Dozing polar bear, Indianapolis Zoo

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Just another narcissist dumping her opinion into the tubes

Though it's a trite enough observation these days, I'm struck anew this morning by the real impact that can travel through this series of tubes called the internet. The difference between blogging and reading words on a page is, of course, the more or less real time nature of internet communication. The endings are not pre-ordained; we go along on the journey of others, often those we've never seen in person.

There's a blog out there I've been lurking around for a few months. The author of this blog has been creeping toward an inevitable and deeply painful event for awhile now. For the last few weeks, I've hesitated before viewing the blog, in dread for what might have happened since my last visit. I click anyway, of course. I've become invested in the story, in the outcome, in the life. I wouldn't recognize this person on the street, yet more than once I've lost tears at posts over there. The suffering is so clear and visible. It comes right through the screen and there's no place to go away from it, because I'm sitting here alone in my office and it catches me every time.

How can it be a bad thing, this investment in the lives and fates of others we don't know? Is there anyone out there who thinks these experiences of virtual empathy are anything but a salutary development in an increasingly cold world?

Apparently there is. I suppose it shouldn't surprise me that it's George Will, who made clear his disdain in this embarrasingly self-revelatory statement:
It’s about narcissism.... So much of what is done on the web is people getting on there and writing their diaries as though everyone ought to care about everyone’s inner turmoils. I mean it’s extraordinary.
It's about narcissism all right, but not bloggers'.

Under Will's formulation we must carefully preserve the boundaries between the people who are Allowed to Speak and Be Listened To, and everyone else. It's fear I smell in that statement, fear of the loss of relevance once preserved by restrictions on the flow of information that are no longer in place. That, and a hostility to the anarchic nature of blogging that has the cheek to encourage unauthorized empathy toward those outside our immediate view.

I'll leave Will to his disdain. I have inner turmoils to consider.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

An Truthful house party

Saturday night Mr. T and I had twelve people over to our house to view An Inconvenient Truth. There were almost 2,000 of these house parties all over the country tonight. Our parties on the West Coast began with a conference call with Mr. Gore, and proceeded to a viewing of the film.

I have a post percolating about the dynamics of individual action in the face of seemingly overwhelming obstacles, but that will probably get written in front of the fireplace in Montana over the Christmas holiday. But for now, let me assure you that there are concrete actions you can take, right now, to alleviate this problem.

First, if you haven't already, watch An Inconvenient Truth. Pop over to the video store and grab a copy, come home, put some popcorn on, and kick your feet up. Despite Mr. Gore's (unmerited, in my opinion) reputation for woodenness, this is an interesting film. The directors weave a good bit of biographical detail into the global warming narrative, to good effect.

Second -- and you can do this right now -- go here and sign a postcard that Mr. Gore will personally deliver it to Congress next year. It bears repeating that Congresscritters won't get on this issue until they start hearing from their constituents. Add your name now.

Third, peruse the list of links to the right under the caption "Era of Consequences." There is a wealth of information there. Global Warming: Early Warning Signs has a map plotted with clickable spots all over the globe that represent localized effects of global warming. It's fascinating, but sobering. Slate's Green Challenge is an eight-week plan to reduce your carbon footprint. There's something unique at each site, and I encourage you to visit them all.

Wondering what real, live climate scientists thought of An Inconvenient Truth? Go here for a review by one. From the same site, read this excellent discussion of carbon offset programs.

Finally, let me know if I'm missing any links. I'm still collecting links and information about global warming, and if you have one I'm missing, drop me a line or a comment and let me know.

Is individual action enough? Absolutely not. But it's absolutely necessary to get anything done beyond that. So I cannot stress enough the importance of these small yet concrete steps to get a handle on this issue.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

O Fir tree dark

Back in the early part of November, the family and I were exploring in the Cascades, and we came upon a Christmas tree farm. That happens a lot. Oregon is the largest Christmas tree producing state in the union, along with North Carolina, where I also used to live. But as we approached the neat lines of trees, we saw a helicopter zinging back and forth over the grove. It had a magnet attached, and would pick up a tree, zip back to a large truck, drop it, and repeat the process. Harvest time! It was riveting in its way. I shot a few frames, and the husband, kid and I stood gazing at it for a long while. Mr. T even shot some video, with permission of the folks onsite:

I doubt many people pause to consider Christmas tree production as a form of agriculture. Likely, even fewer consider the environmental impacts of our societal fixation with parking cultivated evergreens in our houses and adorning them with lights and ornaments (which were probably manufactured in China and shipped here on container ships). I'm quite fond of Christmas trees myself. And Americans are not about to give up those trees anytime soon. But what are the impacts, and what are the alternatives?

Christmas tree farming isn’t totally devoid of environmental benefits. Like any other trees, they’re carbon sinks. But – you knew that was coming – an Ohio State University study found that pine plantations are not as effective at retaining carbon as hardwood or natural pine forests. That same study estimated that an area the size of Los Angeles is converted to pine plantations each year. So, replacing hardwoods and natural pine with pine plantations is a net negative, carbonwise.

And that’s not all.

Christmas trees farms also rely significantly on pesticides. (Though it appears there is some debate about how much.) There are, naturally, human and environmental costs to this. Aside from the degree to which properly applied pesticides endanger environmental and public health, which also appears to be a matter of debate*, it’s important to note that not all pesticides are applied properly.

This article observes that many (often Spanish-speaking) farmworkers often receive little training in pesticide use. What’s more, the instructions on the containers are written in English, a language many don't understand. In addition, many of these seasonal farmworkers live very near the fields on which those pesticides have been sprayed, further ratcheting up their exposure.

