Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Try Yes

As I recently read through the long list of comments on Bill McKibbon's Rolling Stone article about climate change, I decided to try to say yes more often.

The comments ran the gamut as you might expect.  Human nature played out ugly and beautiful around these big, complicated, and somehow emotional issues.

So many people love to show how smart they are by finding weak points or having a debate to see who's the most logical of them all.  Worst of all, some simply prefer to name the huge challenges like leaving heaps of horse crap on someone's doorstep with no shovel in sight.

It's so easy to say no and easy to feel helpless.  It's easy feel safe and informed, and often safe and misinformed, too.

So I thought: try saying yes.  Try asking yourself if burning fossil fuels is a good idea.  Is pollution really a good thing?

Bill McKibbon is helping us try to get away from pollution and fossil fuels.  He doesn't have all the answers and neither do I (no way!) or anyone really, but if you weigh the negatives of say a wind farm or solar panels -- and yes, there are negatives -- they pale in comparison to what we get with fossil fuels.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Winning Images: Fresh Look at Raw Beauty

Winners of 2014 Deep Underwater Photo Contest.  Which is your favorite?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Small Light in the Harbor

One thing is always true, if it's cold on land, it's colder on the water.  I boarded a bright yellow NYC Water Taxi commandeered by the Audubon Society for a few hours recently.  It was a full boat of bundled up nature-watchers.

Once underway, my eyes watered and the drops seemed to turn to icicles on my cheeks.  But my spirits were high.

We slipped past Governor's Island, looking like a New England college campus, directly across Buttermilk Channel from towering erector-set beasts that eat containers off massive cargo ships.

When our mustachioed and wry-witted guide spotted some birds, we'd peer and marvel a little.  An earnest volunteer would hold up a poster board with a lovely and colorful painting of the bird.

We moved farther along the hard edge where Brooklyn meets ocean.  There's a sewage treatment plant.  There's a desolate parking lot with litter skittering across.

It's easy to be melancholy.  There are absolutely no soft edges, no natural transitions between land and sea, in an area once so full of life it made hearts sing.  But life still finds a way.

In the end, we saw a handful of interesting birds and the marquee critter: seals.  There they were, impossibly, on old Swinburne Island, fat and curious.  They rolled off rocks into the choppy water or bobbed in the water looking at us looking at them.

I'm just going to say how it felt to see seals within sight of the Verrazano Narrows bridge and the sprawling metropolis:  Refreshing. Energizing. Awesome.

It's a small light I will carry with me through the darkest urban nights.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

There is No Debate

This one hits it out of the park.  Nice job, Carol Costello from CNN.  Global Warming's Six Americas is especially interesting.  Enjoy. 

Why Are We Still Debating Climate Change? 

There is no debate.

Climate change is real. And, yes, we are, in part, to blame.

There is a 97% consensus among scientific experts that humans are causing global warming. Ninety-seven percent!

Yet some very vocal Americans continue to debate what is surely fact

The question is, why?

Trust certainly plays a part.

According to Gordon Gauchat, an associate professor of sociology from the University of Wisconsin, just 42% of adults in the U.S. have a great deal of confidence in the scientific community.

It's easy to understand why. Most Americans can't even name a living scientist. I suspect the closest many Americans get to a living, breathing scientist is the fictional Dr. Sheldon Cooper from CBS's sitcom "The Big Bang Theory." Sheldon is brilliant, condescending and narcissistic. Whose trust would he inspire?

But trust isn't the only factor in why many Americans doubt climate change.

I asked Anthony Leiserowitz, the director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. His group has been studying the "why" question for more than a decade.

"We've found there are six very (specific) categories that respond to this issue in different ways," he said.

He calls these categories "Global Warming's Six Americas."

The first group, "The Alarmed," is made up 16% of the public. They believe climate change is an urgent problem but have no clear idea of how to fix it.

[Editor's Note: One question about these Americas from Yale -- where are the people who believe it's urgent and have several clear ideas of how to fix it, like me?  Here's three ways to fix it: Eliminate coal; Rapidly ramp up a clean energy economy; Get special interest money out of government.]

The second group (27%) is "The Concerned." They believe climate change is a problem but think it's more about polar bears and tiny islands than a problem that directly affects them.

The third group, "The Cautious" (23%), are people on the fence. They haven't made up their minds whether global warming is real or if it's a man-made problem.

