Thursday, December 29, 2011

Support Wind and Create Jobs

A new study commissioned by the American Wind Energy Association says that if the Production Tax Credit, a lifeline for the burgeoning wind industry, is allowed to expire as scheduled at the end of 2012, it would eliminate about 37,000 jobs, while an extension of the credit could save and create 54,000 jobs.

Read more here.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Finally Some Movement on Mercury

Good news -- the Environmental Protection Agency is going to limit mercury emissions from coal fired power plants. It's not a done deal by far -- Congress will likely try very hard to kill the proposed rules. 

Nevertheless, the EPA is finally putting it out there. Some people might be surprised, having assumed this was already taken care of.  No such luck, the fossil fuel industry has resisted this for years while toxins and pollutants continue to pour into our air and water.

The opposition claims that the proposed rules will have a huge impact on power supply or jobs. That seems unlikely. Hard to trust, too. These days it seems our trusted officials can say things that just aren't true. Anyway, I could be wrong, but I'd rather be wrong and have cleaner air, water, and fish than not.

Even people within the fossil fuel industry say it's about time. According to the New York Times

"Ralph Izzo, the chief executive of the Public Service Enterprise Group, the parent of New Jersey’s largest electric utility, said his company had spent $1.3 billion to bring his plants into compliance with New Jersey’s air quality rules, which are as stringent as the new federal standards. He said other utilities had had more than enough notice to clean up their facilities in advance of the federal rule announced on Wednesday.

Mr. Izzo said that the E.P.A. action was “long overdue,” and that the Clean Air Act, under which the new standards were issued, provided enough flexibility to allow all power generators to come into compliance without a threat to the electric supply."

Sometimes you have to pick a side. Do you side with the fossil fuel industry and their well-paid lobbyists and politicians who have dragged their heels for years? Do you believe the industry resisted making the necessary changes all these years because they were concerned about the job security of their employees and the service to their customers? There is a lot of money to be made not buying equipment to clean emissions.

Or do you side with doctors, scientists, and environmentalists who are saying these pollutants are bad for everyone's health, and we can clean them up?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Follow Costa Rica's Lead

A scientist who studies bugs, but who is well aware of the ongoing negative impact of humans on land and sea, is inspired.

After spending months in Costa Rica, Poncie Rutsch came away with hope that we can save the world before it's too late.

Or is just that Ticos, the friendly name for a Costa Rican, are simply wonderfully enlightened? Hopefully, it's a little of both.

"I can say that the people in Costa Rica have their priorities straight when it comes to conservation biology. They want to share their land with scientists, and they are keen to know what lives in their backyards and how they can protect it. If all developing countries took this much of an interest in their endemic wildlife, there would be boundless potential for conserving biodiversity worldwide," said Poncie Rutsch in the article.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Ocean is Not a Dump

The latest skirmish around the ongoing theme that "the ocean is not a dump" has environmental groups suing the US Environmental Protection Agency to do its job, and clean up the US Navy's method of sinking retired ships. According to an article in The Maritime Executive, it's about time.

The Navy uses the ships as target practice. The adolescent in me loves a good explosion for sure, and maybe the ships even help create artificial reefs that attract fish, but the downside of pollution and message are more important.

The lawsuit claims that EPA must initiate rules to regulate the marine disposal of PCBs during ship sinking exercises to protect human health and the environment against an unreasonable risk of injury.

“EPA is legally required to keep dangerous chemicals like PCBs out of our oceans,” said Amanda Goodin, an attorney with Earthjustice representing Basel Action Network and Sierra Club. “It’s time for EPA to make the Navy clean up its act.“

Very simply: The ocean is not a dump. Thanks to several groups for carrying that message to the EPA.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Whale Songs Have a Profound Impact

A really concise and swift interview with Roger Payne, the founder of Ocean Alliance, in the Guardian spells out the depressing news about whales. Japan hunts whales under the guise of science; the Japanese are pretty much the world's demand for whale meat; the International Whatever Commission is powerless; toxins are piling up in whales.

Let's focus on the fascinating and beautiful. Here Payne talks about the sounds whales make.

"What has pleased me most is the reaction that people still have when they hear the sounds of whales. Nobody is prepared for it. Whales seem to be communicating in what I think of as emotional communication.

The songs of whales have a profound impact on many people. A lot of people weep when they hear them. And they can't even tell you why they have wept, except they say it just seems so sad. And many times it does."

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Sustainable Deja Vu in Kenya

What is surprising is that this is still happening.

All the ways that we know are the wrong ways to grow a coastal economy, from experiences in many other developed or developing nations, are happening along Kenya's coast, according to the Guardian.

Sustainable development is a well known practice or skill set. Reading about Kenya's mistakes is like something from the early nineties or even further back.

It appears people are piling up short term profit at the expense of long term value and wealth. Sustainable deja vu.

Ecosystem services are worth billions. Healthy seas full of fish are worth billions (some would say priceless). They are the gifts that can keep giving if properly handled -- shorthand for 'sustainable'.

"Coastal developments are one of the top five threats to sea turtles. Because of the loss of land, turtles may waste their eggs in the sea or lay them in an inappropriate location, reducing their chance of survival. The greatest problem is when an entire beach is affected by coastal developments," says Meggy, a sea turtle project manager in Kenya.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Nemos Love Them to Extinction

It is possible to love them to death. Or rather -- love them to extinction. The death of all deaths.

A well-publicized report from Canadian researchers highlights the ongoing plight of many of the stars of Disney's Finding Nemo including clown fish, sea turtles, and sharks.

The complex psychology behind some of the challenges is both vexing and disheartening. Disney's Finding Nemo had a conservation message but it actually served to cause depletion of the star, the clown fish, according to an article in Newser and the Washington Post

“When people see a beautiful film about tigers, they don’t go out and shoot a tiger. They don’t go out and purchase a tiger. In the case of things in the ocean, they think, ‘I care about them, so I’d like to have them,’ or, ‘I care about them, that’s why I’d like to fish them,’ ” said one of the scientists.

And at times sad.

“They are truly the celebrities of the ocean. Despite their legendary status, most people are unaware that sharks are literally being fished to extinction,” said another scientist.  Read -- shark fin soup. 

And at times whimsical.

The authors of the Nemo paper apparently watched the movie about four times for their research.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Great Start: Coal Plants Close

Celebrate the closure of coal plants? Yes, indeedy do.

In Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota coal plants have closed, according to the Huffington Post. This isn't just rabid environmental activism. This is common sense.

Coal is dirty stuff. There is no such thing as clean coal; that's just a marketing term. The costs of coal -- health care including mercury tossed into the air and seas, and environmental damage on extraction and after burning -- far outweigh the benefits.

We can still provide jobs and power this country without coal, applying a mix of renewables and a reasonable use of transition fuels.

Thanks Sierra Club and its supporters for leading the way.

Friday, December 9, 2011

My Face Off with a Climate Denier

I met a climate denier and a Tea Party disciple the other day. It went well all things considered. He only threatened to knock me off my bar stool rather than actually knocking me off. Apparently because he was a born again Christian, my life was spared. All of this is true.

It snuck up on me as I was on vacation, checking out the local color on a beautiful island on the Gulf of Mexico. He came into the sparsely crowded bar wearing a festive t-shirt, smoking a cigar (which you can still do indoors in Florida), and wearing a small gold cross around his neck. He greeted people as if running for office.

His jet black hair was a little too black but he looked good and moved swiftly. When he plopped down on the barstool next to me and flashed me a smile, I thought this guy could be interesting or at least fun.

We didn’t get to climate denial until he had told me all about himself including his days as a professional hockey player in Minnesota where he grew up. He liked to talk about himself, but that’s ok. He told me if not for Christ, he might be dead from money and drugs.

He told me he had a huge house on the island on some nearby hill. I said there are no hills in Florida, and he said there is now -- he built it. Probably dredged the mangroves for the fill but that’s another story.

I forget the exact moment when things unraveled between us. I think it was when he told me the basis for his climate denial.

He said that as he has observed it -- from his seat as a financial planner or something like that backed with his extensive scientific training as a professional hockey player -- sea level on the island has not changed since he has lived there.

Stacks of peer reviewed science and consensus, sworn statements by Nobel laureates, and every government in the world confirming climate change were not going to slow him down.  His front yard was still dry.

But maybe the facts don’t really matter so much. It’s odd how these things are spoken as if faith rather than science. That may be part of the communication problem, and there is a communication problem.

If only 47% of Americans attribute climate change to human activity, there is a serious communication problem. And as a professional communicator, mea freaking culpa.

Our face-off added a hard twist of discouragement to such frustrations. Not because he was sitting there denying climate change and not because of the aforementioned large number of Americans who would agree with him, but because I could see no opportunity to try to persuade or even learn: We were both making too much noise.

We were both buying into the hyperactive hyperbole that drives a schism between people who otherwise might listen to each other, even a little.

Much of it has to do with the national conversation, created by the media and good PR on both sides. Tension and controversy and wild statements sell almost as much as sex. Often if one side is shouting and the other side is taking the “high road”, the shouter is only one people hear.

Plus, people including tough, retired hockey players, can only take so much doom and gloom before they shut down. Who wants to agree to all that climate calamity? They’re actually invoking a self-protection mechanism and shutting down the depressing scenarios at the source. Hence, denial.

National personalities and emotions don’t help either. A good part of why this denier so vehemently denies is he simply does not like Al Gore. He has a visceral reaction to him. I saw the veins in his head bulge when he talked about the great climate change guru. I can understand this. If my new friend had told me to believe that something Rick Perry says is true and right, I might want to knock him off his bar stool.

But the gloves did not really come off until he called me “ignorant” and “stupid” more than once.

The bartender winced, and looked over sympathetically. She of course knew the guy.

It did not help that I followed up by asking him if he was “a teabagger”.  That’s when he made the comment about knocking me off my bar stool. For future reference, Tea Partiers do not like to be called teabaggers, even if delivered with a brash schoolyard smile.

At about this time, the bartender asked us both to quiet down as we were scaring the other customers.

Anyway, I didn’t bring you this far into the story to let it end with a shushing.

Fear not climate believers, all is not lost. There are ways around.

So I asked him what about pollution, thinking few people are pro pollution. And what about innovation and business? How about we do it differently than humans have been doing it for 10,000 years (burning stuff to create energy)? I also brought up energy independence. No one really wants to see young Americans killed in far away places so we can still drive cheaply to the strip mall.

And surprise, surprise, he was fine talking about all of that. We proceeded to have a good conversation about clean energy and technology. The name calling was over and I stayed on my bar stool.

Maybe the lesson is when confronted with climate deniers and tea partiers, don’t argue science or belief.  Talk about things people can understand and that are not depressing. And look for the possible hot button reason why that specific person is really so against something, and avoid it. When I didn’t mention the term climate change or Al Gore, I was singing a lullaby.

But there is no set playbook for this. To carry the sports analogy one agonizing step further, if you’ve got a guy in the penalty box or if you’re up against a fast team versus a big team, you need to change up and improvise. You need to try to assess your opponent and work on the areas that can get things done.

