Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Hillbillies must go outside.

I know that I am not alone in this, but if I don't get outside--doing practically anything--several hours each day, I go crazy. (Ask my wife.) The problem is that, in our modern world, it is difficult to get outside every day for extended time. Statistics show that the average American spends about 90% of his/her day indoors! That leaves only 10%--2.4 hours--of outside time. And that's on average, which, I think, includes those people who work outside all day.

A couple of years ago, I created a spreadsheet for recording hours spent outdoors each day, and I tracked each minute using the chronometer on my watch. I live and work at a boarding school on 300 acres. I walk to work, take short walks at every possible moment throughout the day, run or walk or garden in the afternoons, and spend time, even in the cold weather, sitting on the porch reading or watching the bird feeders. How many hours a day outdoors did I manage to get, on average? Three, which is 1/8 of a day or 12.5%. That's it. It is simply not enough for me or for anyone, I argue. We have evolved out-of-doors. We slept outside, even. Everything we did was outdoors. And now, at 5 a.m., I sit at my kitchen table, the roar of I-40 audible even through these walls and doors, and type.

Why is The Hillbilly Environmentalist writing about this? Well, I've been thinking a lot lately about our elected officials and their certain disengagement from nature. When I see Scott Pruitt confirmed by the Senate to "lead" the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, I wonder where we are headed. When I see Paul Ryan brag about killing regulations that are protecting the ancient mountain streams of Appalachia, in the futile effort to save a couple of jobs in the dying coal industry, only to leave behind streams flowing orange, I wonder.

The old adage "If you don't love it, you won't protect it" comes to mind. The British writer George Monbiot stated it like this: "If children lose contact with nature they won't fight for it." In a 2012 article in The Guardian, Monbiot writes, "Most of those I know who fight for nature are people who spent their childhoods immersed in it. Without a feel for the texture and function of the natural world, without an intensity of engagement almost impossible in the absence of early experience, people will not devote their lives to its protection."

I don't know much about the lives of Scott Pruitt, Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and Paul Ryan. But I can surmise that as adults they rarely, if ever, get outside to enjoy the natural world. How could they? Days spent commuting to work, in meetings, in towers. Where are the trees?! How could they even know that we've lost 60% of the total number of vertebrates (e.g., birds, fish, mammals) on the entire planet since 1970?! That we have lost 80% of the total number of fish we had in 1970? That it is only getting worse, with habitat destruction and fragmentation, climate change, and invasive species creating a cocktail of destruction?

Why would they care about the wild public lands of the West, or about a cold mountain stream in West Virginia which was once home to beautiful brook trout? Drill them. Mine them. F**k them.

It's up to us, and I guess that it always has been. WE have to be the defenders of natural world. Scott Pruitt can't and won't. None of his type will. What right do they have to destroy it?

Signing off, here are a couple of recent haiku:

     for a moment, at least
     only birdsong
     not politics

     big moon still there,
     it's blue-gray splotches
     monday morning

I'd write more, but it's time to go outside ...

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The wonderful, messy process of science.

In articles written across a wide range of media recently, journalists summarize the research by Harvard scientists to press hydrogen into metal, a feat attempted for eighty years. In the New York Times article I read, Professor Isaac Silverton describes the lustrous, shiny material that resulted when hydrogen gas was squeezed between two pieces of diamond under extreme pressure. The research was published in the prestigious journal Science, where submissions must pass a rigorous peer review process, and the editor in chief stated that only about seven percent of submissions are published. Still, skeptics abound from across the globe. For example, a University of Edinburgh professor called the claims by Silverton “… the product of Ike’s imagination from beginning to end.”
            This report highlights the wonderful, messy process of real science, where scientists submit research results to peer-reviewed journals for consideration, reports are published when strict standards have been met, and other scientists from around the world begin to shoot holes in the arguments and the data while rushing to their own labs or field locations to attempt replicating the results. Such has gone the process of climate science for decades. And, for once, there is near-unanimity: Through the emissions of greenhouse gases into our thin atmosphere, humans have significantly altered the Earth’s climate. Pretending or hoping otherwise is foolish.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Let's step it up, WNC!