The fourth group, "The Disengaged" (5%), doesn't know anything about climate change.

The fifth group, "The Doubtful" (12%), do not think climate change is man-made. They think it's natural and poses no long-term risk.

Leiserowitz says it's the sixth group, "The Dismissives," that is the most problematic, even though it comprises just 15% of the public.

"They say it's a hoax, scientists are making up data, it's a U.N. conspiracy (or) Al Gore and his friends want to get rich." Leiserowitz goes on to say, "It's a really loud 15%. ... (It's a) pretty well-organized 15%."

And thanks to the media and the political stage, that vocal minority is mighty.

Former presidential candidate Rick Santorum told Glenn Beck on Fox News in 2011, "There is no such thing as global warming." Santorum went on to tell Rush Limbaugh, "It's just an excuse for more government control of your life, and I've never been for any scheme or even accepted the junk science behind the whole narrative."

And just last week, tea party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz told CNN's Dana Bash, "Climate change, as they have defined it, can never be disproved, because whether it gets hotter or whether it gets colder, whatever happens, they'll say, well, it's changing, so it proves our theory."

Meanwhile, the climate change "counter movement" has been helped along by an infusion of cash from, among others, some in the powerful fossil fuel industry.

A recent study by Drexel University found that conservative foundations and others have bankrolled climate denial to the tune of $558 million between 2003 and 2010.

"Money amplifies certain voices above others and, in effect, gives them a megaphone in the public square. Powerful funders are supporting the campaign to deny scientific findings about global warming and raise public doubts about the roots and remedies of this massive global threat," writes environmental scientist Robert J. Brulle, the study's author.

The good news is, those uninformed minority voices are being quieted by nature and by those who have powerful voices.

Extreme weather is forcing people to at least think about how global warming affects them directly. And, perhaps more important, many religious leaders, including evangelicals, are now "green." They concur with the scientific community and take it a step farther. They say we have a moral obligation to save the planet.

Even the enormously popular Pope Francis may soon speak out on global warming. The Vatican press office says Francis is working on draft text on ecology. That text could turn into an encyclical, or a letter to bishops around the world, instructing that the "faithful must respect the environment."

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A Clean Future Gets its Own Billionaire

You know I'm always whining about too much money in politics -- and it's still happening -- but at least now the playing field will be leveled a little more.

In 2012, the Koch Brothers spent hundreds of millions of dollars to spread doubt and fear over carbon pollution, and to get as many fossil fuelers elected as possible. 

Now, billionaire Tom Steyer is going to raise 100 million, half of it his own, to ensure climate change and carbon pollution are a prominent campaign issue. 

“Is it going to take $100 million? I have no idea. I think that would be a really cheap price to answer the generational challenge of the world," he said in the New York Times.

Is it hypocritical to rail against the systemic problem of too much money in politics as long as we're talking about the opposition?  Maybe. 

But this broken political system is not going away anytime soon and the overheating planet needs action now.  If this is the way we have to do it, then so be it.  Can't be foolish or idealistic enough to bring a knife to a gunfight after all.

Thanks for making my day, Tom.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Telling the Tough Nut

It's a tough nut to crack -- communicating the reality and urgency of climate change and motivating people to do something about it.  It's something covered in this blog often, from a personal scuffle with a denier to some excellent best practices.

It would help, though, if the mainstream media would talk more about it.   Let's face it, if it's not in the media, it's perceived as unimportant, or it's not perceived at all.

According to a report from the School of Politics and Communications Studies, the "total number of articles on climate change printed over three years was fewer than one month’s worth of articles featuring health issues.  The articles offered mixed messages about the seriousness and imminence of problems facing the environment."

“Our research suggests that the media is not treating these issues with the seriousness that scientists would say they deserve.  The research company lpsos-MORI found that 50% of people think the jury is still out on the causes of global warming," said Neil Gavin of the School.

That's on us.  Professional communicators are not doing their jobs if half the people out there think there is still a debate.  Another result shows a huge lack of understanding of what excess carbon pollution is doing to the planet.

The study finds a strong connection between U.S. weather trends and public and media attitudes towards climate science over the past 20 years -- with skepticism about global warming increasing during cold snaps and concern about climate change growing during hot spells, according to Science Daily.

Whew, this is a tough nut.