Did I make a difference? Maybe not, probably not, but at least I got him talking in a positive way about renewables.

Soon after, my new friend finished his beer, and just like that he left, off to another local haunt, probably to find cold comfort with some other denier. They have to stick together. It’s a lonely road.

We’re all unhappy about the situation but when you choose to do something, to acknowledge it, life has endless potential and meaning. Denial is for fossils and darkness. Step into the light and join the human race.

After my new friend walked out, the bartender placed a fresh beer in front of me and smiled.

“This one’s on me,” she said.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

US Losing on Global Clean Energy Biz

The United Nations talk fest in Durban has raised the profile of clean energy, at least until this news cycle expires. What emerges is a puzzling fact: the US is letting an unprecedented opportunity slip through its hands.

No matter what people think of climate change or pollution, clean energy is a massively growing global business yet the US drags its feet. This is completely unlike us. We are leaders when it comes to capitalism and innovation and making a buck. What's going on?

Sunil Sharan of Sierra Consulting has some insight in the Washington Post

"The production of renewable energy and smart grid technology is not the only way in which the United States is falling behind. Government gridlock at the federal and state level is slowing the nation’s progress. Despite a stalemate in federal policy, 24 states, as well as the District of Columbia, have passed a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) — a binding target for renewable energy production.

"Others wait to gauge which way the national wind blows, while the rest will not act unless forced to. In sharp contrast to our inertia, the European Union, with a population of about 500 million, and a standard of living equivalent to ours, has forged ahead. In 2007, the EU leaders agreed to mandate that a 20 percent share of energy consumption must come from renewable sources by 2020. And the region is reportedly on track to meet that goal.

"Congress refuses to budge even as America continues to lose ground, and its intransigence could continue for years, compounding on the nation’s competitiveness problem. A way out is for President Obama to pass an executive order mandating a nationwide RPS, moderate enough to make the climate amenable for renewable energy but not so aggressive that it will be hard to meet or needlessly inflame partisan passions. Such an order would immediately empower the nation to compete for the world’s emerald laurel."

Politicians seem willing to trash the whole country as long as they make money and stay in office. So let's vote them out.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Local Hope Really Far Away

Turtle hatchery on Besar Island

Something about a conservation effort in such an exotic and far away place is hopeful.

People in a culture half way around the planet have come to the same conclusions about saving species and protecting the gift of nature. The right thing to do surfaces.

In this case, it is saving sea turtles on Sarawak's Talang Talang islands. "These creatures have been around since the Triassic Era, representing one of the few species that have lived through the evolution and subsequent extinction of the dinosaurs," says Aref Omar in Adopt a Gentle Giant.

"Unfortunately, they too are becoming an endangered species, which is why ongoing conservation efforts have been established by the Sarawak Forestry Corporation."

The only downside to this is here's another place to add to the list.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Toninha Survives in Brazil

Everyone likes survivor stories. A rare white dolphin, known as Toninha in Brazil, has been spotted in the Bay of Babitonga.

Not only has the albino dolphin avoided natural predators despite lacking its natural camouflage, but it has also survived humans who prey on all the living things in the bay in subtle but well-documented ways.

"Albino animals generally have fewer chances of survival because they have greater chances of being caught by predators. Here, in this bay, they don't have natural predators. But there is a lot of environmental degradation from two ports, industrial and residential sewage, tourism. This is an another argument for its protection," said Camilla Meirelles Sartori, chief biologist.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Carl Safina on Extinction

Carl Safina, president of the Blue Ocean Institute and author of great books like The View from Lazy Point, questions those who say that losing some species of animals doesn't matter because we can live without them.

"Hell yes it matters. Don't let anyone suggest it doesn't matter because people can live without them (extinct species). People can-and most do-live perfectly well without computers, refrigerators, the Winter Olympics, plumbing, libraries, concert halls, museums, and ibuprofen. Whether things are worthwhile for survival or whether they help make survival worthwhile are two quite different things. Whether we "need" them, is a dull and uninteresting question. Need? We never needed to lose our living endowment, our inheritance."

Don't let anyone suggest it doesn't matter.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Everyone Wants a Piece

In New Jersey, a swordfish fisherman, who is trying to do the right thing, is at the nexus of the complicated nature of an ocean without borders and conservation measures with borders. 

Swordfish are a success story in the Mid-Atlantic as conservation measures have led to their recovery yet overfishing looms on the edges as a constant potential threat, according to the Press of Atlantic City. In this case, Canadian fishermen unrestricted by US conservation measures want a piece of the US quota.

"Fishermen in other countries do not have the same regulations, as America goes way beyond commission recommendations. This includes landing and gear restrictions, minimum sizes, area closings of thousands of square miles of ocean — particularly in the Gulf of Mexico, observers onboard vessels, reporting requirements, electronic monitoring of vessel movements, and bans on certain types of fishing," according to the article.

It is great to see the US leads in conservaiton but it would be frustrating to say the least if other nations undermine our good work.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bringing Clean Energy Technologies to Market

The opposition enjoys throwing failures like Solyndra in the face of sustainability. Never mind them.

A vibrant clean energy industry is already growing in the United States with government investment. More is needed and with a few tweaks to the system, smart government support would be more successful, according to Forbes. Some key points and excerpts from a recent article by Jesse Jenkins follow.

A clean energy industry is here and needed.

"First, the global energy system is modernizing and diversifying. For an array of motivations from public health and climate change to security and economic growth, today’s economies demand a 21st century suite of clean and reliable energy technologies to supply the $5 trillion-and-growing global energy market."

Government support is needed.

"While the Loans Program Office falls short in some areas, we must not forget the reason it was originally established, with strong support from both parties, by the Energy Policy Act of 2005: American entrepreneurs face a persistent challenge in securing adequate financing to demonstrate and commercialize promising advanced energy technologies, a market barrier that must be addressed by smart and effective public policy."

A revamped loan program that would become a new investment agency would be an improvement over the current program. This has already been discussed on both sides of the aisle.

"Under the leadership of Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the proposed investment agency has already been well vetted. The program has the support of leading venture capitalists, American energy companies, and the U.S. Chamber of Congress. And it received bipartisan votes of confidence from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in both the 111th and 112th Congresses.

The time to act is now. American entrepreneurs and businesses need Congressional policymakers to stop playing politics and focus on the key reforms needed to ensure clean and affordable advanced energy technologies can be readily brought to market.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Renewable Power Plants Up

The small victories add up. According to Climate Progress, renewables recently edged fossils in new power plant investments.

"Electricity from the wind, sun, waves and biomass drew $187 billion last year compared with $157 billion for natural gas, oil and coal, according to calculations by Bloomberg New Energy Finance using the latest data. Accelerating installations of solar- and wind-power plants led to lower equipment prices, making clean energy more competitive with coal."

The sooner we get off carbon, the better.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giving Thanks on the Edge

I try to give thanks by honoring the oceans and beauty in the natural world here and a few other places. But that all just becomes cyber babble, right?

Just go to the sand, stand on the edge, the place where water meets land, and feel the gift.

Or remember that moment, perhaps the first or most recent visit to the sea. It has staying power, doesn't it? That's what I'm thankful for on this holiday.Well, that and great friends and family and food on the table and shoes on my feet. Oh yeah, and sea turtles. And sea horses and manatees and waves. So awesome.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Ocean Champions Winning the Trenches

Ocean Champions just scored a bevy of victories with the federal government, yes, that federal government. This is simply great news from the trenches, I mean the real trenches. Way to go Ocean Champions.

Here is their newsletter verbatim about their recent wins:

Lots of good things come in threes. Three in a row of anything seems like a big achievement.  There’s the Triple Crown in horse racing (and, more importantly, in pro surfing), and of course, the Hanson brothers from the movie Slapshot.  Today, we wanted to update you on three important ocean wins your support has helped make happen.

One: For months, a nasty campaign has been carried out to block the  “catch shares” framework from being used in any more U.S. fisheries – including those that are choosing to adopt it.  The “Jones Amendment” (named for its original sponsor, Congressman Walter Jones (R-NC)) would have been very bad for fish conservation, because quite simply, catch shares help fisheries recover and traditional approaches often do not.  Ocean Champions played a lead role in a small coalition that killed the Jones Amendment by preventing it from being included in the just-passed “Minibus” Appropriations bill at every step in the process.

Two: There was an effort afoot to attack the National Ocean Policy, and to stop NOAA from carrying out a range of related activities including marine and ocean planning in a number of coastal states through another bad amendment to the “Minibus” Appropriations bill.  Working closely with our champions as part of a coalition of ocean organizations, we helped prevent this amendment from coming up for a vote.

Three: The Senate Commerce Committee recently passed our Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia bill, making it ready for floor action in both the House and Senate.  Last year it passed the House and barely missed in the Senate, but this time around we believe it can pass both houses of Congress – stay tuned!

These wins demonstrate two important ideas.  First, the ocean community may be small, but when we work together we can get things done!  Second, Ocean Champions (with our unique relationships on Capitol Hill) is able to apply political power for the oceans to get results.  Our ability to do so comes from your support, and we are grateful!

WE are grateful. Nice work.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Elegance and Refinement of Movement

The sun is the main source of life on this planet and of course the moon moves the oceans. The fact that we can tap a little energy from these celestial bodies has a beauty to it. Phil Pauley has devised a marine solar power system based on such grace.

How much better is that than burning stuff?

Sure this is in the conceptual stage but as long as it does not negatively impact sustainable fishing or ocean life, it is the kind of innovation that will carry us

I look forward to a day when I can look up at a moon on one crisp and clear night and know that as it swings around Mother Earth, inexorably tied to her, we are a part of it. We are powering our lives. And look at that glow -- that's the sun on the other side of the planet bouncing off the orb.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Saving a Hemingway Legacy

Hemingway's grandson, John, an avid recreational fisher, and a true man in the sea, calls for sustainable fishing of billfish such as marlin, sailfish, and spearfish. He asks people to support the Billfish Conservation Act of 2011 in his Miami Herald editorial.

His personal experience provides nice inspiration to get on board:

"I remember fishing as far back as I can remember anything. Some of my fondest memories as a child are from those days trolling in the Florida Keys and beyond Bimini with my dad, reel in hand, just the two of us against the world. He loved billfishing as much as his father did before him.

Sadly, those days have long since passed, not only because I miss my dad who died in 2001, but also because the fish he and my grandfather both pursued are so diminished. Still, if we act now, we can ensure that billfish will be around for many years to come. A novel shouldn't be the only place where a child can experience the excitement and wonder of a hooked marlin leaping from the deep blue waters of the Gulf Stream in that age-old struggle between man and the sea."

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Clean Energy Creates Jobs

Those opposed to developing a clean energy economy love to raise the specter of jobs -- as if burning fossil fuels and polluting the country is the necessary evil to keep us all employed.

Here is yet another expert disclaiming such nonsense. "Clean energy and energy efficiency businesses hold the potential to create thousands of new jobs and be a bright spot in today's otherwise sluggish economy," says Keith Reopelle, senior policy director for Clean Wisconsin. His comments appeared in in an article titled Clean Energy Means More Jobs.