A robust, scientific survey completed by Yale and George Mason Universities after the November election reported that 78% of registered U.S. voters support taxing global warming pollution, regulating it, or using both approaches. U.S. Congressional districts 10 and 11 in Western North Carolina are home to over 1.4 million Americans, with over a half a million of these people being adults. If we are even close to the national average for the American electorate, well over 400,000 of us want Congress to act now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help stave off the worst effects of climate change. The problem, we are told, is that our representatives generally do not hear much from constituents that climate change is an issue for us. It is. (Think extreme drought, rampant wildfires, and near-8o degree days in February.) It is time for us to call Representatives Meadows and McHenry and Senators Tillis and Burr and tell them how we feel about this crucial issue. Supporting a revenue-neutral carbon fee and dividend would be a great, positive step in that direction.

Details of Carbon Fee and Dividend Proposals:

Citizens' Climate Lobby

Climate Leadership Council (recent development from a group of conservatives, including James A. Baker III and George P.  Schultz)

Phone Numbers:

Senator Tillis: (202) 224-6342 and (919) 856-4630 ... Senator Burr: (202) 224-3154 and (336) 631-5125 ... Representative Meadows: (202) 225-6401 and (828) 693-5660 ... Representative McHenry: (202) 225-2576 and (828) 327-6100

Sunday, February 12, 2017

February 8, 2017: THIS changes everything!

I wrote about this a few of days ago, the morning I was stunned to see two major newspapers (NYT and WSJ) publish similar op-eds and articles on the carbon fee and dividend proposal of prominent Republicans George Schultz and James Baker III. The WSJ titled their piece "A Conservative Answer to Climate Change." Just seeing the works "conservative" and "climate change" together made me smile!

I think that history will show that this day marked a turning point in the previously liberal movement (in this country, at least) to act on climate change. That this group of respected, stalwart Republicans got together as the Climate Leadership Council and proposed a market-based plan to deal with runaway carbon emissions, publicly admitting that climate change is real, that humans are causing the problem with greenhouse gas emissions, and that something needs to be done--Wow!

Here is the opening paragraph from that report: "Mounting evidence of climate change is growing too strong to ignore. While the extent to which climate change is due to man-made causes can be questioned, the risks associated with future warming are too big and should be hedged. At least we need an insurance policy. For too long, many Republicans have looked the other way, forfeiting the policy initiative to those who favor growth-inhibiting command-and-control regulations, and fostering a needless climate divide between the GOP and the scientific, business, military, religious, civic and international mainstream."

What a gift to the cause taken up for years by the Citizens' Climate Lobby, which has acted in a bi-partisan manner in an effort to pass carbon fee and dividend legislation for almost a decade. The proposals of the CLC and CCL (confusing, huh?) have some differences, but they both place a fee on the carbon extracted at the source, and then return (the "dividends") the money collected to American households. This action will change consumer habits and investor priorities, moving the pendulum towards renewable energy sources in a steady, reliable manner. A CCL-sponsored report predicts that this will cause a carbon reduction of 50% of 1990 levels while adding 2.8 million jobs to the American economy.

ACTION: Call your Members of Congress (three of them--two Senators and one Representative) and ask them to consider this proposal.




Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Here is where we MUST compromise!

The stakes are far too high for us not to take this opportunity to compromise. The science is unassailable—humans are definitely causing climate change through the emissions of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, which trap infrared heat as it is being reflected back towards to the sun. The question must now shift from “Should we do anything?” to “What should we do?” And here is where the compromise can occur. Republican lawmakers must acknowledge publicly that humans are causing climate change through greenhouse emissions, and Democratic lawmakers and activists must give up the desire to cut emissions through governmental regulations, or to keep any fees collected for additional governmental spending. The solution is simple—place a fee on carbon, collected where fossil fuels enter the economy, and return all revenues to American households each month. Studies predict that such a simple plan will radically reduce fossil fuel consumption—and hence greenhouse gas emissions—over the coming decades, staving off the worse effects of climate change. Called “a Conservative Climate Solution” by The New York Times, the market-based plan is championed by former cabinet member (Secretary of Treasury under Ronald Reagan, Secretary of State to George H.W. Bush) James A. Baker III, among others, who will meet with White House officials this week. The non-profit Citizens’ Climate Lobby (of which I am a member and for whom I volunteer) is the leading advocate for this proposal.