Let's remember that weather is local event but climate change is something happening on a global scale.

Average global temperatures have been increasing for decades.  That it's an average of the entire planet -- hundreds of thousands of recordings.  Measure a cold snap in your hometown against thousands of higher-than-previous temperatures all over the planet every day of the year and you begin to see why it's called global warming.

Let's remember that shipping companies are putting new polar routes on their maps through what was previously ice-covered ocean.

Let's remember that it's not natural -- past warming events millions of years ago took thousands of years to happen. That's natural.  Our pace has been off the charts faster, try over the past 200 years, when the industrial revolution began, not coincidentally.

That scientists don't say they're unsure -- scientist say it's definitely happening.  Sorry, make that out of 2,258 peer reviewed scientific papers written by 9,136 scientists from Nov 2012 to Dec 2013, only one scientist rejected man-made global warming.

Clearly, our work is cut out for us.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Paddle Away Part II

A holiday paddle in the mere wilds of Florida hard against the teeming city of Sarasota. Part I of this paddle posted a few weeks ago.

After the diving cormorants, we kayaked into the mangrove tunnels.

My young cousin, sitting between my nephew and I, her small feet touching the water, was still talking about the cormorants as we glided in.  But she quickly quieted as we all did.  The dark green leaves all around and overhead in muted light encouraged reverence.

The homes, cars, outdoor restaurants, ice cream scoopers, and massive condo buildings looming over the shoreline quickly disappeared.  A paddle made a small splash sound.  We slowly drifted under one low but thick root, and I tilted my head to the side to just clear it.

You can think for a moment you're elsewhere. Especially when you see the small black crabs climbing on the organized tangle of roots. The more you look the more you see. Hundreds of them moving as only crabs can. Creepy. Startling. Awesome.

I half expected a Hobbit to stumble by or to find Sméagol hunting for fish (and that ring) in the shallow stream.

We turned a bend in the watery maze and there stood a blue heron ignoring us. A wisp of a feather high across its head, as if feigning royalty.  Looking into the water, there were fish with tiger-like stripes on their backs hovering here and there -- aptly named tiger sandfish.

We peered deeper into the thick mangrove forest and a couple white ibis came into view -- surprisingly not standing out against the deep green canopy and greenish beige water as much as you might think.
As we emerged into the sunshine on the other side of the forest, I looked back at the natural tunnel we had just exited. It's opaque blackness somehow still beckoned me.

But ahead, hopefully, was one of the biggest draws to this bit of water: manatees.  The sea cow, a docile but heavyset marine mammal that eats mainly vegetation.  They cling to a somewhat precarious existence in the estuary that thousands of humans call their backyard.

We paddled into the canals dominated with large homes, groomed lawns and all the blunt stamps of humanity.  The natural edge, the transition between land and sea, was long gone.

There are signs that ask boaters to slow down through certain stretches because manatees may be present. Not only do manatees face the challenge of finding enough food and swimming in water tainted by runoff but also they are often struck by speeding boats or gashed by a propeller.

It's kind of too bad that there are houses all around but this is the canal with the warmest water and the manatees come here to hang out. A lady with nicotine skin and a raspy voice says she's seen'em today. Nonchalant she says this, as if she owns them. 

Further into the canal, someone ahead of us becomes excited and in our kayak, my nephew sees it first.  A bump in the water and then a snout just breaking the surface ahead.  Then another. We drift closer but still give the animals lots of space. We wait. They can hold their breath for a long time.

There they are, someone nearly shouts.  Soon we're seeing a large manatee longer than our kayaks, probably a mother, with a smaller one, probably the offspring, swimming and floating along. They're making their way back toward more open water and we can glimpse their wide brown bodies off the bow of our kayak.  It's an exciting little gift. 

Then, almost on cue, here comes a boat moving too fast directly toward the manatees.  Its a Riviera  Redneck. He's wearing a t shirt that says exactly that.

We holler at him to slow down as his dingy is headed straight toward the manatees.   He does not seem to see or hear us. His engine is full on and his boat is moving quickly.

A few paddlers including my nephew and I wave paddles in the air and finally he slows down but does not look happy about it. As he moves away and we ride his wake, I hope he does not begrudge the manatees.

Giving them plenty of room, we follow the manatees out into the bigger water.  We lose sight of them quickly but they will stay with us in our mind's eye.