A report released recently by the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, a Chicago-based advocacy group, says Wisconsin could create as many as 14,600 new jobs while saving utility customers up to $946 million on their electric and natural gas bills by expanding the Focus on Energy program.

This story is repeated in many US States. Cape Wind estimates that construction of its well-publicized 420-megawatt wind farm in Massachusetts will create between 600 and 1,000 jobs during the construction phase.

Meanwhile, Michael Conathan director of Oceans Policy at the Center for American Progress, said that installation phase alone of a 150-megawatt wind farm resulted in the creation of more than 800 jobs and the Department of Energy has predicted that the build out of 54 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030 would result in the creation of 40,000 American jobs.

Sounds like clean energy actually creates jobs. How about them apples?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Earth's Resources Are Finite

Healthy oceans are essential to human health. 

Now researchers are developing an Ocean Health Index to put a numerical value on the connection between ocean health and human benefits, according to an article on Miller-McCune.

Some people may be appalled siting the intrinsic value of the oceans but this index seems to enhance that value not replace it. Besides, indexes are part of the language of economists and policymakers. Anyone interested in saving the oceans could surely benefit from knowing the lingo.

Two excerpts remind us, and clarify the challenges:

"We want bountiful seafood, thriving coastal communities, and gorgeous places to explore. But reaping these benefits involves tough choices. One of science’s roles is to inform decision-makers and the public about the likely consequences of decisions and remind us, whether we like it or not, that Earth’s resources are not infinite.

It is human nature to assume we can have it all. Reality, particularly with an eye toward a sustainable future, tells us that we can’t, and that tough choices lie ahead. The Ocean Health Index will help us confront those choices with open eyes."

More on the Ocean Health Index.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Funny Cause It's True

It is funny because it's PATHETIC (and sadly, true).

Jon Stewart on the Daily Show illustrates the empty rhetoric and historical failure of the US federal government to transition the wealthiest nation in the world to a clean energy economy.

Link here and laugh a little.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Clean Energy Jobs Need an Ocean Policy

A National Ocean Policy is vital to the economic and environmental health of the oceans and should be instated as soon as possible, according to Michael Conathan, director of Oceans Policy at the Center for American Progress.

His statement before the House Committee on Natural Resources lays it out in clear if not staid language. But it has to be said, and although policy is not nearly as exciting or dramatic as say, saving a sea turtle from a poacher's harpoon or throwing rancid butter at Japanese whaling ships, it is crucial.

It is about jobs and the "economic engine" of the oceans. Wind energy is a great example. 

The BBC reported that the installation phase alone of a 150-megawatt wind farm resulted in the creation of more than 800 jobs, according to Conathan. Furthermore, the Department of Energy has predicted that the build out of 54 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030 would result in the creation of 40,000 American jobs.

Cape Wind estimates that construction of its well-publicized 420-megawatt wind farm in Massachusetts will create between 600 and 1,000 jobs during the construction phase.

Yet other developed countries in the world are cruising ahead of us as investors in the US are slowed by a regulatory matrix as dense as cement. 

"Today European countries have installed nearly 3,000 megawatts of offshore wind facilities, and Europe and China combined have permitted more than 40,000 megawatts of wind turbines in their oceans. The United States has permitted exactly 488 megawatts, and we have yet to break ground on our first turbine," according to Conathan.

For ten years, the Cape Winds project has dealt with the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Minerals Management Service (now the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement, or BOEMRE), and other agencies, according to Conathan.

"Businesses simply will not invest in this industry until these issues are resolved. And until that investment comes, the employment opportunities these projects represent—in engineering, manufacturing, construction, transportation, maintenance, and other categories—will not be created."

The solution: a National Ocean Policy. As long as healthy oceans are given due consideration and respect, this is the future that we need.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Chain Your Car to that Tree

After reading a concise editorial in the Seattle Times about the grim potential of ocean acidification, which is caused by climate change, a bit of levity was needed.

Happily, it came in a posted comment to the editorial :

The solution is simple:
1.plant a tree
2.chain your car to that tree.
3. when you feel that strong primitive instinct to pro-create, get a puppy.

Thanks "English Racer".

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Unintended Consequences of Stoke

Who knew catching a rad set needs greening? Last week, Rip Curl, the surfing apparel company, kicked off their World Tour competition with a litany of sustainable features.

The event was a success, especially with a veteran surfer beating back youth and wrangling waves to win it all. Congrats to Kelly Slater.

Turns out there is further opportunity to green surfing. There are toxins and waste in basic elements of surfing including sunscreen, board wax, and the boards themselves. According to Evirosurfer, 60% of coral reefs are threatened as 6 million bars of wax and 400,000 boards are manufactured each year.

Check out Envirosurfer's excellent infographic titled "The Toxicity of Surfing", and subtitled "The Unintended Consequences of Stoke". 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Let the Sun Shine

Clean energy is not a fad, or a cause or an idea. It is a business, and it is growing despite what you may have heard. 

"Venture capital investments in U.S. clean tech companies jumped 73% to $1.1 billion in the third quarter of this year compared to the same time last year", according to USA Today.

Meanwhile, the blogosphere and the tweet world is ablaze with New York Times columnist's Paul Krugman's Here Comes the Sun piece. Here he is knocking one out of the solar park:

"Let’s face it: a large part of our political class, including essentially the entire G.O.P., is deeply invested in an energy sector dominated by fossil fuels, and actively hostile to alternatives. This political class will do everything it can to ensure subsidies for the extraction and use of fossil fuels, directly with taxpayers’ money and indirectly by letting the industry off the hook for environmental costs, while ridiculing technologies like solar.

So what you need to know is that nothing you hear from these people is true.
Fracking is not a dream come true; solar is now cost-effective. Here comes the sun, if we’re willing to let it in."

And it's alright, it's all right -- George Harrison.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Eye on the Prize

Two contrasting images:

A shark in the Palau sanctuary

A shark fin market in Taiwan

We may have won some battles but we have yet to win the war.

Images: National Geographic

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Rip Curl Catches the Sustainable Wave

Fun and Sustainable

Surfing seems pretty stream-lined. At the most basic it only requires a surfboard and a bathing suit. Actually, the bathing suit is not required, but it is recommended, for various reasons. But like nearly everything, there is still opportunity for surfing to catch the sustainable wave.

Rip Curl knows this and has jumped in. The water may be a rich blue color but Rip Curl's World Tour surf competition in California this November will be shades of green.

Beyond boards and board shorts, they are launching several creative initiatives to bring the benefits of sustainability to the sport. Not least of which is valet service for skateboards. Yes, that's not a typo. Bicycles of course are already accommodated but now skateboards get VIP treatment, too.

On the bigger impact side of things -- the event will be powered by biodiesel from local restaurants, nearly 90% of the waste from the event will be diverted, and the banners and flags will be recycled, also known as upcycled, into "high quality retail goods," according to the event promoters.

Also, surfboards broken during the intense wave carving in the thunderous surf will be repaired and donated to local surf organizations. Traditional sustainable practices will be applied at the event such as water stations to refill bottles and beach clean ups in and around the area.

Seems like there's even more reason to get out there and catch a wave.

Kudos to Rip Curl for making the sustainable move and to Sustainable Surfing for showing them how.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Fright Delight

Have you ever been out swimming alone in the big blue?

I was swimming off Kauai once, alone in some big morning waves. I had fins and a mask but was feeling tossed around. As usual the ocean did what it wanted with me.

I looked down and saw shafts of light knifing downward through the green water into the abyss, into the darkness below me. I could see no bottom, no coral, or anything but the deep.

I imagined the beasts that would come up and devour me. I imagined sinking into that darkness, the water getting colder, the light dimming, lungs burning. My heart raced.

I raised my head out of the water to get my bearings and to be reassured by the land. It was there but felt far away. The jungle behind the small beach was more shadow than deep green.

Another swell forced me to focus on the water again. I bobbed and swam, and made progress. I would be back ashore soon enough. I knew that.

Then I looked below me once more, into the abyss -- I couldn't resist -- and my heart raced again.

Happy Halloween.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Sunny Outlook

According to the Boston Globe, "the high costs that for years made solar impractical as a mainstream source of energy are plummeting. Real estate companies are racing to install solar panels on office buildings. Utilities are erecting large solar panel “farms’’ near big cities and in desolate deserts. And creative financing plans are making solar more realistic than ever for homes.

Solar power installations doubled in the United States last year and are expected to double again this year. More solar energy is being planned than any other power source, including nuclear, coal, natural gas and wind." 

There are issues, yes, from concerns about renewal of much needed financial support and incentives from the federal government, to favorable return on investment, to impact on the desert tortoise.

But on this Friday, I will bask in this sunny outlook for at least a few minutes.

Full article.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

What is This?

Appropriately dark and fuzzy, an image from six miles below the ocean's surface comes into view and a clutch of scientists hold their breath.

It's called a xenophyophore. A what? Yup, even the name is intriguing.

These are the largest one celled organisms around and they have the ability to thrive in the dark and cold at the bottom of the ocean, according to Fox News.

How did they get this image? Scientists dropped a camera encased in a thick glass bubble into the depths, glass thick enough to withstand eight tons per square inch of pressure. Great stuff.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Money Says Yes

Investors representing $20 trillion in total assets are all in when it comes to a clean energy economy.

They said as much and more in a four page Global Investor Statement that outlines what is needed to get there including an end to fossil fuel subsidies, a reduction in greenhouse gases, and policies that support renewable energy development.

This statement adds a heft to those who advocate for a renewable energy future. These money guys do not mess around.

It is not a pipe dream. It is not a fringe "cause". It's a business. It's an industry. Time to leave the deniers and the doubters behind. Some people just don't get it.

Here is an excerpt, in wonderfully dry and serious language, from the investors' statement:

An integrated climate change and clean energy policy framework should include:

Financial incentives that shift the risk reward balance in favour of low-carbon assets. This includes strong and sustained price signals on carbon, well-designed carbon markets and other appropriate incentives to enable private investment in clean energy. An integral part of this should be the removal of fossil fuel subsidies.

Clear short-, medium- and long-term greenhouse gas emission reduction objectives and targets, and comprehensive, enforceable legal mechanisms and timelines for delivering on these objectives and targets.

Comprehensive energy and climate change policies that accelerate the deployment of energy efficiency, cleaner energy, renewable energy, green buildings, clean vehicles and fuels, and low-carbon transportation infrastructure.

Comprehensive policies directed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from sources other than energy, for example waste, industrial emissions, fugitives, land-use change, deforestation and agriculture.

Policies supporting investment in renewable energy generation, including measures that support the access for electricity generated from renewable energy sources to electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure.

The investors' statement was also covered in Triple Pundit.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Legal Seafood Ads Get the Job Done

Legal Sea Foods' latest ad spot says save the fish "so we can grill that baby up real nice."  They are attention-getters, and the reasoning behind them is sound -- people respond to things that impact their lives.

This seems basic but doubt it has been said in quite this way before, and that makes it original and inspired. 

People need to understand that that their favorite fish to eat might disappear altogether if we don't fish sustainably. Save the tuna so we can eat tuna sushi long into the future. Save the cod so we can have more fish and chips.

