Friday, May 31, 2019

Trees of Life

The film above is from Patagonia Films - Treeline: A Story Written in Rings, available in full for the first time. Follow a group of skiers, snowboarders, scientists and healers to the birch forests of Japan, the red cedars of British Columbia and the bristlecones of Nevada, as they explore an ancient story written in rings. Suzanne Simard, a forest ecologist working in the old-growth forests of British Columbia, discovered that trees “communicate,” or share carbon with each other, through giant fungal networks under the ground. In the film, she explains why we might have deeply rooted (no pun intended) connections to these immobile giants. “When we look at the pattern of a mycorrhizal network,” she says, “when we actually dissect it and look at all the mathematical relationships, it’s the same pattern as a neural network…it’s kind of like a brain.” The principles of this ecology, plus its application to urban planning and urban forestry, is discussed here as being grounded in Frank Lloyd Wright's view of design with nature.

Trees are not just a symbol of life, they are the actual givers of life on this planet, providing oxygen, food and nutrients and absorbing carbon. Yet our human civilization is bent upon destroying these crucial life-giving forests for energy and profits. Extensive documentation of the global dwindling forests has been done over the last 30 years, and time is running out on conserving them. World Wildlife Foundation studies deforestation and and the increasing rate of forest degradation. The main cause of deforestation is agriculture (poorly planned infrastructure is emerging as a big threat too) and the main cause of forest degradation is illegal logging. We’re losing 18.7 million acres of forests annually, equivalent to 27 soccer fields every minute.

Are there ways to push back at the local level? An example is provided by: Planting Trees as Resistance and Empowerment: The Remarkable Illustrated Story of Wangari Maathai, the First African Woman to Win the Nobel Peace Prize. This blogpost examines a lifetime of forest renewal by a woman who used social strategies and organizational protest to protect and expand the Kenyan forests. On October 8, 2004, midway through her sixty-fifth year, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. By the end of her life, the movement she started had planted thirty million trees, re-imagining the ecological and economic landscape of possibility for generations of Kenyans to come, and modeling for the rest of the world a new form of civic agency standing up for nature and humanity as an indivisible whole.

Forest Trends goes further with very specific larger efforts and global financial strategies in their series about how forests are our best climate hedge. There are very specific approaches outlined towards saving and expanding our natural carbon sinks, and there have been historic difficulties in establishing markets for conserving tropical forests, among others.

Our planet is on the cusp of collapsing with its ecosystem decimated by human growth and consumption. A new report explains how close we've come to irreversible changes in our environment, and urges immediate, global action.This report suggests ‘High Likelihood of Human Civilization Coming to an End’ starting in 2050. The climate change analysis was written by a former fossil fuel executive and backed by the former chief of Australia's military.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Bending the Arc of Justice

From the inspiration of Earth Day in the writings and activism of Rachel Carson in her epic Silent Spring documentation to the present-day confrontational actions between the corporate power of profit versus the Extinction Rebellion - portrayed in the graphic above from FT - we have seen Earth Day evolve extensively from its first recognition in 1970. During that time, we have seen 24 COP's come and go; the first COP was held in Berlin in 1995.

The 25th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 25) to the UNFCCC was to take place from 11-22 November 2019 in Brazil. Upon election as President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro pulled Brazil out of hosting the event. So now the Santiago Climate Change Conference, which will feature the 25th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 25) to the UNFCCC and meetings of the UNFCCC subsidiary bodies, is expected to take place from 2-13 December 2019.

This reflects the global turbulence among countries, governments and corporate powers that are all staking a claim on planet earth, resulting in a human-induced crisis of resources, humanity and the very life systems of our environment. In the last few hundred years we've gone beyond our natural limits and show no signs of stopping carbon emissions in spite of all the agreements and discussions to date. Hence, the increasing tragedy of future environmental collapse, and the resistance personified by children like Greta and the powerful counter movements emerging as the alarms are set off by more and more people seeing an unfolding terrible, dark future.

