Friday, January 17, 2014

Here Today, Not Gone Tomorrow

California Governor Jerry Brown declares drought emergency.  A thorough and scary article by Sarah McBride for Reuters.  However our North Coast isn't included technically, since we're under some other kind of drought emergency thing, says the Times Standard.

U.N. draft report says technological fixes for limiting the climate crisis in the future will be vastly more expensive than the cost of limiting carbon emissions now--and they don't yet exist and might not work anyway.

 State Court Judge strikes down Pennsylvania voter ID law.  The opinion goes at the heart of the case against such laws (they unfairly limit the right to vote) and against the supposed justification for the law (no voter fraud shown.)

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Weed v. Water in Humboldt County

When I got to Arcata I was briefly involved in writing about forest issues, principally for a documentary film called  Voices of Humboldt County: The Cumulative Impact.  Professionally it's not one of my happiest memories in that I was never paid and though I got screen credit, that usually doesn't show up in online citations.  But in shaping and writing the script (including final draft) I learned a lot about the effects of cutting too many trees in the wrong places, not only on the forest habitat and on local landowners (the destruction caused by flooding made worse by over-cutting prompted the docu) but on salmon habitat.

A rapacious timber company is still alive in the legacy of Humboldt, as evidenced by this letter to the editor by one of the principals involved in that documentary, Dr. Ken Miller (you'll have to scroll down for it, to the subtitle  "Gallegos’ proud record as DA") which details some of the conflict of interest, chicanery and mendacity involved in local government as well as the company involved.

But the current threat to salmon habitat comes from the new biggest industry in HC: pot growing.  According to another NPR report

"According to critics, marijuana plantations guzzle enormous amounts of water while also spilling pesticides, fertilizers and stream-clogging sediments into waterways, including the Eel and the Klamath rivers, that have historically produced large numbers of Chinook salmon and related species."

So the first part of the problem is the huge amount of water these "plantations" are said to be taking out of streams, to the extent that many are drying up.  That particularly critical because the North Coast along with the rest of California is in drought, and it's getting worse.  Here it is mid January and there are forest fires already in the county.  Tuesday in Arcata hit 68 degrees, and Wednesday 73--these would be unusually warm temps in summer.  Right now it's supposed to be mid 50s and raining.  We've had one day of rain this month.  Wells are drying up and folks are using water reserves they normally don't touch until late summer.

Salmon need water--cool water-- in streams and rivers.

That puts the focus on the largest users:

 "According to Bauer, 24 tributaries of the Eel River — in which once-enormous spawning runs of Chinook salmon have nearly vanished — went completely dry in the summer of 2013. Each, Bauer says, was being used to irrigate pot farms. As a result, Bauer expects to see poor returns of Chinook and Coho salmon, as well as steelhead, in several years. While 2013 saw record-low precipitation in California, drought, Bauer says, is only part of the problem, and he still blames marijuana farmers."

The other problem is the pesticides that the new industrial pot growers are using:

"Fertilizers that drain into rivers can cause floating carpets of algae to grow in the water. When these mats begin to decay, the breakdown process steals oxygen from the water, suffocating fish. Bauer has discovered pools full of dead adult Chinook salmon — fish full of eggs, he says, that had not yet spawned."

"Scott Greacen, the executive director of Friends of the Eel River, warns that, unless pot growers are more closely regulated, some of California's North Coast salmon runs could be looking at extinction."

These issues are part of a very active public dialogue in Humboldt and the North Coast: the redwood forests may have receded in political consciousness, but salmon and weed remain hot topics, and are as least as crucial as cultural as well as economic and ecological issues.  Southern Californians may be more used to water as a political issue.  Now the North Coast welcomes you to the climate crisis.

Attack on Penn's Woods

Pennsylvania is among the most forested states in the contiguous U.S.  But not only is this news to outsiders, most Pennsylvanians are unaware of their forests and threats to them.

I discovered this in reporting a magazine piece I did some 20 years ago, and I believe it's still true.  (I've reposted the piece with photos here.)

The rapacious industries that are taking over the Commonwealth, not only fracking for natural gas wherever they please but rewriting laws that endanger environment and health more generally, are reaching into Pennsylvania's state forests according to this NPR report.  

"Pennsylvania is no stranger to extractive industries, like timber. By the early 20th century, its forests were decimated. Today they've grown back and trees are harvested sustainably. But, Pennsylvania has emerged as the fastest-growing state in the nation for natural gas production — with hydraulic fracturing technology unlocking vast amounts of gas in the Marcellus Shale. Scientists say this surge in gas development is having new kinds of dramatic effects on forests. Pennsylvania has roughly 2 million acres of public forest land; about a third of it is available for drilling."

"Kevin Heatley lives in the area and has come to these woods for years to hike. He's an ecologist by trade and he's concerned about what he's seeing. "Everything from the noise and the traffic to the lighting, to the pad placements, to the pipeline construction to the road expansion — this is all industrial infrastructure," Heatley says. "It's inherently incompatible with sustainable forest management. "You're looking at some of the impacts associated with forest fragmentation," he says. Forest fragmentation is what happens when human development crisscrosses the landscape, carving up large swaths of contiguous forest into smaller pieces."