The ad stumbles when it mockingly says save this sea life because "every creature is sacred" or something touchy feely along those lines. That's a bit of a cheap shot.

I have not run into anyone in the marine conservation world who has advocated saving a fish because of their holy stature or anything like that. So the joke can be a put-off but a mild one -- the bottom line message is "save".

The ad is likely much more effective at reaching more people than poetry, certainly more than doom and gloom.

I cannot afford to care too deeply how we get there (as long as it's smart and does not create more problems). 

The focus is on the end game. If these ads end up saving sea life and achieving healthy oceans, they are getting the job done. Good work.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Ocean Blues

I went down to the Atlantic Ocean near Montauk and snapped this photo. I was feeling a little blue on a chilly, mostly overcast October day.

Now, you might think a walk on the brisk beach cured me, but no, it did not. It helped me feel much better, though.

It helped me see how small I was, and you might think that deflating, but no, it was actually inspiring. It is good to know that I am a minuscule part of a powerfully beautiful and intricately connected world.

The ocean does not care that I know that, which is something special in itself, but if I stand and listen and see, I might be lucky enough to absorb its message of life.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

More Work to be Done

New research shows half the world's sea turtles are threatened.

Almost half of the world's most threatened sea turtle species can be found in the northern waters of the Indian Ocean and on nesting beaches lying within Exclusive Economic Zones in countries such as India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, according to the report.

So there's more work to be done. But we knew that. Let's do it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Clean and Snappy Ocean Video

One World One Ocean put together this snappy video with cut and dry facts and a catchy, kind-of-funky soundtrack. Check it out. It's short and sweet (well not for the oceans, but that's the point).

Why the Ocean?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Know the Tenor of the Opposition

"Those who write the rules are those who profit from the status quo. If we want to change that status quo, we might have to work outside of those rules because the legal pathways available to us have been structured precisely to make sure we don't make any substantial change."

-- Tim DeChristopher, who was sentenced to two years in federal prison and a $10,000 fine for 'disrupting' a Bureau of Land Management auction in 2008.

Strong words. What did Tim do?

DeChristopher decided to participate in the oil and gas lease auction, signing a Bidder Registration Form and placing fake bids to obtain 14 parcels of land.

DeChristopher was removed from the auction by federal agents, taken into custody, and questioned. He did not steal anything or hurt anyone. For that, on July 26, 2011, Judge Dee Benson sentenced DeChristopher to two years in prison and the $10K fine, according to Wikipedia

That seems like overkill, a particularly harsh reaction for something that in another context or another time could be called a stupid prank. It makes one wonder about the opposition to a clean energy economy.

Perhaps it is naive for anyone to imagine that the opposition -- seemingly the fossil fuel industry -- is anything but fierce and obstinate. It appears they are very likely unreasonable; beyond negotiation and persuasion. When people advocating for clean energy say 'climate change is the fight of our lives' it can feel a shade dramatic, but no, I guess it's spot on.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

No Finners Allowed

 Dear Sharks, 

Pack your bags, head over to the Marshall Islands. It's a very safe neighborhood.

Pew Environment Group

Finally some good ocean news -- sanctuaries for sharks are gaining momentum, this new one in the Marshall Islands is the biggest in the world, according to the Saipan Tribune.

Hopefully, sharks can find the well-needed respite from the unfortunately long reach of the Finners, which includes the people with the knives slicing off shark fins and the people creating a market for those fins by eating shark fin soup. Steer clear of Finners, they're bad news.

“We salute the Republic of the Marshall Islands for enacting the strongest legislation to protect sharks that we have seen,” said Matt Rand, director of global shark conservation for the Pew Environment Group, which is spearheading efforts to establish shark sanctuaries, where targeted fishing for these species is prohibited.

“As leaders recognize the importance of healthy shark populations to our oceans, the momentum for protecting these animals continues to spread across the globe.”

Thanks to the Pew Environment Group and everyone who made this happen. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Act Now to Save a Crucial Little Fish

They may be small but menhaden are crucial to the seafood web and they're being overfished.

Here is an opportunity to act. Sign the petition. Courtesy of The Herring Alliance. Pew also has a campaign to save Menhaden. Sign them all.

"These fish play a critical role in the marine food web as prey for striped bass, bluefish, tuna, whales, porpoises, seabirds, and other wildlife. But the essential role menhaden play in the marine ecosystem is now at risk."

Just do it. With climate change breathing down our necks, we cannot afford to lose the building blocks of ocean health and productivity. Besides, they're kinda cute.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Carl Safina Proposes a Merger

Continuing where he left off with his excellent book A View From Lazy Point, Carl Safina, founder of Blue Ocean Institute at Stony Brook University, asked a rapt audience at the Institute’s annual gala to merge knowledge and commitment to stabilize a rapidly overheating planet and a changing ocean.

“In our private and civic lives, our religious places, and our business dealings we must all merge a scientific love of knowledge with a devotion as consistent and values-based as any religion.”

Speaking frankly about current challenges--from ocean acidification to overfishing-- Safina succeeded in conveying hope and inspiration.

Part-poet, part-philosopher, and part scientist, Safina once again added his own refreshing twist. He followed his description of watching a Peregrine Falcon hunting high over the ocean with a quote from Yeats. He spoke of compassion, consumerism and values.

Safina referenced Jacques Cousteau’s famous statement, “We protect only what we love” and went on to say that, “to protect effectively, we must fuse head and heart. Then, we can’t just watch, and we can’t just wait; we must also do. The falcon must search the waves, but it also must focus on a target and execute the plunge.”

He noted that we protect what we love "but not if the love burns us out. So in addition to working, we need to touch the beauty, and we need to have fun a goodly some of the time".

Touch the beauty -- sound and lovely advice.

Safina concluded by asking listeners to merge and embody three things: “Passion in how we care. Cool-headedness in how we evaluate. Devotion in how we act.” To celebrate the proposed merger (and have some fun) Safina lead the crowd in a cheer of “The Ocean Is…Too Big to Fail!”  He then encouraged all present to be part of the ocean’s “bailout.

With over 200 ocean supporters in the room, Institute fund and friend-raising exceeded expectations at The Lighthouse at Pier 61 in Chelsea.

Another highlight of the evening was a talk by Sven-Olof Lindblad, founder of Lindblad Expeditions, who was honored for his role in introducing thousands of travelers to the beauty and awe of nature.

Safina told of a prolific year for Blue Ocean Institute, which included two new books, his Saving the Ocean series airing on PBS, ongoing advances in ocean research, and successful educational programs such as Green Chefs/Blue Ocean. He previewed new initiatives such as an international youth ed program and companion tours of his books on Google Ocean.

During the program a special honor was presented to Marshall Gilchrist in memory of his late brother, Eric Gilchrist, a former board member of Blue Ocean whose bequest now serves as the beginning of an endowment for the Institute.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

California Bans Shark Fins

 California bans shark fins. Bye bye shark fin soup. Great stuff.

Let's move the model over to Hong Kong and China and get it done there.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Celebrate These Ocean Champions in Congress

After typically railing against our politicians in Washington, happy today to celebrate a handful.

There are some who are true ocean champions and they deserve to be acknowledged and celebrated. 

Thanks to the who have worked tirelessly to put this together. From them comes hope.

So celebrate these ocean champions:

Senators Mark Begich (AK), Ben Cardin (MD), Bill Nelson (FL), Olympia Snowe (ME), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), and Representatives Shelley Berkley (NV), Lois Capps (CA-23), Kathy Castor (FL-11), Sam Farr (CA-17), John Garamendi (CA-10), Martin Heinrich (NM-1), Rush Holt (NJ-12), Ed Markey (MA-7), Nick J.Rahall, II (WV-3), and candidates Val Demings (FL-8) and Jared Huffman (CA-2).

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Steve Wright Misses the Big Wind Power Picture

Steve Wright would be better served to focus on the bigger picture of climate change rather than one wind farm in one part of the world.

In his op-ed, The Not-So-Green Mountains, published in the  New York Times, he rails against a wind energy project in Vermont for its negative impact on the Lowell Mountains. This view is narrowed by the blinders of local environmentalism.  

Certainly, his blanket indictment of wind energy “in Maine and off Cape Cod” is a disservice.

The bigger and broader view is every beautiful mountain in Vermont denuded and massive biodiversity loss throughout the region because of mutated weather due to climate change. 

These very real scenarios are many, and the interconnectedness of nature ensures there are still many more we cannot even predict or imagine yet. 

I agree with Steve about the value of nature. I suggest we are on the same team in the fight of our lives. But some compromise is necessary. We cannot accept flagrant assaults on ecosystems, but we also cannot lose on climate change.

People who will determine the victor end up listening to the most strident voices, usually with facts trampled underfoot. It's the harmful bluster of climate deniers and the fossil fuel industry. It damages all of us when Wright adds his voice to theirs.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Bad Acid Trip

This one gets the warning: Love of the natural world can often lead to chronic grumpiness and foul language.

Doom and gloom is not recommended but sometimes we have to hear it.

Grist published a good story detailing the personal, and commercial, impact of ocean acidification. Look at how it effects a family oyster business in Oregon as well as the consumer.

Serious: "I'm afraid the ocean will be dead long before we have to worry about the other implications of global warming," Barton (scientist in the story) says quietly. "I didn't believe any of this stuff three years ago. I was always skeptical about our global models ... But ocean acidification is pretty cut and dried for me now. You see it every day. You can't escape it."

Friday, September 30, 2011

Deep Sea Daydreams

A World War II freighter, sunk by a German U-boat, its hull full of silver, was found 2.9 miles beneath the cold Irish Sea. Fantastic stuff.

Sometimes the mysteries of the deep are all about human nature. Yet they are as compelling as the true blue deep. It was the number one emailed story on CNN and the New York Times online for many hours.

And as if our imaginations were not enough, Peter Cope, a British submariner said in the Times:

"Technology is opening up a very big door,” he said. “Think of how many ships were sunk in the First and Second World Wars. There are millions of ounces of silver — and thousands of tons of tin and copper — down there.”

It's simply fun to daydream about such things, no matter how wildly romantic it may be.

The captain of the SS Gairsoppa held the transom as the green-black sea battered his iron clad freighter. He had two options, both dismal. Low on fuel, if he stayed with his protective convoy, he would run out of fuel and be unable to control his vessel. They would be tossed around in the turbulent water like a cork in the surf.

If he broke from the convoy, he would be vulnerable to attack from German U boats, which more than likely lurked below the surface ready to strike. The Wolf Pack had already sunk hundreds of cargo vessels throughout the Atlantic, disrupting supply lines and sending many a brave merchant marine soul to the depths.

Only the Captain knew there was more at stake than lives and a cargo of tea and ore. One of his hulls was secretly filled with millions of pounds of silver, a treasure vital to the British fight against Nazi Germany.

But like a Zebra separating from the herd in a lion's territory, Captain Edwards decided to take his chances with the U boats. He had heard of ships somehow sneaking through the deadly gauntlet. The ocean was giving no signs of letting up, and he desperately needed diesel for his engines.