According to a NYTimes report, more carbon has been released into the atmosphere since the final day of the Noordwijk conference, Nov. 7, 1989, than in the entire history of civilization preceding it. In 1990, humankind emitted more than 20 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. By 2017, the figure had risen to 32.5 billion metric tons, a record. Despite every action taken since the Charney report — the billions of dollars invested in research, the nonbinding treaties, the investments in renewable energy — the only number that counts, the total quantity of global greenhouse gas emitted per year, has continued its inexorable rise.

Like the scientific story, the political story hasn’t changed greatly, except in its particulars. Even some of the nations that pushed hardest for climate policy have failed to honor their own commitments. When it comes to our own nation, which has failed to make any binding commitments whatsoever, the dominant narrative for the last quarter century has concerned the efforts of the fossil-fuel industries to suppress science, confuse public knowledge and bribe politicians.

Because our destructive, profit-focused economic system demands a fiction called GDP that requires physical consumption to increase the ledger sheet balance, the system inherently grows out of control as the markets are expanded. Destroying the environment that provides our life support is a form of insanity that leads to collapse, and that is increasingly recognized now by people all over the world, as well as by governments and the insurance industry. A view delineating this is: Collapse of Industrial Civilization ~ Finding the Truth behind the American Hologram Concerning Humanity’s Future: Interview with Nick Humphrey, Climatologist and Geoscientist. Nick makes the critical point that Nature is in control, not humans. Even our current catastrophes which were sparked by humanity’s activities were ultimately governed by the laws of Nature (physics, thermodynamics, chemistry, etc). We never were separate from it all, but a part of it. We should be telling ourselves to do what we feel is right to respect Nature and its unbreakable laws, accepting our place in the Universe as just one of many species which have a finite existence on this planet.

The enormous effort that it will take for the all the civilizations of the world to stop the self-destruction and change the entire system in time to stave off the worst impacts appear to be unachievable at this point, especially given the rise of demagogues and rampant corruption in many countries, including the US, that block even the efforts by corporations and individuals to change this systemic self-destruction. We have reached our day of reckoning, which was actually five years ago with the issuance of the IPCC's AR5 fifth assessment report, Part 2, ahead of the Paris Climate Summit.

As Chris Hays put it, Martin Luther King's idea that the moral universe inherently bends towards justice is inspiring. ... "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." It means that all of us together will have to bend it with revolutionary fervor, not just foster incremental steps. The time has come, even as the natural world inflicts its wrath upon our efforts to salvage a future for ourselves and our kids.

Update 4/23/19: It’s Not Coming, It’s Here: Bill McKibben on Our New Climate Reality

Update 4/24/19: Club of Rome Climate Emergency Plan (pdf file)

Saturday, March 2, 2019


16-year old Greta Thunberg is the most recent and astonishing climate activist to emerge since last December's COP24 in Katowice left the planet with no specific agreements or targets. It started with her lone school strike during last September of 2018 that ultimately saw her scolding the adults for not taking action to meet the actual reductions necessary in carbon emissions to keep the planet habitable for her generation. At Davos in January, she told world leaders: 'I don't want you to be hopeful, I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day and then I want you to act.' In an impassioned warning to act now on climate change, Thunberg told her audience: 'Either we choose to go on as a civilisation or we don’t."  She's making common cause with Extinction Rebellion, a fast-growing public uprising that began in October 2018  with a petition in London to the UK government to drive radical change and create urgency around the obvious signs of climate breakdown.

Business as usual on climate change is no longer acceptable to a growing number of people, as well as the UNFCCC participants, which is reaching its own critical milestones. At the recent joint briefing by the President of the General Assembly and the Secretary-General's Special Envoy for the 2019 Climate Summit,  General Assembly President Maria Espinosa said 2019 is a critical year, the “last chance” for the international community to take effective action on climate change on Thursday, during a briefing to announce the UN’s roadmap to the Climate Summit in September. She walked the representatives of Member States through some of the key events of 2019, leading up to, and following, the Climate Summit. All of the events, she said, share two goals: a doubling of commitments and ambition at a national level, and ensuring the inclusion of diverse groups in the process of climate action.