And this destruction is not being inflicted from the edges or borders, but in the core:

"Core forest means "forest next to forest," making it very different from so-called "edge habitats," which means forest next to something else, like a grassy field, or a suburban home. The big tracts of core forests are rarer and they're home to species that don't do well near people. When core forest is lost, the host of important services provided by its plant and animal species go with it, according to Margaret Brittingham, a professor at Pennsylvania State University who has also studied forest fragmentation. "Insect control, climate control, water purification, you can go on and on," she says. "Recreation, aesthetics."

Not content with the power to destroy they now have, these companies want even more control and dominion, until only they rule the Commonwealth:

"But the gas industry is pushing a new measure that may lead to more forest fragmentation — a controversial bill that would limit the authority of state agencies to designate endangered species. The bill passed the state's House Game and Fisheries Committee in November."

When I posted my old story online I was able to restore the section that was cut for its original print publication, which is about Gifford Pinchot, the forester who became governor, and his friendship with President Teddy Roosevelt.  The kind of dominion these industries are seeking and in large measure already enjoy hasn't been seen generally since TR's day, and he was instrumental in reigning them in.

There are places where this hegemony continued--West Virginia being a conspicuous example, and so the chemical spill that cut off water supplies last week was more business as usual than shocking news.  Even with its habit of alternating governors of different parties, Pennsylvania had established environmental law and practice to control at least the most obvious rapacity.  But the current far right governor and right leaning legislature has paved the way for the latest attempted takeover by fossil fuel interests.  One ray of hope is that this governor is vastly unpopular, and is unlikely to be reelected.

Pennsylvania let its forests be destroyed once before.  The citizens of Penn's Woods (which is what "Penn-sylvania" means) can't let it happen again.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


Now that potpourri is legal in Colorado, it's only a matter of time before it is in California.  Anticipating that, here's a potpourri of links from 2013 and early this year that I didn't get to in thematic posts.

For Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Pirates fans, here's a great story about Pirates manager Clint Hurdle.  I can go on about what's wrong with Pittsburgh, pro sports and the lamentable level of American profundity but this is a Pittsburgh story that says a lot about what is best about the place.  There are just enough stories like Clint Hurdle to justify realizing that there's a certain special character about this city.  Some other reports note various characteristics, such as healthful living  here (though I hate to link to Queen Ariana's slave quarters) and articles in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette series retrospective on the past 30 years: the increase in green spaces, and the overall change from "hell with the lid off" to a perennial "livable city."

Some years ago I read and "reviewed" the books that came out of several years of the Mind and Life conferences convened by the Dalai Lama, bringing together scientists and Buddhist practitioners to see what could be learned by both that went beyond the limits of each.   Brain scientists in particular were interested in meditative states attained by trained and veteran Buddhist meditators.  I've followed some of the ongoing work in this area since.

Most of what scientists have "proven" with brain imaging etc. simply confirmed what meditators observed.  But this study caught my attention: that meditation could influence gene expression.  How genes are "expressed" and interact in given situations is the new frontier of gene research, now that the prior belief that the presence or absence of particular genes determines everything is no longer tenable.  Gene expression may turn out to be much more important, in the still mysterious complexity of our beings in the world.

Research on some bones of Neanderthals made news late in 2013.  One conclusion: "The ancient DNA reveals a long history of Neanderthals interbreeding among at least four different types of early humans living in Europe and Asia".  Another study of bones suggests that Neanderthals had the same vocal capacity for speech as modern humans.  These studies are among those that suggest a closer relationship among earlier human species.  As one of the researchers of the latter study said, "Many would argue that our capacity for speech and language is among the most fundamental of characteristics that make us human. If Neanderthals also had language then they were truly human, too."

This may remind us that we tend to err towards the extremes.  Either earlier human species (or other animals, or even other nationalities of humans) are entirely different, or they are entirely the same.  Our conception of our human ancestors seems to have been expressed and then set in cartoon stone with the Flintstones.  But there's much to learn about ourselves from a more accurate idea of real life, now and hundreds of thousands of years ago.  Paul Shepard in particular repeatedly made the point that the human history we know is a small fraction of human time--10 thousand out of hundreds of thousands of years.  That span of time is when we evolved, and yet we know little about how we responded to those early environments, and therefore in large measure what we actually are now.

Finally, a couple of stories in the political realm.  The first is an under-reported but significant story about the alleged complete lack of security for President Obama at the Nelson Mandela memorial.  Coming so close to the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination, this was chilling.  And even more troublesome was the lack of attention it got.

The others are Cold War history revealed, sort of.   One story: For Nearly Two Decades the Nuclear Launch Code at all Minuteman Silos in the United States Was 00000000.  It's about how the military undermined the attempts by JFK and other "civilians" to install safeguards against accidental or premature launching of nuclear missiles, and ipso facto, apocalypse.  Though this particular revelation has since been disputed, it is of a piece with others, for example, in recent books on JFK and/or the Cuban Missile Crisis.  General Jack D. Ripper was not entirely fictional.

Another looks at the Soviet side, and a submarine commander who "should" have but did not start a nuclear exchange.  As we look back we ask, do we actually think we are less crazy now?  Look around.  What we are is more complacent.  Assassination, even nuclear war are still present possibilities, and we ignore them at our peril.  We should read these stories and reflect, because a huge element in our complacency is not understanding what these things would really mean.

Last but not lease---happy birthday, Kath!

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Dreaming Up Daily Weekly Quote

"Imaginative literature … does not enslave; it liberates the mind of man. Its truth is not like the canons of orthodoxy or the irrationality of prejudice and superstition. It begins as an adventure in self-discovery and ends in wisdom and humane conscience."

Chinua Achebe