Saturday, May 17, 2014

It's Graduation Day at Humboldt State.  The ceremonies are held by college divisions, beginning in the morning and continuing into late afternoon.  I happened to be walking along the soon to be empty streets of Arcata as the last batch was leaving, heading for cars and apartments and restaurants, caps in hand.  None of them I saw was smiling.

There haven't been too many graduation days in recent years opening to robust economic opportunity.  And there are other factors that have prompted fear as well as hope.  I spent my college graduation day watching Bobby Kennedy's funeral.

Humboldt State is not known for bringing in graduation speakers, as least of general note.  But considering the future these graduates face, I thought today of one they could have easily had, who might have given them some genuinely encouraging words about that future.

Author Kim Stanley Robinson, who lives down the coast at Davis, was actually here just last week.  He spoke before a fairly small crowd on campus and then read at Northtown Books.  He was invited, not by any university group or entity, but by an outside environmental organization.  His talk on the economics of the near future was a variation on one that he gave to a different sort of audience in 2011, which is available for viewing   on YouTube.

This 2011 talk was framed as a thought experiment about an optimal future 200 years from now.  He spoke of the economics of getting there, though he said that the exact economic system--which would have to be post-capitalist--is unclear: he called it X.  But notably his vision of that future was less about a system and more about how life would be in a post-consumerist future, where pleasure would be derived from friends, family and community, sports and other activities, rather than buying things.  His novel Pacific Edge fills in a future like this.  

He ended this 2011 talk this way (more or less, this is my transcription) by addressing the students in the audience, in an authentic message that today's graduates should hear :  "The idea that the 1950s were the height of human culture and that we accidentally torched the world and now all you kids have to live like saints and have a lower standard of living than what we had back in those days--it's all wrong in three or four different ways that I hope my talk has elucidated.  Once you've got enough, once you've got the technology growing, once you're engaged in the process of making a sustainable civilization on this planet, you've got more than enough, you've got it better than it was back in the Cold War."

"It's more clever, it's more sophisticated, it's cleaner, it's more stylish--you have all the happiness without so much of the stupid ambition and the waste of your life doing stuff that you don't really want to do, in getting and spending and staying in a money economy that doesn't mean anything to you--we want meaning in our lives.  And making a sustainable civilization, which is now an emergency task, is all the meaning we need. 

 It's a beautiful meaning, and so in a way climate change, the environmental crisis, the tremendously fraught moment that we find ourselves in right now, is really just an opportunity for us to have meaning throughout our careers.  It's meaningful work, and it extends across all disciplines--it's in the sciences, it's in engineering, it's in the humanities, in the arts--all are going to be concerned with getting us through the next century alive and healthy and headed towards this next system, this X that I've been talking about."    

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Fires This Time

Even though the normal fire season has yet to begin, the huge fires raging in southern California aren't the first of the year--there have been "1,400 wildfires so far this year, double what the state would normally expect" in what officials now consider a year-round fire season.

But it's not just California.  The above map, produced by the U.S. Drought Monitor and published today in Wired, shows that fully half of the contiguous United States are in drought.

Meanwhile, a real time study concludes what other climate scientists predicted: the droughts as well as the extreme weather seen this winter (the polar vortex) are related to the climate crisis.

Another effect likely influencing today's weather is suggested in a NOAA study says that tropical cyclones of maximum intensity have been moving northward, now threatening China and Japan.

In other scientific findings about the climate crisis in the past week or so, after some scientists suggested that the East Antarctic ice may be close to a tipping point which would raise sea levels dramatically above what's been forecast so far, other researchers believe the melting of the West Antarctic has already begun and is probably unstoppable, adding 4 to 12 feet more of sea level rise.   Both of these however will take anywhere from a century to nine centuries to reach their maximum effect.

Today the droughts and storms are threatening food supplies, even food quality (less nutrition in grains) and causing other economic strains that threaten millions of people worldwide.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


Wednesday Update: Another warm one for us today but nothing like the temps in southern California, where fires were raging, especially in the San Diego area where nine fires have burned over 9,000 acres and a number of homes.

Today (and forecast for tomorrow) it is summer in Arcata.  Record-breaking temps (low 70s to 80 or so, depending on the source) meet the usual high humidity.  Outside the door into the air the immediate difference is smell.  Barely noticeable manure spread on gardens in the neighborhood is suddenly pungent, as is the garbage in the bins outside groceries and restaurants.

New neighbors have a young son with another child on the way.  From over the fence the sound of water from the hose hitting the bottom of a small bright plastic pool.  It prompts an image maybe from memory, of standing in the sun-dazzle trying to wrap my mind around the idea that while I was really hot, in a few minutes, when the little pool is filled and I jump in, I will be cool.  Truth is I'm not sure I ever had a little plastic pool.  I probably played in a wash bucket.  But my sisters had one, and that sound is truly in the memory.

Students converge on Wildberries for their finals prep sustenance. My duty as a reporter forces me to observe that short shorts are in this year.

  From my window-side table, three horses with women riders pass through the parking lot.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Dreaming Up Daily Weekly Quote

“The experience of France in the Belle Époque proves, if proof were needed, that no hypocrisy is too great when economic and financial elites are obliged to defend their interest.”

Thomas Piketty
quoted by Paul Krugman in his New York Review of Books review of Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Sunday Sports Prattle

Baseball: The Giants are off to a great start.  Rejuvenated by new acquisitions, including the veterans pitcher Tim Hudson and the power hitter Mark Morse, they lead a competitive division.  Their starting pitching, while not up to standards of championship years, is pretty good, and relief pitching is better. They've gotten timely hitting and though some are (or were) not hitting well, they've been able to pick each other up.  What's most impressive about them, especially in this latest road trip, is their defense.  They are once again a fun team to follow.

I know the most about the Giants because I can listen to their games on radio.  My other team, the Pirates had a rocky start.  Inconsistent hitting but mostly pitching has hampered them.  But they're winning more lately--the Giants won 7 and lost only 3 games on their road trip--two of them to the Pirates.  Their trades seem to be working out well, but I sense a lack of depth.

Basketball: Weird playoffs, with nobody looking that good consistently.  While I'd like to see Oklahoma City get to the finals, right now I don't see anybody defeating Miami in seven.

Meanwhile, the disastrous reign of Dantoni with the Lakers is over.  Kobe is saying positive things about baby Buss but he's the one responsible for passing on Phil Jackson, twice.  Still think his oedipal ego is a huge problem.  However they do seem to have some young players with a future.  As long as they don't trade them away for another marquee has-been.  That's never worked for the Lakers (cf Gary Payton.)

Football: Concussion dangers talked about more but still not seriously addressed at any level.  So it's a dying game.  NFL draft was this weekend--lots of show for something that's more fantasy at this point than fantasy leagues.  Nobody knows how any of those players will perform.  The Steelers seem to have had a decent draft with intentions to completely revamp their defense with more speed, so their games may be more entertaining next year even if their record doesn't improve.