Far from the tranquil waterfall in India for which the boat was named, the SS Gairsoppa reluctantly broke off from the long line of military and cargo ships and set their course for Galway, Western Ireland. Only the First Mate Cooper was secretly pleased with their new destination; he knew a lass who lived in the pretty port town by the sea.

Cooper would soon regret his enthusiasm and the Captain his gamble...

Image from

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Solyndra and Renewable Growing Pains

For all those clean energy hopefuls fretting over the dramatic and costly collapse of Solyndra, USA Today says that studies support investments in clean tech industries. Besides, these are the growing pains of a nascent industry.

There is no need to let one well-publicized failure taint the progress of building a clean energy economy.

But certainly those opposed to clean energy are eating up Solyndra's failre. Course they may be a bit tongue tied because their common refrain is that clean energy solutions should be "market based", and it was the market that tanked Solyndra.

The market for silicon in this case. It changed dramatically because Chinese businesses entered the fray. Since the Chinese government sees the global opportunity and has seized it, nearly all aspects of a renewable energy economy are being or will soon be lead by the Chinese.

Meanwhile, US politicians on the federal level are either in the pockets of big fossil fuel or are more interested in keeping their jobs.

But I digress.

"Energy-efficiency loans are a stable investment with low default rates and large-scale potential, according to a study released Tuesday by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. The review of 24 loan programs found default rates ranged from 0% to 3% throughout the life of the financing and remained largely unchanged despite the near collapse of the real estate market over the past few years," according to USA Today.

Keep in mind, too, that businesses fail all the time in all aspects of the economy. It happens. Don't get me wrong, the Obama Administration and the Department of Energy should be asked the hard questions of what happened on their watch.

Anyway, one Solyndra should not stop the renewable energy economy. Renewable energy needs inspiration and innovation, and government support to bring down the cost of clean energy while the true cost of fossil fuels -- in health care, wars, lost ecosystem services -- becomes transparent.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

PleaseTry Again Diana Nyad

Diana Nyad
The long distance swimmer Diana Nyad tried again to swim from Cuba to Florida but had to quit after 40 hours in the water. She was stung by Portuguese Man of War jellyfish so badly she could have died.

But this story is inspiring. Nyad should not be disappointed. She should be proud she tried, and I hope she tries again.

The simple power of the oceans is clearly a theme to take from this story -- if not the currents, if not the sharks, if not the swells, then the jellyfish -- but let's not miss the blazing power of the human spirit.

The drive, the will, the ability to do things so many said could not be done. At least even to try. It's the same spirit we need to tap in parts big and small to move to the renewable energy economy and to ensure healthy seas.

Please try again Diana Nyad, you rock.

Photo from the Associated Press.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

One Sea Turtle, Lots of Good

A sea turtle was found with a spear lodged in its head in the Florida keys. The remarkable Caretta caretta lived but it begs the question: who is the jerk who speared him in the first place? Suppose it's not surprising.

But look at all the good that came out of one person's moment of smallness. Doctors operated on the turtle and saved it. It was a close one with the spear a breath away from vital parts.

Meanwhile, "a $16,000 reward is offered for tips that lead to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the injury. Much of the money came from local commercial fishermen and boat captains. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Marine Fisheries Service is investigating," according to CNN.

This kind of inspired response from fishermen and boat captains? The world is getting better.

Under a beautiful blue September morning sky, the turtle was released near the Seven Mile Bridge in Marathon, Florida, according to the story.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Good News Friday

Due to improvements in fishing gear, accidental capture and killing of sea turtles dropped 90 percent, according to the International Business Times.

Sounds like a Good News Friday. 

"Researchers used data collected from 1990 to 2007 by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to determine bycatch rates across more than 20 fisheries. These fisheries are operating in Atlantic waters from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian border, and in the Pacific Ocean, along the West coast and around Hawaii."

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Just Say It

Al Gore and countless others did their 24 hour Climate Change reality show last week. Pretty cool to have follow the sun coverage across the planet. It's all about confronting the deniers.

This is good stuff that needs to happen but it is geared mostly toward affirming that climate change is happening. Here's the melting polar caps, here's the sea level rise, here's the extreme weather, that kind of thing.

But there is also a need for affirmation that climate change is the result of man burning fossil fuels. 

Just say it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

China's Pleasant Beluga Surprise

Hong Kong's Ocean Park apparently recently said no to capturing and displaying endangered Beluga whales according to Seattle pi.

With the demand for shark fins and rhinoceros horns coming from China at the expense of ecosystems everywhere (and museums), here is something good, if not surprising, to celebrate.

Would be but a wish for it to turn into a trend. When a billion people decide to do something, the world feels it.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Kiwis Go Into That Dark Basement

New Zealand is learning the hard way, as so many other nations have and are. The oceans are finite and yes, we can remove entire populations of important and valuable marine species. Nearly scripted, the government is defensive.

To see this played out again, in another fishery, in another place, in another ecosystem, is akin to watching a standard horror movie: "Don't go into that dark basement where you just heard all those thumps and groans. Don't go alone with a faulty flashlight. Don't do it!"

"Fishing for orange roughy started in New Zealand and grew rapidly through the 1980s and 1990s. However, most of the fisheries were overexploited and catch levels have either been dramatically reduced or the fisheries closed all together," said Dr Malcolm Clark, a New Zealand-based fisheries biologist, who helped write the paper.

"The same pattern has been repeated in Australia, Namibia, the South West Indian Ocean, Chile and Ireland. It demonstrates how vulnerable deep-sea fish species can be to overfishing and potential stock collapse," according to

Australia declared orange roughy a threatened species in 2006. The species takes 30 years to reach sexual maturity and can live up to 125 years. Do the math.

Friday, September 16, 2011

All Renewable by 2030 ? Yes!

He Heard the News
Stanford researchers, after sober analysis, which is really what we want from these brainiacs, say that generating all the world's electricity through wind, water, and solar is entirely possible by 2030.

The numbers and the coherent argument is laid out clearly. They just forgot to say this is good news. This is hope.

They conclude however with a warning heard again and again. Yet it's worth repeating especially from this source -- without partisan emotion and from researchers who have no agenda other than to provide rational opinion on a sustainable future.

"Finally, they conclude that perhaps the most significant barrier to the implementation of their plan is the competing energy industries that currently dominate political lobbying for available financial resources," according to the article in the Stanford University News.

"If the world allows carbon- and air pollution-emitting energy sources to play a substantial role in the future energy mix, one scientist said, global temperatures and health problems will only continue to increase," according to the article.

Here's the lead for the news piece:

Wind, water and solar energy resources are sufficiently available to provide all the world's energy. Converting to electricity and hydrogen powered by these sources would reduce world power demand by 30 percent, thereby avoiding 13,000 coal power plants. Materials and costs are not limitations to these conversions, but politics may be, say Stanford and UC researchers who have mapped out a blueprint for powering the world.

The full feature on the study will appear in the November 2011 issue of Scientific American

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Way Out of This Mess

As New York City gears up for Climate Week NYC,  four experts lent interesting insight into climate change policies yesterday evening at an event hosted by Columbia University's Climate Center.

The opinion of Mark Fulton from Deutsche Bank was inspiring and refreshingly, completely market-based.

He said, to paraphrase, the way out of this mess is to:

1. Get rid of coal
2. Firm up natural gas as the transition fuel
3. Ramp up renewable energy to hammer down costs
4. Hit energy efficiency hard

Later, he repeated that the cost of renewable energy must come down, and stressed that grid-level storage is key. It is the Next Big Thing. We solve that, we're in good shape. Three cheers for Mark.

Michael Gerrard of Columbia Law School got the blood flowing when he opined that if Obama loses in 2012, we might as well invest in gas masks and health insurance.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Welcome the Ocean Elders

Good news, heavy hitters in the world of cool and ocean have formed a new organization to help save the seas -- Ocean Elders. This includes Jackson Browne, Sven Lindblad, and Neil Young.

Maybe Neil can help Mother Nature finally take a breather. As he sang in his great song After the Gold Rush:

"Look at Mother Nature on the run, in the nineteen seventies"

Too bad she's still running.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Hold That Sea Turtle Jig

Sightings of the rare leatherback turtle are up in the Irish Sea. That's great, isn't it? The conservationists can do a little celebratory jig. Not so fast.

The area may not be ready to deal with the still-endangered turtles. Do the fishermen in that area protect against turtles if they rarely see them in their nets or waters? Doubtful. Seems the turtles may be outside their green zone.

Plus, the two theories as to why leatherbacks are invading the chilly waters off the Emerald Isle are not so promising. One is the excess of jellyfish in the same waters (possibly due to overfishing their predators).

The other reason is due to "collapses in the populations of predatory fish such as tuna and sharks," according to turtle specialist Dr Peter Richardson. 

This is how ecosystems get out of whack, and yes, humans are often at the center of the imbalance. Sorry to spoil the party.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9/11: My Account

Ten years ago thousands of lives were lost. Think of them.

I was on my way to jury duty that bright September morning ten years ago, and soon became directly involved. My account ends days later where else? On the edge of the ocean. Here it is:

Nine Eleven

Crowds of people are standing in the street and on the sidewalk as I emerge from the express subway train at the corner of Chambers and West Broadway, five blocks north of the World Trade Center, around nine in the morning on September 11th. It is a brilliant, cloudless day.

A tremendous hole is punched into the side of the usually shimmering, steel-gray facade of the North Tower and another hole bursts out the adjacent side, as if something pierced through. The giant gash is ragged on the edges, black and fiery inside. Flames reach two stories glowing orange in the bright morning sun.

White papers and flat, silvery pieces of the building’s metal skin glitter, flutter, and drift across the sky. They look magical. Larger pieces come off and spin as they fall through the sky. “I hope that’s not a person,” someone says. Such hopes are lost two minutes later. Astonished and appalled – clearly -- that’s a person falling out of the smoke and into the light.

One person plummets headfirst straight down, arms and legs akimbo, almost gracefully. Then another. The last person in a dark blue suit falls feet first, facing the tower. Their legs pump wildly as if running in place. I turn my head away. People around me gasp and shudder.

Someone says a plane hit the building. I think that it had to be some local, small plane pilot who either made some fatal error or had mechanical failure, but I can’t imagine a small Cessna doing such damage. I think that the firemen have a big job ahead, crazy big, but they’ll get it done, and I continue walking to jury duty.

The intact, South Tower, directly down the street from me is fine. Then it explodes. The fireball bursts toward me almost reaching the air above my head and I feel the push of hot wind on my face.

People who were a little closer to the building sprint toward me. They are screaming. I step behind a construction barrier to put a large object between myself and the stampede of panicked people. A woman, her face twisted in hysteria, screams to no one and everyone  “Who would do such a thing?” and runs off. Both towers are now burning. Smoke pours into the blue sky.

I figure the tower exploded because of the heat or something related to the other tower still burning. I do not know that a commercial jet full of fuel, the second airplane, sped from the South to slam into the building. I have no information. I cannot appreciate that this is really happening. Rumors abound about planes and terrorists and I am still not buying it. How could they get these planes? These are commercial aircraft, what’s going on?

