mechanics of civilization, that we may never recover.  It looks like Trump will leave office, though I'm not betting on that outcome yet, but he will not go quietly.  And he has hoards of followers who love him for his hatred of all things un-White.  And his feigned hatred of all things unchristian.  I say "feigned" because he actually hates Christians too, but he doesn't let that be known.

He has done monstrous damage to our society by getting us to hate each other, mistrust each other, suspect each other.  We have found his fear, the source of all his anger and hatred, to be highly contagious.  And our fear of each other triggers anger, violence, and murder.  Literally, all the way to murder.

May God help us.  Except he won't.  We haven't made him powerful enough.  He will die with the human race.

Maybe we can go somewhere better from here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Clogging The Works For Others

Some time ago there was a notice from the City of Santa Rosa that wet wipes were clogging the machinery in the water works.  This degrades the city's ability to provide quality drinking water and keep the sewer system running smoothly.  When the pipes are clogged, you get a nasty sewer backup.

So there was a plea to stop flushing wipes, paper towels, facial tissues, and feminine hygiene products down the toilet.  Their mnemonic catch phrase was "only flush the 3 P's: pee, poop, and (toilet) paper."  Personally, I never flushed paper towels or feminine hygiene products, but I stopped flushing kleenex and so-called "flushable" wet wipes.

Then came the coronavirus and people started using a lot more wet wipes for disinfecting purposes, and the City had to remind us all again that there was no such thing as a "flushable" wipe.  Not enough people stopped.  The original reminder had to be repeated yesterday.

Will enough people stop it this time?  If not, there could be a sewer backup or a disruption in our potable water supply.  And that would affect everyone, not just the rebellious or stupid ones.  I can stop doing something that's going to cause me harm but I may not be able to stop someone else from causing me harm.

There's a parallel here.  Worldwide, there are a couple million coronavirus cases.  Of those 2.5 million confirmed cases, over 800,000 have been resolved -- 650,000 recoveries, and 170,000 deaths.  That says 80% recover, but 1 in 5 die.  See for the latest numbers. 

So, do I care if some states don't issue statewide stay-at-home orders?  My state issued one pretty early on, and we're still losing people, but not as fast as some other states.  Our president has ordered all immigration to stop, so maybe no one from another country can bring their infection to us.  But the highly contagious virus is already here and states can't block non-residents from entering their states.  So someone from a re-opened state could infect some of us in a locked-down state.

I wish there had been a coordinated, nationwide response to this pandemic.  Even it if was late, and a lot of people had to die unnecessarily, at least we'd be on the same page.  There might still be demonstrations against any lockdown.  The organizers of the first of those demonstrations advised people to wear their masks and keep their distance from each other.  That didn't happen.  And the signs the demonstrators waved and the chants they sang were directed against Democrats.  And then our President egged them on with his "LIBERATE" tweets.

I mourn that something that should be treated as a medical and economic emergency had to turn political.  We're going to lose a lot more people -- old people, people of color, poor people, most through no fault of their own -- before this is over.  If it is ever over.

Monday, March 30, 2020

COVID-19 Could Help The Climate

One thing the COVID-19 pandemic has done, on the positive side, is prepare us for crises.  But, while the novel coronavirus is sweeping through the human population of this planet like a wildfire in Northern California, climate change is more like a slowly heating pot of water that we're all sitting in like frogs waiting to be boiled to death.  Carbon dioxide (CO2) levels and global average temperatures are rising just as relentlessly, if not as rapidly, as coronavirus cases.

As of March 30, 2020, at 10:15 am Pacific Daylight Time there were 755,367 cases worldwide, with 36,273 deaths.  See Coronavirus Update for current figures.

Countries that have been under lockdown in response to the pandemic have seen a noticeable drop in greenhouse gas emissions.  Scientists have pointed to this as a lesson in how to prepare for, or avoid, the worst impacts of climate change.  CO2 comes from industry, electricity production, and transportation.  All of these have seen reductions since the stay-at-home measures have risen in scope.

"If we can think about how to prepare for climate change like a pandemic, maybe there will be a positive outcome to all of this," said Christopher Jones, lead developer of the CoolClimate Network, an applied research consortium at the University of California, Berkeley. "I think there are some big-picture lessons here that could be very useful."

Pollution-monitoring satellites operated by NASA and the European Space Agency observed drastic decreases in concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which is also released by cars, power plants and industrial facilities, from Jan 1 to Jan 20 and again from Feb 10 to Feb 25. Studying NO2 concentration in the atmosphere can help scientists understand other heat-trapping greenhouse gases that drive global warming.  Both China and Northern Italy have recorded significant falls in NO2.  

