Thursday, December 25, 2014

Happy Holidays

Hope your holidays are filled with natural beauty and wonder.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Last Ivory-Billed Woodpecker

"Heavy logging activity devastated the population of ivory-billed woodpeckers in the late 19th century. It was generally considered extinct in the 1920s when a pair turned up in Florida, only to be shot for specimens. By 1944, the last known ivory-billed woodpecker, a female, was gone." -- Studying a Vanishing Bird, Cornell Lab of Orinthology 

The Last Ivory-Billed Woodpecker

He found her, stayed with her, as fast as he could walk,
after the saws finished their business,
every morning she fluttered through remnants
calling, calling, calling,
echoes across puddles in craters where roots last held,
scattered leaves pressed into muddy treads

the primeval urgency of any creature,
calling, calling, calling,
maybe a shrill stretch of fear in her voice
like a rip

keep living is all that came back,
beating against her loud feathers, filling her small lungs,
opening her deft, gleaming white bill,
where are you
where are you

he writes what he sees, binoculars hung slack,
for weeks the same until --
he wakes again with clenched teeth,
unsure if he even wants to hear that cry yet again,
checks his watch for her cue,
looks into the scraggly saplings left behind like orphans,
and all he gets
is the heavy silence of a place so full,
now empty,

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thank You Ocean

It's that time of the year to get stuffed, to celebrate how good we really have it. From what I can see, despite my myriad complaints and issues, I have it pretty good.

But let's talk about a gift for all of us. I'm thankful for the ocean -- ok that's kind of obvious.

Let's see, I'm thankful that the ocean gives delicious and healthy seafood. I'm thankful that the ocean provides over half the planet's oxygen and most of the freshwater.

I'm thankful that the ocean always provides raw beauty and, sometimes, breathtaking beauty.

I'm thankful that the ocean and all its fabulous creatures and vastness fills me full of wonder and awe. I'm thankful that the ocean seems to scrub my head and heart.

Really, I'm thankful that the ocean exists at all. Without it, I would not exist. It is my (and everyone's) true home in that sense.

These are gifts to be sure, so thanks are in store. Wouldn't want to take them for granted. Have a great holiday.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Blatant Disregard Gets the Gavel

The U.S. will now be held hostage to a few states -- Kentucky and Oklahoma -- that make big money off the burning of fossil fuels. They don't care one bit about climate change's impact on people and the economy because there's money to be made.

Can they really have such a blatant disregard for the health of the planet and the people that live on it? The answer is definitely, positively, yes.

"Senator Mitch McConnell (Kentucky) has said he will fight regulations that would limit carbon emissions,"  according to the New York Times.

"Senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, a prominent skeptic of climate change and the presumed new chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is expected to open investigations into the E.P.A., call for cuts in its funding and delay the regulations as long as possible," said the Times article.

I'm still wondering what's wrong with a so-called "war on coal", which McConnell whined about during his campaign. What if it was asbestos or arsenic? We learned that these things poison people so we eliminated them.

We know that burning coal is bad -- think strip mining, black lung, climate change, mercury in our fish and fetuses, soot -- but it's still around. It's still the primary fuel we use in the U.S. to generate electricity. It doesn't make any sense.

It only makes sense when common sense is thrown out, and there's one thing that can do that -- money. It's a shame that greed is ultimately going to bring us down. I really thought, hoped, we were better than that.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Can't Wait for Minnows

There’s a medium-sized river in western Pennsylvania that contains no fish. I know because I paddled it.

The river, the West Branch of the Susquehanna, is remote and beautiful with stretches of slightly challenging rapids through steep, wooded canyons. Small streams flow out of the forest and pour off the canyon walls into the bigger water.

The scenery was part of why we came, but something was odd about the whole thing. Probably had something to do with the water. Because the river was so acidic from decades of mining along its banks, no fish swim in it, no snakes hunt in it, and no crayfish crawl in it.

I didn't realize it then but I was experiencing what could be the future of the oceans. This was before scientists combined the words ocean and acid to form a new, unfortunate term -- ocean acidification.

For the ocean, it's not mine tailings dumping into the water but it is carbon in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels.

The ocean naturally absorbs more than half of the carbon in the air. Trouble is as humans continue to put more carbon into the air, the ocean continues to absorb it. It's just too much -- it's changing the very chemistry of the ocean as we speak.

When the water chemistry changed on the West Branch of the Susquehanna decades ago, the fish disappeared.

We heard more about the death and life of the river before we even got into our canoes.