I continue walking and actually report for jury duty. The officers outside the courthouse are demanding ID from the row of vans parked out front. Upstairs in the courthouse, many people are sitting in a large, quiet jury duty waiting room that has no windows. Several are reading and one woman is knitting, all are oblivious to the chaos unfolding outside. Aren’t they going to cancel this thing?

A guy, also arriving late, breathlessly tells me he saw the second plane hit. He said he saw the airline logo very clearly. A young woman sitting quietly, very composed, her hands folded in her pleated khaki lap, overhears. She jumps up, and says “my husband works there” and disappears. Jury duty is canceled.

People watch the towers burn, standing frozen in the middle of the street, some stagger away puffy eyed, clutching one another. A traffic cop begins to stop traffic moving toward the WTC complex. He vigorously waves only certain vehicles through -- an ambulance with sirens cranked, followed by a cab with a cop in it holding his badge stiff-armed out the window, followed by a beefy guy on a Harley roaring through his gears.

The South tower collapses without a sound. Like an avalanche it tumbles out of the sky in a mass of deep brown brown ash and smoke. The tornado-sized ash cloud billows into the street and moves ominously towards us up and through the urban canyons. It’s coming fast enough that I must walk backward fairly quickly.  Finally it dissipates. A cop emerges from the obscurity of the cloud. Ash cakes three inches thick on his shoulders and head as if an thick overhang of snow plopped onto him, as in some playful cartoon. His black face is white with powder.

I know there must have been many firemen in the building, rushing inside to help people, climbing stairs, and outside, opening hydrants, unraveling hoses, and staging trucks at the base. An 110 story building just fell on them. I find a payphone and call my parents in Maine, tell them I’m okay, and then I find a cash machine to make a withdrawal.You never know.

Police keep pushing us back, North. It’s still bright and sunny except downtown. I can’t keep my eyes off the other tower still burning though. Then it crumbles to the ground, too. The large needle-like antenna that topped off the building turns sideways very slowly, soundlessly, and then disappears into the black smoke and monstrous flames. “Oh my God!” surges through the crowd.

A guy moves through the streets taping fresh signs to posts: “The Mission Chapel is Open for Prayer”.

A thin man screeches, “This is war. They took a shot at us. Look at that!” 

An Asian man with broken English asks aloud “Hello, anyone is dead?”

The crowd seethes at him “What do you think?! Go home to China!”

Groups cluster around radios and within earshot, heresy flies. “Eight planes in the air surrounded by military jets” “The Washington Monument hit” “White House” “Pentagon”.

A couple takes alternating pictures of each other with their backs to the smoke and ash still streaming into the sky from where the towers stood. I can’t imagine why they would want that shot. Long lines form at every pay phone on the street.

A guy in a blue button down shirt and tie peppered with white ash says he got out of the North tower, the first tower hit. He stood outside and saw the second plane hit. It was “eaten up by the building.” He saw people jumping and falling out of the buildings. When it collapsed and the ash cloud pummeled him, everything went black; he couldn’t see anything for five minutes. Then everyone ran or walked toward the water. He had two big drops of dried blood on his sleeve. “Surreal,” he said. 

All subways and buses are shut down. Along Houston, buses full of cops head toward the scene. People appear in front of churches meekly offering cups of water and use of the bathroom.

I walk the two miles up to St.Vincent’s Hospital, the closest hospital to the World Trade Center complex. It sits smack in the middle of the West Village. Empty gurneys sit outside the emergency room on the wide sidewalk, covered in fresh, white sheets and pillows, their chrome handrails glint star-like in the afternoon sun. A large crowd of idle doctors and medical residents mill around in green scrubs. They have nothing to do. The quiet is disturbing. Straight down the avenue a long plume of smoke streams into the blue sky.

I run into a friend of mine who is riding around on his bike trying to locate a friend of his who works or had worked in the first tower attacked. His friend is unaccounted for and there’s no information at St. Vincent’s. He’s on the phone with his missing friend’s wife giving she and her two young daughters nervous updates.

I walk the next four miles to my apartment as the sun begins to set. People in my neighborhood are sitting in outdoor cafes eating and chatting, seemingly like any other day. I don’t like it but there it is.

I make some calls confirming that no one I knew -- at least no one I knew well -- was in the towers. On the news, live, the last building in the complex, WTC 7, collapses live on the TV after burning all day. No one was inside it.

ON my bike now, I ride south in the dark. I ride back into Tribeca getting past a New York City Police Department cadet at a barricade by lying to him, saying my apartment is just there and I need to check on my dog.

Seeing a handwritten sign for a volunteer staging area pasted sideways on a bus stop, I volunteer for search and rescue. I join a waiting crowd of cops, volunteers, Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT), and nurses. I sit on a haphazard stack of backboards next to pile of brand new shovels for two hours until the whole operation shuts down. No one’s going in tonight, the area is too unstable. It’s still burning.

Hearing rumors of other volunteer staging areas, I wind my way until I get to a barricade about four blocks away from the wreckage. The streets are dark because the area has no power. Scant shadows make the three-inch thick ash and dust in the street look even more like fresh snow. Every imaginable emergency or heavy equipment vehicle runs through the barricade waved through by cops, into the smoke and lights and tragedy.

This is very close to where I was standing when everything came apart this morning, and now instead of the shiny towers, I see wreckage sticking fifty feet into the air, lit up by floodlights through ever-present dust and smoke, like something out of Stalingrad, or a very angry Calder. I cannot stop staring at it all.

The officer at the barricade has no information of other volunteer centers. While I’m standing there an older man approaches the officer and tells him he is a pastor and he wants to help, a black Bible obvious in his hand.  He introduces his teenage daughter who is “a trained social worker”. The officer sends him away. “I understand you want to help, but I cannot let you through.”

At a makeshift “family center” at The New School around midnight, I find daughters and sons and mothers and grandfathers with red puffy eyes holding hands, hunched over, suffering privately in full view. They’re here hoping that their missing loved one will appear on one of the short and precious lists of the few patients admitted to area hospitals. A flowery box of tissues sits on the white table. A few workers have a piece of masking tape stuck to their chests scribbled with the word “Psychologist”.

My friend’s friend is not on any of the lists. They reassure me that this does not mean he’s gone, it means he could be at another hospital or on his way home. I don’t know him, but I’d like to find him. 

News churns from a big screen television in the next room. They’re talking about countless cell phone calls made from the towers and the hijacked planes, people saying “I love you” for the last time. I am weary.

Many times I’ve come into the city, maybe driving or riding a train up through New Jersey, and I would see the towers from far off, and I would think “there they are, I’m almost home”, and now they’re gone. And all those people.

The Pile 

The George Washington aircraft carrier patrols New York Harbor armed with 70 fighter jets. F-16s and F-18s rip overhead periodically. They’re the only aircraft in a sky usually dotted with helicopters and commercial jets. Some people are simply fleeing the city and saying they don’t know when they’re coming back.

Everything is different in imperceptible ways. There’s the uneasy quiet. There’s the dust that is almost beautiful. There’s the reality. Few smiles, little laughter. American flags of all sizes are sprouting up everywhere. I heard a rumor today of being able to get access to the devastated area along the East River, near the Brooklyn Bridge, so I’m on my bike going there.

And out of the mouths of babes, a fifth grader said on the radio today about going back to school, “I think I can concentrate on my schoolwork, if nothing else blows up!”

Church Street still ends in a mile long plume of smoke rising into bright blue skies where the towers stood. It’s yet another level of psychological damage this attack brings that we will never be able to measure. Periodic wind shifts cover the entire downtown in smoke and sometimes bring it uptown, you can smell it and feel it in the throat, like a sinister campfire. Some people walk around with dust masks as far North as 34th.

One person walks into Union Square Park about two miles from the WTC with a drawing on some poster board or some words on the poster board. They tape it to the ground and light a candle. Within hours, hundreds of messages and candles spread across the granite stones.

A young woman works very hard to put down more blank paper. She’s got all sizes of paper, markers and packing tape but she has no knife so she wrestles with the strong tape every time she tries to cut it. I bend down and use one of my keys to slit the tape, and pretty soon I’m following her around the park. She puts it down, unwinds the tape, and I cut it. It’s hot in the afternoon sun, and we’re sweating.

She said she was watching TV in her apartment in Brooklyn and just thought “they” could use more paper. She went to Staples and bought some supplies and here she was putting down the canvas. No sooner is the paper down than someone kneels to write or draw. We toss pens across the paper behind us like food for the hungry.

Paper Girl and I stroll through and gaze at the ongoing spontaneous outpouring. The pace is as though we are in a museum. Someone plays the bagpipe.

“Love is still alive”
“1. Osama Bin Laden must be destroyed 2. Palestine must be returned to Israel”
“Thank you NYPD, FDNY”
“Towers are small, love is infinite”
“An eye for an eye equals blindness”
“Listen to Bob Marley”.

I sit with Paper Girl as the sun goes down in the middle of the somber scene. As most conversations in this new city, we talk about where she was and what she saw. She was at work in mid-town when the attack occurred, and later, she walked home crossing the Williamsburg Bridge with a few friends. I ask her if she thinks we should retaliate. She says half of me says yes, half of me says no.

On the way out she shows me one more message. Complete with misspellings and careful, child-like penmanship, She saw the young boy writing it, made her cry spontaneously -- a common affliction these days. “My name is Brian and I am six years old. I would like to tell all the Mommies not to cry. We will pray for your missing children.”

I brought boots and jeans in my backpack, and head South after sunset. I ride through absolutely quiet, blacked out streets in the Fulton Fish Market and the South Street Seaport along the East River, usually teeming with people. The ash coats my tires.  

Guardsmen in various states of off-duty occupy the bright, modern lobby of one glass tower that has power. Everyone wears dust masks. They don’t pay any attention to me as I glide past in the dark. Straight up Wall Street I get turned away by a guardsman in front of the New York Stock Exchange, just under the statue of George Washington at old Federal Hall, where he was inaugurated as the first president.

A camouflaged Humvee full of troops cruises past in a blur where I used to see bright red, double-decker tourist buses. Two Metropolitan Transit Authority guys are milling at the corner of a street that leads right up to the World Trade Center.

I ask them directly if I can get to the site. One guy says “you didn’t hear it from me” but they’re walking that way anyway. We walk up the very dark street together, straight toward the floodlights and the wreckage, which make it feel as though a giant spaceship has just landed.

One of the guys says, “there’s bodies on top of these buildings” as he points leisurely toward the tops of the buildings around us two blocks from the site. A guy sprawled half-in and out of his pick-up truck bed, taking a break, hands me a dust mask saying “take this buddy, it gets real shitty up there.”

The MTA guys keep walking. I lock my bike up in the shadows of a building. The ash here is easily three inches deep on the ground and the air is so foul it’s like eating a fistful of dust. I change into my jeans and boots, put on the dust mask, find a glove, then another, and walk toward the light.

Trinity Church, one of the oldest churches in Manhattan, is intact, but the 17th Century tilted and worn slate tombstones in the cemetery and the spindly oaks surrounding the church are dusted with a fine gray powder as if the spirits built a bonfire.