And yet, while some Christmas tree growers are moving toward pesticide-free practices, they are still few and far between. That the organic Christmas tree market is still so small suggests to me that most folks buy organic to avoid ingesting harmful substances, and that concerns for putting pesticides into the environment and worker pesticide exposure are less a part of the collective consciousness.

You may have a hard time finding an organic tree. Even living in Oregon, I have yet to find an outlet for organic trees. Go here to determine if you can get one in your area.

2007 Update: There are quite a few folks googling their way onto this post. If you find a source for organic trees and/or greenery, would you kindly let us know in a comment on this post? Lots of people are looking, and it would be lovely if they could find something.

*The Agricultural Health Study, a long-term study of farm families and commercial pesticide applicators in Iowa and North Carolina, has found that farmers generally have a lower cancer risk than the general public, but:

“Other findings include the suggestion of an association between exposure to specific pesticides and higher risk of specific cancers. The suggested associations include: prostate cancer and methyl bromide, immune/blood cancers and alachlor, lung cancer and chlorpyrifos, and some evidence of increased breast cancer associated with exposure to several pesticides."

Monday, December 11, 2006

Link herding

The Moon of Popping Trees: If you aren't deeply moved by this post by Tim Giago at Huffpo, then I'm afraid nothing can be done for you.

Damn, cephalopods are cool.

This sounds like something Dick Cheney would come up with to mitigate global warming. Wait -- that was gratuitous and it minimizes the grave subject of that article. But seriously, doesn't it?

"If the animal is reacting, you're too close." Good rule. But still, I envy this experience.

Montana wilderness bill likely still a long shot, even with Jon Tester's election. Tester's position right now appears to be to sit back and listen to the local conversations. This seems like a sound approach, at least for now. My house is on the edge of the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness Area. Even given the many competing interests, it's hard to disagree with this statement from the director of the Northern Rockies office of the Wilderness Society:

"As our valleys in Montana fill up, this wild country we have will become even more valuable to people," Ekey said. "I just want my kids and grandkids to be able to have the same experiences that we've been able to enjoy.

"If we do nothing, it's not going to stay the same — it's going to change."

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Seasonal affective disorder

This is perhaps the worst time of year for me to be writing a blog designed to feed my preoccupation with nature.

Any proper nature lover knows the world is just as alive in the winter as the other three seasons, and that you're a mere dilettante if you only love the outdoors when it's pleasant outside. But it's hard. My favorite peaks and trails are under ice or drifts of impassable snow at this time of year. The valley is like a wet rag, and the world often looks like nothing so much as an underexposed photograph.

It's hard to live in the Willamette Valley this time of year. Snow, already! Snow, so at least I can whish through powder under dark green evergreen boughs during the appallingly short daylight hours. Please, snow?

No. Well, at least I can drive an hour east to Mt. Hood if I want to do that.

But it's really the grave shortage of sunlight that wears and dulls my mind and spirit, sapping my energy and my will to seek a happy place outdoors. It will be much easier at the Ranch for Christmas, when all I have to do is walk out the front door. There's a path branching off from the road I've been meaning to explore. I'm told it winds all the way around the mountain. I'll ski it and see where it goes.

Then I'm getting the hell out of here and going to Florida in January.

I need a serotonin infusion. Plus, I need to do some bird photography in the Everglades.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Tragedy in southern Oregon

Last night, I opened the door and stepped out onto the deck. I wore a fleece, but no coat. I had socks on, but no shoes.

It was cold. The air was stiff, and a bit moist. And the cold was unmistakable. It enveloped me immediately, snaking up my fleece and stinging the bare skin on my back, biting the tips of my ears. It instantly soaked into my wool socks, stripping the warmth from my feet. I stayed only a few seconds before returning to the warmth of my bedroom.

But before I did, I breathed deeply and thought about James Kim, who didn’t have the option of returning to a warm space. Motivated to save his family, he pushed into the Siskiyou National Forest after nine days in his snowbound station wagon. I can readily understand why he did it. I think almost anything would be easier than watching your family die, even plunging into the frigid Oregon wilderness in shirtsleeves to seek help.

I can only wonder what Kati Kim was feeling. There could have been no question which one of them would go. She was the source of the nutrients keeping their girls alive. She was left with a task that was, in its own way, as monumental as the one her husband faced: to wait, caring for two children, and reassuring the one who was old enough to know something was very wrong. She had to grapple with what must have been monstrous fears, without the comfort of a sense of acting concretely to alleviate them.

In the end, James Kim made eight miles in the freezing air on nearly impossible terrain, having had little to eat for nine days. I’ve hiked – mostly on trails – in Southern Oregon. Well-fed, with the proper gear, and walking on a clear footpath, traversing this terrain under your own power is a strenuous task. Under the conditions James Kim faced, it’s an epic.

Sometimes the world is too hard.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Link Herd

Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) write a letter to Exxon Mobil blasting its financing of pseudo-scientific global warming skeptics. This confirms Olympia Snowe as my favorite Republican. That, and she has a picture of a moose on her website.

Brazil creates the largest tropical rainforest reserve in the world on 58,000 acres in the Amazon. The preserve encompasses seven parks and is larger than England.

Billionaire Richard Branson has a nifty idea to reduce jet fuel emissions in Chicago.

The city of Portland, Oregon today unveiled the first stage of a free wireless network aiming to make web access available citywide in the next 18 months.

Aircraft makes emergency landing after woman lights match to cover up the smell of her farts. Seriously.

Friday, December 01, 2006


Put your feet up, pour a cup of something tasty and head to Arboreality for the sixth Festival of the Trees. There's so much good stuff there it'll take me the weekend to get through.

(Oh, and be sure to peruse Arboreality beyond just the Festival. There's always something interesting popping up over there.)