Our local outfitter was a self-proclaimed old river rat in cut-off jeans and dirty converse high tops with a friendly smile. He was vibrantly proud of his daughter who races kayaks through the river's rapids in the big April runoff while icicles freeze on her helmet.

He told us that the river is coming back, quickly adding that it’s definitely coming back, as if to reassure himself. After forty plus years, the fish are back, he said again. In his large blue Bronco with rust creeping along the edges, it felt like he had been waiting even longer.

As we drove, the river glinted enticingly through the ash and pines. Occasionally, full bloom Mountain Laurel, the state flower, floated by like clouds.

He said he heard somebody recently pulled a twenty one inch steel head out of the water and “that’s a pretty big fish." Another billow of pinkish laurels drifted by outside the window and I wondered where the fish tales begin and the river ends.

On day two, truth be told, as we paddled the river, a bald eagle rode a wind current river right ahead of us for a few long seconds before alighting on top of a tall maple. His back was a pure white stripe. Eagles eat fish so that was a positive sign. But they also eat small mammals.

We encountered fat flies on more than a few windless, hot turns in the river. Rarely biting, they remained a nuisance with their thick bodies smacking onto our skin. Flies are certainly fish food, so I continued to lean toward recovery of the river. My buddy pointed out, however, that the flies could be thriving because one of their chief predators – fish – are conspicuously absent.

The whole natural balance of the area is probably off starting with the acidic water, but maybe the place is working its way back to center.

As we approached our final take-out, we pulled into a tributary and dragged the canoes through ankle deep water. I looked down and small minnows darted away from my toes. I smiled.

Thing is, the world cannot afford for all the fish in the ocean to disappear and then wait over forty years or who knows how long for a few minnows.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Into the National Conversation

The other day as my running buddy and I cruised though our usual loop, we wondered aloud if there has been any progress since Hurricane Sandy pummeled the New York area.

We loosely mused that New York is still probably unprepared for another storm surge and rising seas. The city is thinking about preparation and debating preparation, but it's not prepared. We are a species, or at least the American variety, that learns the hard way.

Though we may not be prepared, there has been steady progress, and optimism shines as bright as fall foliage.

It's in the stats that say more Americans than ever believe climate change is a real problem. It's in the 311,000 hearts (by one sound account) beating for action at the recent climate rally. The grand surge of bodies in the city streets, like a river of unstoppable positive energy, won't be forgotten anytime soon.

The optimism even glints from the political rhetoric heating up many states in the mid-term elections. Out of the usually useless hot air a hopeful picture emerges of American politicians finally talking about climate issues.

"Ads mentioning energy, climate change and the environment — over 125,000 spots and climbing on the Senate side — have surged to record levels during the 2014 midterm election cycle," according to the New York Times.

A year ago, it was hard to get anyone to even whisper about such things.

How positive the messages are for a clean energy future depends on where you are and who's talking. In Iowa, 40% of the political ads mentioned clean energy. In Kentucky, it's about loving coal.

But I'll take it. The future of energy is on the board. There have been so many years of squawking about the issue and barely getting an ear even among the most indulgent friends and family. It was those warm, silent smiles that said "no one cares" or "just let her get this out of her system."

And now we finally have sides defined. Far fewer shadows. Much less subterfuge.

"The explosion of energy and environmental megadonors — such as Thomas F. Steyer, a California billionaire and environmental activist on the left, and Charles G. and David H. Koch, billionaire brothers on the right — take sides," according to the Times.

Supporters of fossil fuels and carbon pollution may have more resources and the most powerful industries in the world behind them but clean energy supporters have something better. They know they're fighting the good fight and they intend to win.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Good Fight Continues

In states across the union, Koch Industries and other fossil fuelers actively work against the future of clean energy and support carbon pollution.

"It’s all part of a multibillion-dollar, self-interested scheme by groups including Koch Industries, Americans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council to keep people tethered to old-fashioned energy sources.

The organizations are systematically working in Kansas and other states to attack consumer-friendly laws, often called renewable energy standards," according to the Kansas City Star.

It's more of the same bad deal for America and the world.

The key is to continue to fight the slick PR, the outright untruths, and the general obfuscation at every level.

Record increases in renewable energy usage, improvements in public awareness, and four hundred thousands hearts all beating for change at the recent climate rally are certainly victories. But the war continues.

"Promoters of clean and renewable energy must continue providing the positive facts about solar and wind power," said the Kansas City Star.

Good news is vital. Even the most optimistic person cannot bear only doom and gloom. That said, the urgency around climate change is integral to the message. There is sometimes a fine line between optimism and naivete.