I come upon the scene and stand right in front of what used to be the North Tower, the second one to collapse. Everything I see is new and amazing although I’ve stood on this spot many times before. Liberty Plaza, where I used to sit and eat my lunch under some scrappy maples, is now a flattened rectangular lot of dirt. Bulldozers are parked on it.

On the corner of Church and Liberty directly across from the World Trade Center Plaza,  a Burger King’s windows are gone and the mangled sign hangs pitifully on one metal rod. The cops are trying to make the place into a command center but there’s too much disorder.

The previously shiny black, Brook Brothers store directly across the street from World Trade Center Plaza is blown out and the shine is gone. The fastidiously folded shirts on the tables and the racks of jackets are undisturbed, covered in the fine dust as if it’s sculpted out of clay. It appears the towers fell straight down, inward, as opposed to falling over like trees, and that probably saved thousands of lives and many buildings.

And the World Trade Center? Unfathomable rubble. Firemen, cops, EMTs, iron workers, federal marshals, national guardsmen, construction workers, you name it, are on the pile. A grizzled, skinny guy starts talking about how tired he is. He says he came from upstate. Just get out there and grab a bucket, he says.

I walk out into the debris pile and a senior fireman with a white shirt, a chief, stops me, “I don’t want you going in there without a helmet, young man”. I say, “Yes sir”.

I find a weathered Bell Atlantic helmet in the mud, rinse it off and put it on. Pretty soon I’m in a bucket brigade. It’s fifty guys in a line passing full plastic twenty gallon buckets one way, and empty ones the other. Or we’re passing whole pieces of wreckage along the line. Sweating, arms itching from fiberglass, eyes afire, but relieved to be doing something.

We’re picking up or passing in buckets soiled memos, desk calendars, chunks of concrete, twisted rebar, aluminum ducts, insulation, file cabinets, CPUs, crushed desks, a shoe. Sometimes a medium piece of bent, heavy steel comes down the line with “Watch it! Hot!” and you’re sure to grab the end that isn’t smoking. Periodically someone shouts "Bolt cutters!" or "Saws All!" and the shout goes on down the line, and the heavy-duty tools are passed up the line a few moments later.

There are guys crawling around in the wreckage, there are crazy welders swinging five foot torches like long sabers slicing into the massive girders that supported two of the tallest buildings in the world. Everyone keeps a wary eye on these guys because they’re doggedly slicing upright steel a few feet from us.

The New York Fire Department (FDNY) guys are at the head of every bucket brigade. They‘re digging, cutting, picking, and searching on hands and knees for their fallen brothers. One doctor told me he had to force a fireman to take a rest because he had been working for 40 hours straight. When they walk about the site off the pile they stick together, stripped to t-shirts, sweating, and speechless.  No one says anything to them.

Sometimes the shout from the front of the line is "quiet!" and everyone stops. EMTs come up the line carrying backboards and my heart soars, but every time they come back down empty handed. 

There was a rumor that we had contact with a woman on a cell phone below the rubble so we were quiet for a long time. But it didn’t pan out. Turned out it was a complete fabrication by some sicko. I heard Mayor Guiliani refer to her, whoever she was, as “a nut” the next day at a press conference.

A guy’s taken away in handcuffs on one of our rests from the pile. He was stealing new boxes of film from a busted out store. I said to a guy next to me “why would he do that?” The guy answers, “He’s a scumbag.” I thought the arresting officer must feel good, he’s finally doing something that makes sense to him.

If the horn blows when you are on the pile, you run. That means one of the buildings nearby is buckling or falling. A 60 story steel and glass tower to the east, and a 30 story stone, older monolith to the south with a truck-sized chunk of the WTC stabbed into its side, are the ones to watch. 

The horn blew three times that night. Three times everyone ran off the pile like a bunch of terrified ants. We ran to flatter ground, not necessarily a safer place, and stopped. Our hearts pounding. Then guys point at this building or that trying to discern anything in the vague light up past the floodlights. “What’s going on?” or “Did you see it?”

I look to the chiefs but they also don’t know why we’re running either. Apparently the engineers have a laser on the buildings so they’ll know when they are moving. I thought if my Mom could see me now, she’d kill me.

They took us off the pile when heavy rain came near two am. We all thought the rain would be good to keep the dust down but bad for making the debris heavier and for edging any possible survivors closer to hypothermia. I took shelter in the Cortlandt Street N and R subway station right across the street from the World Trade Center plaza.

It was so close to the rubble I thought it must be caved in. It was perfectly intact, just empty. The service gate was open so I walked along the platform, shined my flashlight up one tunnel and down another. Soundless except for the drip-drip of water from the roof of the tunnel. The spontaneous messages and artwork back in Union Square must be soaked by the downpour by now, colors bleeding, candles doused.

When we get back on the pile it rains more but this time we stay on the pile getting wet. We only stop work for the dogs to do their thing. A German Shepherd, a shorthaired German Pointer, and a black collie move around the rubble. They are urged into small crevices and high up onto the pile by their handlers, but it is a challenge for them to climb the steep and often jagged terrain. How they can discern anything from the acrid dust, the smoke, and the general stale air around the rubble, I do not know. 

Teams of Federal Emergency Management Agency rescuers shadow the dogs. These people rappel into holes and tunnels looking for survivors. They are the first ones in. They are geared up heavily with ropes, carabineers, medical kits, and helmets adorned with built-in lights and microphones.

One FEMA guy with dark eyes told me he practically guarantees that there are people alive in the underground levels that were once the mall and parking garages under the towers. The concrete can break and stack to form spaces where people can survive. If they have air and water, they can live a long time. He keeps repeating with bold confidence that he knows there are people down there. It starts to bother me how reckless he is with our hopes.

Periodically, even when I’m working, I catch myself staring at the pile. Jaw dropped, eyes open, transfixed. The wreckage is spread over an area of sixteen blocks and one guy who was a property manager in one of the buildings said that’s about 11 acres. And no one knows how deep into the ground the 110 stories pounded, either. 

When we come off the pile again, a dry shirt pulled from one of the boxes of donated clothes is a damn welcome thing.

Before sunrise I leave Ground Zero to get more clothes. I ride my bike past countless emergency vehicles and personnel and into neighborhoods where nothing seems different except me.

The next day I put more gear into my bag including a big rain jacket, a knife, extra socks and clothes, and a wool hat. I take the West Side subway as far South as I can and walk the rest of the way in the rain. Handfuls of would-be workers like me are coming back the other way. “Don’t even bother, they’re sending everyone to Javitts. Nobody’s getting in, you got Bush on the way,” said a muscle-bound construction worker in a sleeveless t-shirt and a powder blue hard hat. I know if I go to the Jacob Javitts Center, I am likely to never make the pile.

At the top of Chinatown, they are still turning guys away who look like they are going to the site. In an alley, I take off my hard hat and stuff it into my backpack with my gloves and tuck a newspaper under my arm. I’m just a guy meeting a friend for lunch in Chinatown.

After passing through two checkpoints, I get back in my worker gear and walk right up to a guardsmen standing in front of a police barricade on Wall St, three blocks away from Ground Zero. I pull out my driver’s license before he even asks.

He looks at it and says, “What’s your destination?”

“Ground Zero.”

“Be safe.”

At first there is more waiting than the previous day, but then we get in there with several bucket brigades. When I’m on the pile with 50 guys and we’re making progress, I am as exhilarated as I have ever been. Imagine if we found a survivor.

I wander over to St. Paul’s Church when they take us off the pile. Sitting around the corner from the devastation, unscathed, the church is a welcome peace from the din of the rain-soaked site. Idle is the worst and that’s what everyone is right now but at least the church is sanctuary.

A fireman sleeps in the pew in front of me wrapped in a blanket. I can hear his breathing. Red Cross volunteers working in hushed tones stockpile medical supplies and food in the corners. Someone sneezes and nearly everyone eagerly blurts, “Bless you”. A notion that this thing is almost surmountable passes through me for the first time.

Back on the pile the wind has pushed off the storm and it’s a brilliant afternoon in New York. But the doctors and EMTs have even less to do than the day before. A survivor has not come out of the pile since the first day. When we grow quiet on the pile now, it’s to watch a body bag come out.

Black bags are filled and zipped off in the rubble a good distance from us, with a crowd of firemen standing around. No one watches too closely to see what goes in the bag. One bag came out with two firemen holding each end, drooping in the middle like a sad hammock. It must have weighed only 40 pounds. We remove our hats and bow our heads.

Firemen’s helmets are key. If you cannot find the body, find the helmet. That’s their unspoken rule. Helmets are a combination utility gear, badge of honor, and voodoo shrine. One fireman wore a helmet bedazzled with this assortment: a Rangers sticker, a flashlight, goggles, 8 rusty sixteen-penny nails stuck through a strap, a US flag, and a brass, fierce-eyed cobra head on top of the broad front plate that designates number and ladder company in big, bold font.

Ironworkers wear their helmets backwards with bandannas underneath. They have no uniform. They have no code except to cut huge steel, and stick together. They do not mingle with any other emergency workers or volunteers. They all appear as though they spent too much time on the ground in Vietnam.

Nobody’s untouched, though. A crew of ironworkers refused to go back on the pile last night. They swore they heard voices from under the pile, voices saying, “Help me, help me.”

I walk across West Street toward the Hudson River and the World Financial Center for the first time since I’ve been to Ground Zero. The glass pedestrian walkway that crosses the West Side Highway, that I used to walk through many times, is down and smashed. Apparently, bodies were in there.

Coming into the World Financial Center area, the harbor and surrounding buildings are mostly intact except for a few busted windows. A firemen’s tugboat emblazoned with a large shamrock is docked and guys are all over it. I bet their partying, blowing off some steam.  Firemen and emergency personnel sit at the outdoor wrought iron café tables that ring the area along the closed restaurants as if waiting for service.

I sit in one of the outdoor chairs a stone’s throw from the river, facing the Statue of Liberty and Jersey as the sun sets. If I close my eyes, I could be sitting here having a beer at table with friends listening to the fountain.

Crews of firemen and police officers have taken over the whole complex. They’re sleeping in the posh Embassy Suites hotel, they’re sprawled in the polished granite lobbies and the sleek bars. They sit and rest in the atrium or at tables in familiar lunchtime spots.

A long buffet of hot food stretches along the wall. Pasta, ham, sausage, bread, hamburgers, salad, potatoes, soup, fruit, cookies, donuts, coffee, water, juices. Guys shouting another guy’s name. Guys rooting through boxes of socks for their size.

These are the salt of the earth with big hearts. They’ve been digging with their hands hoping to find someone alive, someone to embody spirits that say, “no way we give in, we’re strong, we will persevere”.

A FDNY fire truck on a flatbed waits to be taken away. It’s so twisted and crushed, it hurts to look at it.

Later that night I find myself in a bar back inside the perimeter, within a block of Ground Zero. A fireman commandeered the place. Power cords run in from outside feeding a flickering Tom Brokaw. Candles line the bar. Fine soot coats the etched glass fixtures, the colorful bottles, the gilt-framed pictures and paintings. Handprints in the powder on the bar seem symbolic.