The slowly building movement that has engaged in lawsuits against governments for failing to protect people from the harmful and destructive impacts of climate change is picking up speed as these lawsuits succeed in moving forward, despite government resistance fostered by the fossil fuel industry. In moving beyond politics, these lawsuits provide a mechanism within each country to force the government to act immediately and with significant steps to combat climate change impacts. An array of climate litigation against governments and corporations is now underway under the umbrella of the Plan B organization.

The strategy of suing governments to force action is drastic, but given the lack of progress by the COP process as well as ineffectual emissions reduction standards, it may be the future of climate change action. It involves the connection between climate change and establishing human rights around the ability to live in a world that is habitable and supports life for the billions of people on this planet.

Update 3/7/19:  Greta's story

Update 4/23/19: The speech Greta Thunberg gave to MPs at the Houses of Parliament: 'You did not act in time'

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

It's Complicated

For those who want to really understand what's happening with big private money driving political demagoguery that disrupts the rule of law, get your hands on the book, Dark Money, by Jane Mayer. This documents in depth what has been shifting the political climate in our country to the point that democracy is now in danger via billions of dollars of undisclosed private money. An excerpt:

Lewis Powell, a corporate attorney who was appointed to the Supreme Court by Richard Nixon, was the author of a brilliant battle plan detailing how conservative business interests could reclaim American politics. In 1971, he issued a memo to the business community to fight back against liberal policies.

"He urged America's capitalists to wage "guerilla warfare" agains those seeking to "insidiously" undermine corporate America. Conservatives must capture public opinion, he argued, by exerting influence over the institutions that shape it, which he identified as academia, the media, the churches and the courts. He argued that conservatives should control the political debate at its source by demanding "balance" in textbooks, television shows, and news coverage. Donors, he argued, should demand a say in university hiring and curriculum and "press vigorously in all political arenas." The key to victory, he predicted, was "careful long-range planning and implementation" backed by a "scale of financing available only through joint effort."

Thus was kicked off the conservative think tank structures funded by the Kochs and the ALEC corporate network which has proceeded to do exactly that. So what we have now is a corporate coup fronted by a carney barker. They are dismantling the government agencies and eliminating their tax liabilities, with the intent of removing Medicare and Social Security safety nets, as is laid out in detail in Mayer's book.  There are all the covert strategies outlined in there as well.

The strategy applies *in spades* to the climate change issue, because all of these billionaires, thinktanks and agencies that are heavily invested in fossil fuels, which rely on being extracted and burned to retain their value. Bill McKibben understood this early on as he discussed the Rockefeller Foundation grant that supported his position.

 "For example, Trump may be uniquely hostile to the rule of law, ethics in public service, and a free press. But the assault on our democracy didn’t start with his election. He is as much a symptom as a cause of what ails us. Think of our body politic like a human body, with our constitutional checks and balances, democratic norms and institutions, and well-informed citizenry all acting as an immune system protecting us from the disease of authoritarianism. Over many years, our defenses were worn down by a small group of right-wing billionaires—people like the Mercer family and Charles and David Koch—who spent a lot of time and money building an alternative reality where science is denied, lies masquerade as truth, and paranoia flourishes. By undermining the common factual framework that allows a free people to deliberate together and make the important decisions of self-governance, they opened the way for the infection of Russian propaganda and Trumpian lies to take hold. They've used their money and influence to capture our political system, impose a right-wing agenda, and disenfranchise millions of Americans."

The informal system of offshoring wealth to avoid taxes by these big money entities has been extensively documented. It helps to remember that many of them are financially bigger than most countries in the world, hence have a place at the table of the formation of global trade policies that undermine the ability of these governments to defend their citizens from destructive profit schemes embedded in these trade agreements which state that they overrule local governance policies and don't offer a means of recourse. Hence the emergence of conservative populists in governments across the globe that promise to enforce geographical borders and retain local economies and jobs. Unfortunately these populists devolve into the corruption of cronyism and self-dealing, directed by the big money that drives their real agenda - an escape from taxes and undermining the social support systems. The government budget allocations are then driven to military budgets that feed the corporate contracts and instigation of wars for profit, usually the fossil fuel and weapons industries.