“We’ve watched the summer Arctic disappear and the ocean turn steadily acidic. It’s not just that things are not getting better. They are getting horribly worse. Unlike any other issue we have faced, this one comes with a time limit. If we don’t get it right soon, we’ll never get it right,” said Bill McKibben.

To get it right, the battle against fossil fuelers bent on denying a clean energy future rolls into perceived victories. A coal plant cleaning up its dirty spout by 2030 is not enough. A municipality's goal of 20% renewables in the fuel mix by 2035 falls short.

The time is now -- climate change is happening now, it's not a future event. Otherwise, even small victories are empty.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Daily Necessity

In a recent piece of good news, charges were dropped against two environmental activists who stopped a huge waterborne shipment of coal for a day. They anchored a much smaller boat in its path and refused to move.

Charges were dropped by a sympathetic district attorney. "Climate change is one of the gravest crises our planet has ever faced," said Sam Sutter, the Bristol County district attorney, according to the New York Times.

Even more provocative and encouraging, the defendants were planning to evoke the necessity defense. It goes like this: They had no choice but to act because the consequences of climate change are so urgent and grim.

It made me think -- I feel like evoking the necessity defense every single day.

Do I think it is necessary to defend the planet because it's the only one we have and it's under siege? Yes and yes.

It's indefensible that we are destroying the planet yet fossil fuel companies have made something harmful -- carbon pollution -- a necessary part of our lives.

There are alternatives, and the challenges to rapid adoption are not technological or economic anymore. The challenges to a clean energy revolution are social and political.

Change scares people and the people who want everyone to remain in the past spend a great deal of money and effort to tap into that fear. That's the social challenge.

Fossil fuel money is deeply embedded in politics. Votes go to the highest bidders and special interest groups pay for ridiculous access and influence. That's the political challenge.

The revolution is coming. It's not a question of if but when. Then why are we still making so much noise? Why not show a little patience, you crazy activists?

Sorry, we don't have enough time.  It's absolutely positively necessary to act now.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Let's Get it Right

“We’ve watched the summer Arctic disappear and the ocean turn steadily acidic. It’s not just that things are not getting better. They are getting horribly worse. Unlike any other issue we have faced, this one comes with a time limit. If we don’t get it right soon, we’ll never get it right,” said Bill McKibben.

Let's make some noise. Hope to see you at the People's Climate March in spirit if not in person.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

It's Always Been About the Pace

Unable to keep pace with dramatic weather changes due to climate change, many species of birds will perish from the earth. Is this a Biblical prediction? No, a scientific one. Unfortunately.

Ever since life arrived, evolution has helped species adapt to changes if given some time, as in millions of years or generations. It is a pretty genius way to ensure the survival of life. Lately, however, time is not on the side of nature.

David Yarnold of the Audubon Society said that birds are resilient, but that climate change will test their limits. In a recent New York Times story he said:

“We just don’t know whether they’ll be able to find the food sources and the habitat and cope with a new range of predators. Maybe they’ll all be incredibly hardy and find ways to survive. That doesn’t seem likely, given, one, the number of birds affected, and two, the pace at which these things are happening.

If this kind of news bums you out, there are things you can do to help birds and other species by slowing, and even stopping, climate change.

Like purchase renewable energy through your utility, drive an electric car, ride a bike, eat local, make your home energy efficient, support divestment from fossil fuel companies, support clean energy legislation and technologies, stay informed, and tell everyone you know that the time is now for the clean energy revolution.

I heartily hope you will try.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Specially Interested in One Thing

The good news is renewable energy continues to be more affordable.

"The price of a solar panel has dropped more than 60 percent since early 2011, and the price of wind power is down by more than 50 percent in the past four years. Approximately 29 percent of the power added in 2013 in the United States was solar energy," according to the Huffington Post.

The bad news is fossil fuel companies and utilities continue to fight the future.

"Edison Electric Institute released a report in January 2013 entitled "Disruptive Challenges" detailing the threat that distributed energy (especially solar) poses to the traditional utility industry business model. The group began taking action on the issue in 2013, pushing to repeal solar policies to protect utilities' financial interests.

The real genius of this attack by special interests is the widespread use of additional front groups to lobby, spread disinformation, and pressure decision makers to eliminate clean energy policies.

The fossil fuel lobby aggressively uses lobbying and propaganda to achieve their goals and self-identified "free market think tanks" are among the most effective advocates for the fossil fuel industry to lobby for policy changes," says Gabe Eisner.

Every small victory, every hurdle they throw into the path of clean, renewable energy makes it that much harder to stop climate disruption. High time to go on the offensive and defend our beautiful planet.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

In the Shark's Eye

The first catch and release shark tournament in Montauk, NY last year was a great success. No sharks killed, people happy, prizes awarded, and a number of big sharks tagged and named by schoolkids.