Another noxious gas that has shown significant drops is carbon monoxide (CO).  The BBC found that in New York City, CO was down nearly 50% compared to last year.  

But experts warn that observed reductions are temporary and that as cities, countries and economies bounce back, so, too, will emissions, unless some major changes are adopted.  Jacqueline Klopp, co-director of the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at Columbia University in New York City said the pandemic could make companies and governments realize that other threats to humanity, including climate change, could be just as devastating and that it's imperative to develop protective measures. 

"As we move to restart these economies, we need to use this moment to think about what we value," she said. "Do we want to go back to the status quo, or do we want to tackle these big structural problems and restructure our economy to reduce emissions and pollution?"

Last month a poem written by Kitty O'Meara, a Senator in the Irish Seanad (Senate) hit Facebook and immediately went viral.  It's titled "And the people stayed home".
And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.
And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.
Let's heal the Earth! 

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Earth Has Lung Cancer

According to the American Lung Association, smoking is the main cause of lung cancer.  The Amazon rain forest has been described as the "lungs" of planet Earth because it produces 20% of the oxygen supply we humans and other animals need to live.  And it has been smoking for a long time!

I went looking for data on wildfires in the Amazon, and it turns out to be very hard to nail down.  One source, NBC News, says Brazil has had more than 140,000 observed fires so far in 2019 and that at this point last year the number was about 75,000.  That's nearly a 100% increase in the number of fires. 

The New York Times reported that Brazil's own National Institute for Space Research (INPE) detected 39,194 fires this year which represents a 77% increase from the same period in 2018.

Whatever the actual number of wildfires in the Amazon is, it is growing.  But the trend is not smoothly increasing.  2016 saw nearly as many fires as 2019, due mostly to that year's El Niño, while the numbers in 2017 and 2018 were down.

Yet not only is the number of fires greater this year, but the size of the blazes is much bigger.  The INPE reported in July that 4.6 million acres of the Brazilian Amazon had been consumed by fire from January to July 2019.  This is a 62% increase over the same period last year.  For the first time smoke from the fires is darkening the skies in São Paulo.

Here in Northern California, we are accustomed to a yearly fire season.  But historically a yearly fire season in the Amazon Rainforest is about as likely as a hurricane season in Antarctica.  Wildfires are not supposed to happen in rainforests.

So what's causing them?  Jair Bolsonaro, the president of Brazil, wants to turn the Amazon into industrial farms -- threatening wildlife, indigenous peoples, and our chances of ever slowing climate change.  Brazilian landowners are clearing large areas of rainforest for agriculture, cattle grazing, and commercial development.  Loggers come in and take what they want, and the rest is deliberately burned.  The Amazon is on fire and it's no accident.

In the early 2000s the number of  manmade fires was higher, but it was then that the Brazilian government became environmentally conscious and passed laws protective of the environment, indigenous peoples, and the millions of species of plants and animals in the Amazon Basin.  But since Bolsonaro took office in January of this year, enforcement of those laws has been lax.  Also, the rhetoric from the administration has encouraged farmers to slash and burn in protected areas with impunity.

Bolsonaro claims other countries are trying to make his country a colony again because France, Ireland and Finland are threatening to scrap a trade agreement, and Germany and Norway are stopping contributions to an aid fund.

Rainforests breathe in carbon dioxide, sequestering it.  Thus they are essential allies in the fight against climate change.  They breathe out oxygen.  Thus they are essential for oxygen-breathing life forms on this planet.  They also produce water vapor through aspiration.  The water vapor returns as much needed rain (hence the term rainforest) in other areas.  There are about 390 billion trees in the Amazon which represents over half of the planet's remaining rainforests.  A tenth of the 8.7 million species of life on Earth reside in the Amazon.

The Amazon rainforest is key to keeping the Earth a habitable planet for mankind.  Burning it to create farmland will be pointless if there are no humans around to eat the food.

In order for life on Earth to prosper, we really need to help the Amazon quit smoking!

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Red vs Blue on Climate

I remember a public service announcement back in the 90s by the Better World Society that featured a bunch of Muppets trying to share one house. Kermit the frog, at the beginning, says, "What if everyone in the world lived in the same house?"  At the end he comes back to say, "We do!" and the camera pulls back to reveal the "house" is the Earth. Republicans and Democrats all live in the same "house", nevertheless, they seem to have trouble getting along.