From Insurge: "We are currently in the midst of a global phase-shift signalling that the prevailing order, paradigm and value-system are outmoded and unsustainable. The breakdown of the global system has led to a heightened state and speed of indeterminacy across political, economic, cultural and ideological structures and sub-systems. We experience this in the increasing confusion across all these systems, particularly expressed in the ‘post-truth’ dislocation of our prevailing information systems."

Again, from Insurge: "When NATO intervened in Libya, when the US and UK backed Saudi Arabia’s indiscriminate aerial bombardment of Yemen, it only destabilised the region further. The arc of collapse across the Middle East and North Africa resulted from a fatal combination: an earth system crisis, compounded by short-sighted and self-serving responses from human systems...The earth system crisis that erupted in Syria triggered a wave of human system destabilisation of which Brexit was merely the first eruption. And so the Syria crisis is indeed a taste of things to come. Europe is already a post-peak oil continent, whose domestic fossil resources are in decline."

So you can see that the systemic implementation of global trade policies are driven by energy costs and those that profit from them. This has the tragic consequence of planetary destruction from carbon emissions because of the embedded fiscal profiteering in these influential industries and the big money of the one percent. They are defending a system that is structured to run on fossil fuel investments that have to be burned to provide the cash flow for these profits. Which is a major factor in the failure of the COP processes that are dwarfed by the annual build-up of atmospheric carbon emissions. In some respects the Paris Agreement hinted at a potential step change but this moment of hope has quickly given way to Byzantine technocracy the rulebook, stocktaking, financial scams and corporate disinformation that undermines the world's governments that are trying to create a global agreement.

Update 1/17/19: How the forever-war crowd holds the reins on US foreign policy and its budget

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Timeline is now Zero

Climate change segment from Aaron Sorkins "Newsroom" drama

 Its Not Stopping: New York Times Opinon, December 29, 2018: Going Nowhere Fast on Climate, Year After Year

Three decades after a top climate scientist warned Congress of the dangers of global warming, greenhouse gas emissions keep rising and so do global temperatures.
By Paul Bledsoe, who lectures on environmental policy at American University.

Thirty years ago, a NASA scientist, James Hansen, told lawmakers at a Senate hearing that “global warming is now large enough that we can ascribe with a high degree of confidence a cause-and-effect relationship with the greenhouse effect.” He added that there “is only 1 percent chance of accidental warming of this magnitude.”

By that, he meant that humans were responsible.

His testimony made headlines around the United States and the world. But in the time since, greenhouse gas emissions, the global temperature average and cost of climate-related heat, wildfires, droughts, flooding and hurricanes have continued to rise.

This fall, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released an alarming report warning that if emissions continue to rise at their present rate, the atmosphere will warm up by as much as 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) above preindustrial levels by 2040, resulting in the flooding of coastlines, the killing of coral reefs worldwide, and more catastrophic droughts and wildfires.

To avoid this, greenhouse gas emissions would need to fall by nearly half from 2010 levels in the next 12 years and reach a net of zero by 2050. But in the United States, the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, President Trump continues to question the science of climate change, and his administration is rolling back emissions limits on power plants and fuel economy standards on cars and light trucks, while pushing to accelerate the use of fossil fuels. Other major nations around the world aren’t cutting emissions quickly enough, either.

So what has happened over the last 30 years? Progress has been made in fits and starts, but not nearly enough has been done to confront the planet-altering magnitude of what we have unleashed. Here’s a timeline of those events.

Update 1/14/19: Silent Spring - Why it’s time to think about human extinction | Dr David Suzuki on economic growth and why we can still change this

Update 1/15/19: A Planet in Crisis -The Heat’s On Us  by Dahr Jamail

Update 2/28/19: NYT: Time to Panic

Update 3/1/19: After 40 Years of Government Inaction on Climate, Have We Finally Turned a Corner?

Monday, December 24, 2018

Peace on Earth

In these desperate, chaotic times of Trump's descent, I'm offering a moment of quiet respite so that we can briefly put down our burdens and regenerate in the intricate peace of Bach's music. This performance is an unusual, contemporary approach to the classic "Ave Maria".

For the moment, the less said about the regressive politics going on around us, as well as the ineffectualness of the global approaches to climate change, the better.