I asked one of the organizers how the 2nd annual Shark's Eye Tournament went this year. He was less enthusiastic. I could almost feel the deflation and helpless anger coming through the email. Many of the sharks caught, released, and tagged last year had been killed, finned by fishermen.

"Of the 4 fitted with satellite-tags last year, the first, Princess, stopped signaling a few months after it was tagged, while the last stopped pinging in June 17. It was out in the Hudson Canyon. It had traveled 11,000 miles. Named April, by the angler Joe Gaviola, after two April’s, one important to him and one important to the event, it either perished, has remained submerged (the tags only transmit when they break the surface), or the battery died. We don’t know.

What we do know is this. Our mako shark Rizzilient was caught and killed by a Portuguese long-liner in the middle of the Atlantic last winter.  And the blue shark Beamer, named by the Montauk School 6th grade class, was caught 3 times by commercial fishermen after last year’s tournament — once off Portland, Maine, once off Norfolk, Virginia (US commercial fishermen immediately released the shark), and finally on a 60-mile fishing line off Costa Rica.

Beamer had traveled 9000 miles. Not edible, the fins on this 200 lb. fish were removed for the Asian market,"  Rav Friedel of Montauk wrote in an email.

They were tracked thousands of miles only to be pulled from the water and all their fins sliced off for someone's -- most likely in Asia -- shark fin soup. It takes about a minute to do it. Inglorious to the point of criminal.

A magnificent fish that lives on the top of the food web and travels great distances, and a species that has survived hundreds of millions of years placed on the brink by mindless human consumption. Tens of millions of sharks are killed each year this way.

Although these handful caught and named and released off beautiful Montauk were closer to my heart -- I wanted them to survive -- I mourn less for one fish and more for a whole planet at the will of a species unaccustomed to thinking about anything but itself.  I'm talking about us. Humans. We create beauty, sure, but often we destroy it.

Many thanks to all the people that worked hard to make the Shark's Eye Tournament happen including Carl Darenberg and Rav Friedel, and to sponsors Dan's Papers, Guy Harvey Foundation, and LandShark. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Drill Baby Drill Punctures Alaska's Seafood Market

Red areas are most intensely impacted. 

Ocean acidification from climate change could take five billion dollars in seafood away from Alaska annually.

The ocean absorbs carbon naturally but there's so much carbon pollution in the air that it's changing ocean chemistry. This makes the ocean more acidic, which is bad, very bad, for most creatures in the sea including the ones we love to eat like salmon, haddock, clams, and crabs.

Dismal as this is, this research is a welcome red flag because many people don't start to care until they see how much money is at stake. The frightening economics around ocean acidification might inspire action.

"The fishing industry in Alaska supports over 100,000 jobs, and generates more than $5 billion in annual revenue. Beyond commercial fishing, around 120,000 Alaskans, roughly 17 percent of the state's population, rely on subsistence fishing to feed their families, according to the report.

The analysis found that communities most reliant on fishery harvests, with relatively lower income and fewer alternative job options, face the highest risk of ocean acidification," according to scientists in Newsweek.

What to do? Support clean energy and phase out fossil fuels. Alaska itself will have to re-think its "drill baby drill" mentality, or continue to shoot itself in the proverbial foot.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Renewable Energy Continues to Thrive

More people are working in the renewable energy industry globally according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.

"With 6.5 million people directly or indirectly employed in renewable energy, the sector is proving that it is no longer a niche – it has become a significant employer worldwide," said agency director Adnan Z Amin in The Guardian.

The 14% growth in the clean energy industry is led by solar as more and more businesses and people are tapping into the sun's clean power. Read the full renewables report here.

Meanwhile in Germany, the perennial leader in renewable power not just World Cups, the offshore wind power industry enjoys over 100K employees and over $10 billion invested, according to Bloomberg.

With the need to support clean energy breathing down our necks and climate change flooding our feet, nice to see some good news. Thanks to Neighborhood Energy for pointing it out.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Leaving Sea Shells by the Sea Shore

I see people with buckets full of shells on Florida beaches as if prospecting for gold. What can they possibly be using them for? Aren't they just going to be thrown away in a year or ten, or left to collect dust in some box in a garage or attic?

Collecting seashells by the seashore seemed harmless enough until now. Researchers have found that collecting seashells is not good for the beach ecosystem. Shells support the beach structure, provide homes for all kinds of critters, and grow algae, which is lunch for many.

Nature has a purpose for everything.