The windows to the saloon are blown out. The view out the window is a crushed and mangled yellow cab placed neatly on top of a totaled van. The rumble of the big cats working the nearby pile is in the air. IV bags hang from the window, used to re-hydrate the workers at the small aid station in front of the saloon. Most guys seek their nursing at the bar.

The writer for a feminist magazine, who posed as an EMT to access Ground Zero, stands behind the bar pouring beers. Firemen and workers come in and out calling her “honey” or “sweetie” as they ask for a beer. I ask if she is bothered by these guys, and she says no. There’s collective laughter for the first time in four days.

This is how I imagined France in ’44 as the Allies chased the Germans across Europe. Soldiers came across a café or bar after a hard battle and took a well-earned respite.

An ex-Marine who drove up from Virginia to help has a beer with me. Like so many here, he just could not sit and watch anymore. I meet a doctor from Georgia, who has lately been rubbing everyone’s feet if they want it. He’s been here since day one, his voice is nearly gone. He was at first demure with my questions and then was willing to entertain a conversation about the unreality of this place.

There’s a photographer from the New York Times whose shots from Brooklyn from the first day will be in the Sunday magazine. She owns a small boat and when she saw the plume and heard the news, she came across the East River in her boat and climbed ashore. She’s hardcore.

The fireman who breathed life into the bar, the closest I’ve seen to anyone looking like a leprechaun, says he is an Olympic Skeleton racer in his spare time. He races headfirst down an icy chute on a small sled, his chin inches from the ice. His face is so bright it looks like he’s always smiling. The feminist journalist is smitten with him.

Another fireman, who crawls into holes looking for bodies and survivors, just like the FEMA guys, characterized firefighters, including himself, as a bit touched. You have to be, he said, pointing to his temple. “To run into a burning building while everyone else is running out, including the rats.” He wore plastic kneepads, and was dirtier than most.

He called the FEMA guys wimps. “Ever notice how clean their uniforms are?” He just surfaced from the subway stop directly under the North Tower. Chomping wide mouthed on a salami sandwich, he said it smells awful down there.  He said he saw a subway car pierced through by a steel girder, like a knife into a stick of butter, killing all riders, but no one can verify this. 

A lively guy arrives shaking hands vigorously. A big piece of tape across his yellow vest reads “Morgue: Special ID”. He spends his time piecing together body parts in attempts to identify victims, specializing in teeth and jaws. He carries extra body bags in his backpack, and unfolds and re-folds them while we speak. He smokes non-stop.

I pass a notebook around to a collection of firemen and EMTs sitting at the bar with encouragement to write whatever they want. Everyone wants to write something:

“It was two days before I could leave this place and accept the gratitude of others as I walked out of this place. There were so many, wanting to do so much…but no middle ground.”

“Sooty hues smashed from a flattened height. Colored crowns sprinkled in a sea of hues. 20,000 souls gone North to rest.”

“It’s been two days of hell and I meet the nices (sic) people in the world.”

“With such that I was willing to give…I was saddened to know that I was so unneeded for that which I was set out to perform. Any task I completed was never once menial and yet from the distance it quite seemed so.”

“I sit here with these great people. I’m told to write something. I could write a book with what I have seen for the last 2 days. But I will say this, the American people are great people. Everyone comes together as a team. Everyone helping each other, everyone is just so good, so good. And from deep in my heart, there is nowhere else in this world I would rather be. God Bless America. I love you people. I’m so proud to be part of the team. I love my family. I love you all.”

“Through catastoph (sic) comes strength. God Bless other countless who lost their lives and their families. “

“Due to the horrible condition I’ve been forced to see things I should not have seen, heard things I should not have heard and felt, what I should not have felt but somehow it brought me to a place I had to be. Peace and Love. “

“Dear Dad,

I hope we find you. I will never give up to find you. It seems like a lost cause. There is so much steel and debris. You are not the only one. There might be thousands like you. We are looking, searching, digging, and trying to locate anybody. It’s been 4 days since this happened. What happened you ask well I’ll tell you. Some sandnigger decides to hijack 4 planes, 2 of which took down the twin towers. You, and 350 plus brave firefighters went to do your job, and try to help anybody who needed it. But the buildings collapsed and right now you are listed as missing. Like I said we will never give up to find you. You would be proud of the FDNY. Also everyone else is pitching in and doing their part. Everybody is helping. From the cops tot he construction workers tot he ironworkers to the volunteers, even the dogs are working their asses off to find you. Mom is upset. But we will get through this. We have some family. Dad, I love you. And I miss you. We will find you. Love, your son. “

At 3 am, back on the pile where a narrow sidestreet runs into the rubble, we are digging in muck with our hands under low floodlights. Every now and then we peer into the Amish Supermarket through the exploded windows and see the gray ash coating the fruit and vegetables left in situ like a scene from Pompeii. 

One fireman sits childlike on the pile by himself holding a bucket in his lap with one hand and filling it with the other very, very slowly. We leave him be.

They clear us off the pile again and bring in a bulldozer driven by a guy who moves his machine frantically in a very confined area with people on either side, their backs against the walls of buildings. He yanks and stabs at the pile. Tangled jagged metal bounces and overflows from the metal craw. He wears an American flag on his beefy shoulder and he is wide eyed in the stark light. Someone next to me says, “He’s a maniac”.

I explore a quiet, desolate aboveground parking garage slathered in ash considering where to sleep in this dreamscape. All the passenger windows of every vehicle are either down or busted out so I can open all the doors. I figure I can put down the seats in an SUV and sleep in there, but the photographer comes around with a flashlight shouting my name. She has word of a comfort station on Wall. She wants me to go with her because she believes in the “buddy system”.

We find a large room full of cots on the second floor of my old gym, in the mirrored room where scores of people used to hop around to aerobics workouts, and will again soon, I suppose, because the place is completely intact. The brand new cots squeak loudly whenever someone moves, but we sleep soundly. The photographer heads out at dawn for more photos and I follow shortly behind. The guardsman I meet on the way at the barricade waves me through without blinking.  


The hole in the ground where the South tower once stood becomes clearer this morning. It’s a small canyon, dropping off several hundred feet into smoky ruins. The opposite canyon wall lit up by the sun, all intricate shapes in rust brown rubble, rises into the sky. It would take an hour or so just to scramble up that far canyon wall.

A crag thrusts skyward at the south end of the canyon towering over the whole site. It’s a big piece of the South tower’s steel skin, the side that used to overlook the World Financial Center, the Hudson River, and New Jersey. Since all the glass is long gone it is a steel girder plane of long rectangles reaching into the sky, like a wafer with holes in it. These rectangles are the signature window frames of the towers.

When the wind shifts, the giant flag unfurled on the side of WFC across the way shows through the window frames of the South Tower’s skin, fluttering red, white, and blue. They should leave a piece of the skin, the last standing skeleton, as a memorial. Make it open space. A place where people can come years from now, and lie in the sun.

The pile still constantly compels. Look away and see something else, adjust my dust mask, glance to another place, but invariably my eyes come back to this massive heap of destruction, this testament.

But this day is already different than the previous days. The perimeter tightens. No one is being let in or out of a very small area without a special, laminated ID, which I don’t have and am not qualified for. I must stay where I am.

Several cranes are already assembled and loom over the rubble like vultures. They’re ready to indelicately pick off the biggest chunks of steel sliced up by ironworkers on the top of the pile. Three bulldozers with dinosaur-like jaws grab rubble and steel and load it into long dump trunks. 

There are many more military personnel here today, more chiefs, more EMTs, a small group of volunteers. Even the quarterback for the Jets, Vinnie Testaverde, makes an appearance. Almost everyone stands around watching the heavy equipment. Sadly, reluctantly, the word rescue changes to salvage.

Only the FDNY work their own section off to the South with a lieutenant at the end of the line repeatedly turning away extra hands. Most of these firemen were here when the buildings caved in and they still have not left.

Management materializes. Two poles are duct-taped together for a makeshift flagpole. The flag flaps vibrantly in the wind and the morning sun. A table is placed next to it with a map of the WTC complex spread on it, held down by rocks at each corner. Three chiefs in white shirts confer around it. This is a command center.

Chiefs run the command center, lieutenants keep the pile crews organized and finite as they monitor progress and assign tasks using the national guardsmen to effectively keep a pool of workers at bay. Dogs first, then the firemen, then the workers, then heavy equipment.

Three days ago we were all attacking the pile like desperate beasts in the cold rain. Now, we are starting to have order. In order there is hope. The hope for survivors is replaced by the hope for the living.

Firemen in navy blue shirts are finally cleaning up Ladder 10’s firehouse, which is directly across the street from the WTC. Most of the men from Ladder 10 must be lost since they were literally on the scene and surely sent many men up into the doomed towers. They’re sweeping thick piles of debris off the low roof and tearing off a bent railing. They’ve washed the doors and brave red is beginning to come through. A roughly hewn, handwritten sign between the two fire truck doors reads: “We will rebuild”.

I walk out of Ground Zero before midnight along deserted Tribeca streets. I know I will not get back in since the place is now locked down. As I walk away, I also know I will never forget it.

At the Ear Inn, one of the oldest bars in Manhattan, they pour me a Guinness and won’t let me pay for it. I put my hard hat on the bar and try to think about something else. Friends show up and I’m a little happier than usual to see them. A hug holds a little longer.

Spontaneous shrines dot the city, materialize in a few hours, smaller versions of Union Square, which keeps pulsing with candles, notes, and flowers.

The missing are posted nearly everywhere. Thousands of them wrap the city. They look back at us through heartbreakingly cheerful photos copied and pasted on light posts, storefronts, mailboxes, fences, trees.

They all say “missing” and give contact information and personal information like “wears braces” or “has a smiley face tattoo on left arm” or “last seen on the 24th floor of WTC 2” or “a jade elephant necklace” or  “wedding ring with writing ‘Elena’” or  “bartender on Windows on the World” or “he is a good man, a good brother, a good husband, a good father, a good nephew, a good son”.

Certainly few people posting these photos expects these people to be found staggering around Midtown four days after the attack, unless by miracle. These signs are to say this person is still here, they are not disappeared in a maelstrom of fire and steel, now a hole in the sky. You on the street, bear witness, remember. 

The notion to visit my friend who lives near the Long Island coast hit me as soon as I wake up the next day. My gear is still piled near my apartment door stinking like wet cement. I catch up with some of the many calls on my answering machine. I learn that my friend’s friend who I had looked for on that first night is still missing. I barely make the train to Long Island.

The train is quiet and I put aside the newspaper I intended to read and instead watch the view become greener and greener wondering how long a nation can carry grief.

My friend and I walk barefoot on a long beach with beige sand. She says she is in a dark place. Every so often we see planes on their way to JFK Airport. It’s hard to look at airplanes with boyish fascination and the wonder of adventure, the way I used to. We look up and she says, “Does that one seem lower than usual?”

She was one of millions of people who viewed the events from afar, feeling helpless and traumatized just the same. I was lucky to have been able to do something. The sun sets, and the stars come out. We listen to each other’s breathing, while the surf’s ceaseless, ancient rhythm encircles us.