In Oregon, Republican state senators fled the state to prevent a cap-and-trade bill from being passed. Democrats dominate both legislative chambers in Oregon, and Republicans were unapologetic about their efforts to slow progress on the emissions-reduction program by keeping the Democrats from having a quorum to call a vote. The governor, Kate Brown, a Democrat, ordered the state police to find the Republican senators and bring them back. One state senator, Brian Boquist, threatened to shoot to kill any state trooper sent to get him. Ultimately, the state capitol was shut down by lawmakers after receiving threats from militia groups.

Last month the New York Times reported on the aggressive rollout of climate strategies in "blue" states and how "red" states are sitting back. Democratic majorities in California, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, New Mexico, New York and Washington have all passed bills aimed at shifting away from fossil fuels, the major driver of global warming. Meanwhile the Trump administration has pledged to withdraw from the Paris agreement, with Republican backing, which makes the job of blue states trying to address the issue more difficult. Still, the opposition to President Trump’s plan to weaken pollution standards for automobiles widened when 24 governors, including three Republicans, urged the president to abandon his plan. In fact, 17 automakers, including Ford, GM, Toyota, Volvo, BMW, and Volkswagen, have co-signed a letter to Trump asking him to back off this plan.

The fact is we all do live here in the same "house", on the same planet. But we get sucked into a fight over who's gonna win, the Republicans or the Democrats, the Red states or the Blue states, the conservatives or the progressives. Then we find that some of these folks we oppose are our next-door neighbors. Most of us treat our neighbors much more kindly than we would if we considered them subversive political opponents. We only get nasty in the anonymity of printer's ink or social media. But across the driveway or over the back fence, we behave ourselves.

Clearly, the adverse effects of the changing climate affect our neighbors as well as ourselves, and the only way we can win is together. Maybe we could listen to each other politely, debate rather than argue, speak calmly rather than scream. Maybe we could all just get along.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Voting Rights: Fair and Fraud-free

Voting should be as fair and fraud-free as possible.  But voter fraud is such a rare event and seldom malicious even then, the efforts to combat it often throw the baby out with the bath water.  In just about every case, since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, heroic efforts have been made, mostly by states with a "history of discrimination", to fight imaginary voter fraud by making it more difficult for people to vote.  I actually agree with the Shelby County v Holder decision.  The Voting Rights Act itself was discriminatory, singling out certain states the lawmakers in 1964 didn't like.  The law should have required ALL states to get preclearance for any changes to their voting process.  But it did sustain the "solid south" voting block for the Democrats which lasted until 1980 (except for Nixon who capitalized on racism in 68 and his "secret plan" to end the Vietnam War in 72). 

My point is, in North Dakota (which actually wasn't on the preclearance list in the VRA) and Georgia, the practices and policies disproportionately affect minority voters.  White people don't have much of a problem providing a street address or matching the spelling of their name to their driver's license.  But even I myself had only an RFD box number when I lived in rural Iowa.  And there are black people named Keisha, DeShawn, or Tyrascius.  Native Americans have names like Jacy or Koko, and it’s not uncommon in Native American culture for a person’s name to evolve over time. 

Another example of this lop-sided practice cropped up in Dodge City, KS where there is a single polling place for 27,000 residents.  60% of those residents are Hispanic (a minority majority!)  As a result of there being just one place to vote, and the fact that many of the Hispanics have jobs that give them no time off to vote, turnout among those Hispanics is historically around 17%.  White voters show up at 61%.  Now Dodge City has moved the single polling place (due to road closures for construction) to a point outside the city limits that is a mile from the nearest bus stop.  Also of note, this 60% minority town of 13,000 eligible voters has one polling place.  Statewide in Kansas there is a polling place for every 1,200 voters on average.  Statewide the percentage of white people is 86.5%.  In Dodge City the percentage of white people is less than 40%.  In Dodge City it is 10 times harder to vote than in the rest of Kansas.

Republicans know they are in the minority nationwide.  Only 27% of Americans identify as Republican.  29% identify as Democrat.  When you look at "leaning" as opposed to "identifying" the ratio is 42% Republican and 47% Democratic.  So if everybody votes who can vote, Republicans lose.  But we white, middle- and upper class, employed (or retired) folks, get out the vote, and it's usually easy for us to do so.  And in that group, most vote Republican.  It's the lower class, marginally employed, still working past age 65, (maybe homeless without a residential street address!) people of color for whom it has been made difficult to vote.  Thus the Republican minority wins a lot more than it should.

When I was working at the newspaper, I just left my office on Election Day, voted, and came back.  I was salaried so I didn't even lose any pay.  The guys who loaded the paper in the presses didn't get any time off.  And they mostly spoke Spanish.  I wonder what making Election Day a national paid holiday, so people didn't have to choose between voting and losing pay or getting fired, would do to the turnout percentages.