The old wilderness mantra -- leave only footprints take only photographs -- certainly applies to the beach.

Does the damage compare to other ocean harms like ocean acidification and overfishing? Nope, but it's still a negative impact.

I did it. I had a large collection. I still hang onto a nice looking shell once in awhile, but I leave it on the sand when I depart. Fair enough.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Thank the EPA on Coal

Show your support for clean air today.  Here's an opportunity to write to the head of the EPA, Regina 'Gina' McCarthy, and the EPA staff.

Tell them you support their new restrictions on coal burning plants.

You can send Natural Resource Defense Council's pre-made note, or you can send your own words, which will have more oomph.

Maybe what I wrote will get the juices flowing:

Dear Regina 'Gina' McCarthy & EPA Staff,

You've already heard a ton of crazy rhetoric from the coal industry on your awesome new restrictions.

It's the voice of a tired, old industry trying to preserve a business model that simply costs all of us way too much.

Just know: we are with you as you take this flak. Please stand strong.

This is the right thing to do on so many levels. I come from the "ocean world," and climate change seriously threatens the health of the world's oceans. The oceans that feed billions everyday.

The time is now to turn this around and your restrictions on coal ring that bell.

It's our responsibility to protect our children and future generations from the effects of climate change.

This is a message of solidarity and urgency, and thanks -- thank you for putting people before polluters.

Link to letter. 

(Those last two lines were paraphrased from NRDC's note.) 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Clean Energy Running in Place

Don't despair but despite many positive things happening -- tighter restrictions on coal plants, growing use of wind and solar, greater awareness by the general public -- clean energy is not gaining ground on fossil fuels.

"All told, coal, oil, and gas made up 87 percent of the world's energy consumption in 2013. By contrast, low-carbon sources — including nuclear, hydropower, wind, solar, and biomass — made up just 13 percent.

That ratio hasn't changed since 1999, as the University of Colorado's Roger Pielke Jr. has long pointed out. Fossil fuels have provided 87 percent of the world's energy for more than a decade — even as overall energy use grows," according to a story on Vox by Brad Plumer.

How is that possible? Hello off the charts booming Asian economy.

Renewable energy cannot keep up with demand for energy from fossil fuels in Asia. This means more coal is being used than ever and that carbon continues to pour into the atmosphere at ever faster rates. Asia alone accounted for over half of global carbon emissions last year.

There's work to be done.

Find solace in the fact that more and more people are aware, painfully aware, of the terrible costs of fossil fuels. Costs we all pay for. Think asthma, mercury in our food, extreme weather, drought, a more acidic ocean (bad for all living things), and sea level rise to name a few that are not relegated to the margins anymore. They are real and people understand what's happening.

This can only help us accelerate the pace of our adoption of clean energy.  Can we survive the pace of such adoption? Jury's out on that one. Depends on who you ask kind of thing.

Can you imagine a world where solar, wind, and tidal (or some untapped source) make up 87% of the world's energy consumption?

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Wandering Soul of Katharine the Great...White Shark

From Cape Cod to Miami, Katharine's travel log rivets me, especially since Katharine's a great white shark hugging the coast.

The awesome crew of Ocearch researchers tagged her with a radio transmitter in the cold waters off Massachusetts.

At fourteen feet, she took up most of the bay of their special vessel.  Her skin shimmered like something beautiful from another world.  On her face shaped like a bullet, her eyes seemed to reflect the darkest ocean depths, callous and cold.

The tag is attached to her dorsal fin and when she surfaces, it sends out a signal.  And Katharine surfaces a lot.  That gives researchers good data and a clear path of Katharine all the way down the Atlantic seaboard.

I tend to romanticize travel, and of the school that considers all travel good for the soul.  That's probably why my imagination soars with thoughts of Katharine's journey.

Did she hear the sounds of the squealing teenagers near the boardwalks of the Jersey Shore?  Did she smell the southern cooking along the Carolinas?  Did she run into the crowds -- surfers, paddlers, boaters -- enjoying the ocean every way possible along the Florida stretch?

The researchers say she is looking for food in almost everything she does.  She is a feeding machine, a top predator.  They call her species "the lion of the sea".

At several points along the way, she ventured very close to inlets and places where rivers meet the ocean with names like Ponce Inlet or Biscayne Bay.  This is where fish -- her food -- congregate as nutrients pour off the land.

We all know that sharks don't like to eat humans.  They usually bite them in a case of mistaken identity.  Still hard to get over "the bite" part of that scenario, however.

I wonder how many people, maybe swimming at dusk after a nice afternoon laying on the sand or out for a brisk morning kayak up the beach, never realized how close Katharine came to them.