Hope for the future is a fragile thing, and its cultivation is the arrow pointing to a better world built by all of us.

"Although we are all born with intrinsic hope, it’s easy to forget. Because we usually focus on problems and difficulties, we can fail to appreciate the miracle of life and become blind to its potentials and possibilities. By concentrating on the negative, we don’t see the positive. By emphasizing what we lack and what we want, we ignore what we already have, and don’t consider what could be."

So this is a small opportunity to look over the view of the world ahead of us, and to ask of ourselves if we can sustain a vision of collaboration and abundant life; the emblematic female grace described by this hymn:

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and in the hour of our death.

Update 12/24/18: Let’s pretend that She is inviting (insisting?) that we weave ourselves into the mystery of existence and give up the illusion of our separation.

Update 12/25/18: Lola Perrin's Climate Keys

Update 12/25/18:  The Key Point that has been missed however is that the 'Hemiola' also gives rise to φ (Phi) & thus the subtly breathtaking 'dominance' of the 'Feminine Principle' or σοφία (sophia or 'wisdom')

Update 12/25/18: Emerging from the 'Tao', is the 'feminine principle'

Update 12/25/18:  The derivation of Phi in the feminine principle

Update 12/26/18: Scientists shouldn’t bring emotion or family or humanity into their work... It’s unprofessional! It’s irrelevant! And, of course, it’s feminine.

Update 12/27/18: Science & Spirituality in a Changing World: David Bohm

Update 12/28/18:  Astrophysicist Janna Levin Reads Maya Angelou’s Stunning Humanist Poem That Flew to Space, Inspired by Carl Sagan

Monday, December 17, 2018

A Tenth Year - A Rainstorm

Los Angeles experienced a good storm last month, about two inches. But that was it. Nothing much in our forecast for December. Very much like the 2016 winter, in which California was still in drought, although that season eventually produced four inches above average later in the season. The Earth System Science Education Alliance has a page that shows how the precipitation and temperature changes have shifted over the last 100 years, with a warming trend as well as a much more variable precipitation profile that has a moving average of less rainfall.

Climate change has forced big changes in the way that water is used and conserved all over California. For example, at UC Santa Barbara, the use of recycled water for irrigation has drastically reduced potable water consumption. The campus utilizes treated water from Goleta Sanitary District and uses it for irrigation, rather than dumping it into the ocean. 90% of the campus landscape is irrigated with recycled water, which saves 19.5 million gallons of potable water annually. UCSB has also seen significant water use savings through efficiency improvements in the use of industrial water and restroom retrofits. UCSB is also exploring many other alternative ways to conserve the water that it gets from local rainfall, which is reliant upon the Lake Cachuma supply, rather than the State Water Project which imports water from the Bay Delta.

Compare these efforts to some of the residential areas in adjacent Montecito, which have in the past resorted to trucking in water to keep the massive lawns and plantings from dying due to the lack of rainfall in the area. However, the storm in January of this year damaged the Montecito water distribution, as well as destroyed much of the landscaping and some structures with the devastating mudflows. Much of the water supply infrastructure will need to be reconstructed, as well as establishing reliable new water supply going forward. This storm produced destructive mudflows because of the earlier Thomas Fire burn in 2017.  The recovery from the damage to the infrastructure will take most of 2018. This has led to a dialogue with neighboring Santa Barbara, and involves purchasing water from their desalination plant, which was reactivated in 2015. This plant currently provides about 30 percent of Santa Barbara's annual potable water demand since being started up again in 2017.

The complexity of climate change impacts is proving to be a major challenge all over the state, inasmuch as this major damage occurred in a wealthy area which will be able to recover from the extensive destruction that took place. It exemplifies the scale of damages that is starting to impact all of California's cities, as well as the expenses and logistics of preparing for a very dry future which is our new normal.

Update 12/17/18: Sierra Nevada snowpack on track to shrink up to 79% by the end of the century, new study finds

Update 12/18/18:  Experts say the state must take a new approach to managing water in the future.

Update 12/23/18: How do we cope with demands for water as we enter an era of scarcity?