Or perhaps a few did see her.  They spotted Katharine and watched wide eyed and breathless as her unmistakable silhouette silently glided past them.  Back on land, they found themselves unable to stop talking about her.

The pings show that Katharine moved past Key West and through the Dry Tortugas into the Gulf.  No one is sure where she'll go next.  I hope she finds what she's looking for but never stops swimming.

Orange line is Katharine's path. 

Osearch has a cool app.
News about Katharine.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Everybody had Matching Towels

A little reminder that the ocean is not only beautiful and valuable but also plain old fun with a capital F.

Rock Lobster by the B-52s

(Ski-doo-be-dop) We were at a party (Eww)
(Ski-doo-be-dop) His ear lobe fell in the deep (Eww)
(Ski-doo-be-dop) Someone reached in and grabbed it (Eww)
(Ski-doo-be-dop) Was a rock lobster (Eww)

Rock lobster
Rock lobster

We were at the beach (Eww)
Everybody had matching towels (Eww)
Somebody went under a dock (Eww)
And there they saw a rock (Eww)
It wasn't a rock (Eww)
Was a rock lobster (Eww)

Rock lobster
Rock lobster

Rock lo-o-obster
Rock lo-o-obster

Motion in the ocean (Ooh ah)
His air hose broke (Hoo ah)
Lots of trouble (Ooh ah)
Lots of bubble (Hoo ah)
He was in a jam (Ooh ah)
He's in a giant clam! (Hoo ah)

Rock, rock
Rock lobster! (Aaaaaaaaah)
Down, down! (Aaaaaaah)

Let's rock!

Boys and bikinis
Girls and surfboards
Everybody's rockin'
Everybody's frugin'

Twistin' round the fire
Havin' fun

Bakin' potatoes
Bakin' in the sun

Put on your noseguard
Put on the lifeguard
Pass the tanning butter

Here comes a stingray (ooh wok ooh wok)
There goes a manta ray (ah ah ah)
In walked a jellyfish (huah)
There goes a dogfish (rea-owr)
Chased by a catfish (geh geh geh geh geh geh geh geh geh geh)
In flew a sea robin (Laaaaa)
Watch out for that piranha (eh rek eh rek ah hoo)
There goes a narwhal (eeeeh)
Here comes a bikini whale! (Aaaaah!)

(Lobster rock lobster-ster) Rock lobster
(Lobster) Rock lobster (Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah)
(Lobster rock lobster-ster) Rock lobster
(Lobster) Rock lobster (Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah)

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Same Old Song and Dance

The clean energy dance goes something like this: Two steps forward, one step backward.

Two steps forward.

The EPA finally won something.  Two things actually.  Their rules were upheld recenlty in court.  Now, dirty coal plants must scrub their stacks, and dirty states are not allowed to export their pollution across state borders.  Respectable victories both.  The beginning of the end for coal one can only hope.

One step backward.

On the same day as the coal victories, the New York Times ran an op-ed about how gas is a good thing -- that is extracting gas from the shale rock and burning it to make electricity.  Titled "The Right Way to Develop Shale Gas" and written by Michael Bloomberg and Fred Krupp, it was a huge disappointment.

Krupp is head of the Environmental Defense Fund and former NYC mayor Bloomberg certainly trends green.  Here they are promoting gas fracking.  They should be embarrassed.

In the op-ed, there was no mention of the potential negative impacts of fracking on drinking water let alone ecosystems.  In the fracking process, unknown chemicals (industry has sued to keep the contents of their quixotic brew secret) are injected into the ground.

Also, the entire op-ed represents the outdated fossil fuel mindset that got us into the climate change mess in the first place.  Burning more fossil fuels are not going to get us out of it.  Gas is cleaner than coal but it is still dirty.

They could have said things like let's use our economic muscle and our substantial brainpower to move as fast as possible to a clean energy economy.  They could have kept the part about jobs and energy independence -- both are very real benefits of clean energy.

So round and round we go again,
Two steps forward,
One step backward,
Now do-si-do your partner!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

5 Hopes for Our One & Only Home

I like to look for hope and solutions.  People can only take so much doom and gloom including yours truly.  So when I wasn't finding much good news myself -- overly distracted by ocean acidification and shark fin soup I suppose -- I was happy to find some.

This piece below was written by Peter Rothberg in The Nation with the excellent title "Why I'm Not Totally Bummed Out this Earth Day."

It’s hard to feel hopeful when contemplating climate change. I’ve found it increasingly difficult as I’ve become the father of two children. Both the science and the abundance of money on the denialist side make for a pretty grim picture. But there is another perspective, seen though countless inspiring signs of people recognizing and grappling with the impact of climate change. Only history will tell how sufficient the response but, for now, I want to highlight some of the heroes of the climate change movement, which at least on my better days, lend me hope that my children will inherit something salvageable.

1. Student Divestment Movement

There’s a tired trope that the students of today are politically apathetic, too busy branding themselves on social media to care much about the real world and their actual place in it. I’ve found this to be patently false and we hope that the StudentNation blog is a daily reminder of the deep dedication young people are showing to social justice, economic equality and environmental responsibility. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the burgeoning student campaign for divestment from fossil fuel companies. More than 400 campuses currently have campaigns and six schools have already pledged divestment. As many critics have rightly pointed out, this movement, even if broadly successful, still would lack the economic impact necessary to radically change corporate behavior. This is totally true but there’s a broader benefit in the way these campaigns make it much harder for individuals and institutions to ignore climate. And it can’t hurt to have children of the elite go home for holidays with nagging questions that make their parents’ business-as-usual lives less comfortable.

2. was founded with the goal of uniting climate activists into a movement, with a strategy of bottom-up organizing around the world. Activists in 189 countries have organized’s local climate-focused campaigns, projects and actions. In India, organizers have mobilized people to speak out against the country’s dependence on coal for growth. In the US, the group has campaigned to divest public institutions like municipalities and universities from the fossil fuel industry, to stop the Keystone XL pipeline and to press for environmental regulations to be included as part of international trade agreements.

3. Idle No More

Idle No More, a group of largely Canadian Native North Americans, was born in the fall of 2012, when Canada’s prime minister Stephen Harper pushed a law, known as C-45, through Parliament rolling back both environmental protections and indigenous peoples’ sovereignty in order to make the country’s tar sands easier to exploit. Resource extraction projects, like the tar sands, often hurt North America’s indigenous populations more than anyone else. In protest of C-45, the group organized rallies in major cities across Canada. A leader of Idle No More, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, sparked a six-week-long hunger strike and protesters blocked rail lines and highways. International recognition and awareness of the issues followed, and the group continues to push back against environmental degradation and social injustice on numerous fronts.

4. Union of Concerned Scientists

The Union of Concerned Scientists was founded during the Vietnam War at a teach-in at MIT to protest the US government’s militarization of science. At first, the group organized against nuclear proliferation and around energy issues, but today, the bulk of the UCS’s work focuses on climate change. The organization is responsible for groundbreaking research on sustainability standards for vehicles and the disastrous affects of climate change globally and continues to function as an intellectual bulwark against lavishly funded denialist junk science.

5. The Super-Rich are Waking Up

Billionaire investor Tom Steyer recently announced that he’s planning a $100 million push to make climate change a key issue in the 2014 midterm elections. He’s also been been a major voice of opposition to construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Even Jim Yong Kim, the president of the World Bank, has been outspoken in his calls for climate action. No social movement can ever rely on the 1 percent, but increasing enlightenment among the global class of super-rich investors doesn’t hurt the cause.

This piece was written by Peter Rothberg in The Nation with the excellent title "Why I'm Not Totally Bummed Out this Earth Day." 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Try Yes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 7, 2014

Winning Images: Fresh Look at Raw Beauty

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

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Small Light in the Harbor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

There is No Debate

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

Why Are We Still Debating Climate Change? 

There is no debate.

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

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

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

The question is, why?

Trust certainly plays a part.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A Clean Future Gets its Own Billionaire

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for making my day, Tom.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Telling the Tough Nut

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whew, this is a tough nut.

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

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

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

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

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

Clearly, our work is cut out for us.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Paddle Away Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Climate Urgency Lies Buried Under Words

I went out to Brooklyn to a climate event recently.

It was organized by a group that is known for taking action. The urgency of doing exactly that on climate change in my head like a bolt of light, I rolled out on the subway wondering if anyone else in the moving underground menagerie was pondering carbon pollution.

I was looking forward to the meeting.  These events are energizing as like-minded people are reminded they're not alone. Also, inspiration is often in the air as newcomers have ideas and ask good questions.  This night was none of that.

First of all, few people showed up.  Maybe eighteen people in a city of millions.

Secondly, I was surprised and frustrated to find how splintered we were.  And this I cannot blame on the fossil fuelers, led by the the Koch Brothers' insidious money machine.

People had many valid points, their arguments well thought out, careful to avoid hypocrisy and to present a flawless future.

But we're missing the point -- while we talk and talk, the world burns. 

There's the guy in a gray jacket with a notepad balanced on his lap who questions solar and wind power because he asks what mountaintop are we going to have to remove to make these things.  He asks what does "clean" mean anyway.  

There's a guy in a red bandanna and combat boots who thinks that if we build a clean energy industry we're just doing more of the same oppression of the poor and indigenous.  He says he's a scientist.  I think he secretly just wants to throw rocks at the police.

He says people are protesting solar plants in China because they're spewing toxins.   I felt like saying what isn't spewing toxins in China but held back because that's another thing -- it's a pretty humorless bunch.

Also, the self-appointed leader, the same woman who made us put our chairs in a circle and go around the room and introduce ourselves, had already chastised me for getting a little too fired up.

So I kept quiet and we kept going around the room.

Another person talked about saving electricity.  She tells her friends to turn out lights.  She tells them that's what they can do to fight climate change.

Another guy, slouched in his chair like a bored student, said the West is irrelevant anyway as countries like India and China consume more electricity than us (China just passed the U.S. as the country that consumes the most energy).

One person, a girl with high cheekbones and long straight hair, said it helps to close our eyes and think good thoughts.  I thought my head might explode at that moment, and I caught the self-appointed leader giving me the you-keep-quiet dead eye. 

There were other people who made very good points, good ideas, good questions, and these people I mention are not wrong or right or irrelevant or anything like that.  It's just that:  Where is the urgency in all this?

It's there on the floor in the space between us under a pile of words.  

The point of no return on climate change is right around the corner and it's a travesty to let agonizing over the perfect plan and pure intentions prevent the good.

Renewables like solar, wind, and geothermal energy are vastly cleaner than fossil fuels, plain and simple.  They are not perfect because nothing is.  The time is now.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Cheerful Winter Sights

This somehow always seems to surprise and delight me. Seals in New York-New Jersey harbor in the coldest part of the winter.

The numbers have grown from one or two to maybe 200. So encouraging to see them. Recovery is possible, the water's a little cleaner maybe, fish a little more abundant maybe.

So awesome to imagine the variety and abundance of life that thrived in the area hundreds of years ago.  And what's not cheerful about a big fat seal lounging on a spit of sand within sight of the silver-black skyline of a global metropolis?

This kind of thing is celebrated often and nicely by a great blog: Nature on the Edge of the City by Joe Reynolds.  Check it out.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Every Little Bit is Not Enough

"A fundamentally different economic system is required, if we are serious about avoiding dangerous climate change, based on nurturing well being rather than stoking corporate profit," Adam Corner in the The Guardian.

It's hard to beat that for nailing exactly what's going on.  Priorities are out of whack and they have been for generations.  Greed is not good, actually.

The title of his piece is Every Little Bit Helps Can be a Dangerous Mantra is provocative but also a great point.  Good people thinking that a few small "green" gestures means we're covered leads to dangerous complacency.

Climate change is probably the biggest challenge facing humanity since forever.  It really is hard to overstate it.

Scaling up dramatically to meet that challenge requires many things including awareness, courage, and determination, but it is essential to find that within ourselves and act.

Image: Brian Skerry 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Sea Shift

Stunning.  Needs our help though, starting on land with our electricity.  Let's move away from burning things to light our lives.  Support renewable, clean energy in every way you can. 

Image: David Doubilet

Friday, January 3, 2014

My Completely Unsexy New Year's Wish

Hopeful am I as the sun rises over another ocean.  My hope is that people and governments do whatever they can to reduce carbon pollution.  It sounds so drab but there it is.

If you care about shimmering fish or vibrant corals or Arctic terns or pilot whales, or simply big blue’s breathtaking beauty and bounty, you care about climate change. 

Thus my wholly unsexy New Year’s wish:  Significant decreases in carbon pollution globally and huge increases in clean electricity and vehicles.

Absolutely do I want to see more marine protected areas, only sustainable fisheries management, effective solutions to stop marine debris at the source, and an end to wetlands destruction and polluted runoff.

BUT all of these marine conservation dream victories are useless if carbon pollution from burning fossil fuels continues because that would mean ocean acidification and warming would still be destroying the ocean. 

The deadly duo – ocean acidification and warming – are the direct result of stuffing the atmosphere with greenhouse gases, especially carbon.  Oh, and they are huge.  They supersede all other ocean issues.  It’s almost too much to bear but inserting heads into sand is not an option.

Doing whatever we can, in ways large and small, to stop carbon pollution is a great New Year resolution.  If not for the beauty and bounty of nature or for all the other life with whom we share the planet, if not for God or karma then do it for future generations, do it for yourself, do it because it’s the right thing to do.

Image: David Doubilet