The Coming Green Wave ~ The New York Times

This silent majority will no longer stand by as the Trump administration tries to destroy a century of bipartisan love of the land.

 

One of the national monuments being shrunk by the Trump administration is Bears Ears in UtahCredit Bob Strong/Reuters

If emotions were water, and you took all the heartbreak felt by the millions who followed the plight of a starving orca whale grieving over her dead calf, you’d have a river the size of the mighty Columbia.

If anger were a volcano, and you let loose all the rage felt by people over the daily assaults on public land by the Trump administration, you’d have an eruption with the fury of Mount St. Helens.

And if just one unorganized voting segment, the 60 million bird-watchers of America, sent a unified political message this fall, you’d have a political block with more than 10 times the membership of the National Rifle Association.

A bird-watching group in ColoradoCredit RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post, via Getty Images

A Green Wave is coming this November, the pent-up force of the most overlooked constituency in America. These independents, Teddy Roosevelt Republicans and Democrats on the sideline have been largely silent as the Trump administration has tried to destroy a century of bipartisan love of the land.

But no more. Politics, like Newton’s third law of physics, is about action and reaction. While President Trump tries to prop up the dying and dirty coal industry with taxpayer subsidies, the outdoor recreation industry has been roaring along. It is a $374-billion-a-year economy, by the government’s own calculation, and more than twice that size by private estimates.

That’s more than mining, oil, gas and logging combined. And yet, the centerpiece of a clean and growing industry is under attack by a president with a robber baron view of the natural world.

I write from the smoke-choked West, where the air quality in major cities has been worse than Beijing this month. While Trump spends his days comparing women to dogs, and tweets nonsense about rivers flowing to the sea, the biggest wildfire in California history blazes away.

After the four warmest years ever recorded, scientists have now warned that the next five will be “anomalously warm.” But Trump doesn’t even understand time zones, let alone atmospheric upheaval.

In the face of these life-altering changes, Trump is drafting rules to make it easier for major polluters to drive up the earth’s temperature. While the orcas of Puget Sound are starving, Trump is trying to weaken the law that protects endangered species. And while lovers of the outdoors break visitation records at national parks and forests, Trump is removing land from protection.

This is not green goo-goo or fantasy projection. You can see and feel the energy in places ignored by the national political press.

“If D.C. comes for our public land, water or monuments again, they’ll have to come through me,” says Xochitl Torres Small, a Democrat with an even chance of taking a longtime Republican seat in New Mexico, in an ad showing off her political chops.

The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah is set to shrink under the Trump administration. Credit Bob Strong/Reuters

The revolt started after Trump shrunk several national monuments in the West last year — the largest rollback of public land protection in our history. The outdoor retailer Patagonia responded with a blank screen on its web page with the statement, “The President Stole Your Land.” It was the first shot in a battle that has been raging all summer.

At the big, boisterous outdoor industry’s national trade show in Denver last month, retailers who sell to the 144 million Americans who participated in an outdoor activity last year, or the 344 million overall visitors to national parks, vowed to flex some muscle in the coming midterm elections.

They scoffed at the absurdity of propping up coal when there are more yoga instructors in the United States than people who work to produce a filthy fuel source. They were appalled that the increasingly strange interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, blamed everything but climate change for a summer of epic wildfires. And they promised to be heard this fall.

Our Hubris Will Be Our End

Then we’ll adapt and start telling ourselves new stories, just as humans have always done.

By Roy ScrantonRoy

Scranton is the author of “We’re Doomed. Now What? Essays on War and Climate Change.

The Eastern Shore of Maryland on the Delmarva PeninsulaCredit Lexey Swall for The New York Times

You can walk to the beach from where we are staying. It’s a long peel of dun-colored sand bordered by tidy rainbow summer houses, monotonous black and white condos and monstrous blue McMansions that blister the length of the Delmarva Peninsula. On the other side of the sand lies the heaving, implacable mass of unfathomable gray-green water that covers nearly three-quarters of the globe, once a boundary between the known and unknown, a limit-space of mystery and terror, now tamed, or so we think, to a vacation fun zone. There are lifeguards, though, lean summer kids with lazy tans, and to the north, rising from the low trees, towers built to defend the American coastline from Nazi subs.

Ten minutes away, the highway connects you to an outlet mall, a Walmart and a cinema showing the latest superhero movie. We walk back and forth from the beach to the house, brave the cold Atlantic rush and the biting flies, make dinner, put the baby to bed, play a board game and sink at last into our screens, each of us burrowed into a different dark corner of the living room. Tablet light, phone light, laptop light flicker on our slack, rapt gazes.

Five hundred years ago, the people who lived here did not believe in progress. They did not believe in individual liberty, the autonomous self, the freedom of markets, human rights, the state or the concept of nature as something distinct from culture. They lived for generations without electricity, refrigeration, automobiles, Wi-Fi, on-demand streaming, police, homogenized milk, antibiotics or even The New York Times, and they were almost entirely wiped out in the centuries-long campaign of displacement and genocide that forms the through-line of North American history from 1492 to the end of the Apache Wars in the 1920s.

 

Indeed, some historians and anthropologists — such as James C. Scott, in his book “Against the Grain” — argue that life before modernity was better than our own, with more leisure time, fewer diseases and afflictions, and a more robust phenomenological and spiritual engagement with the world around us. True or not, the argument feels right, especially any time I find myself sitting by a campfire after hiking through the woods all day, or hanging out at the beach watching the waves crash.

Then I go back to my habits: the computer at which I write; the gas range, with its reliable, smokeless flame on which I heat my coffee; the flush toilet — indoors! — that carries away all bodily waste; the electric lamp I turn on to read by; the heating and air-conditioning that regulate our house’s microclimate. And I cannot help but feel an abiding sense of relief. I am adapted, whether I like it or not, to a certain built environment, a certain sense of space, a certain social order.

We humans of the Anthropocene Era, inhabitants of a global capitalist civilization built on fossil fuels, slavery and genocide, are used to living with the fruits of that civilization. We are accustomed to walking on concrete in mass produced shoes. When it rains we go inside or open an umbrella made of nylon, a synthetic polymer first designed in 1930. When we have to travel, we take a train, bus, car or plane, journeying hundreds of miles in a few hours, at speeds that would have been unimaginable 250 years ago. When it gets hot, we turn on the air-conditioning or go to the beach.

The extended coastal urban areas where about 40 percent of all humans now live, so blessedly near the sea, including this very beach town from which I write, would have been incomprehensibly strange, even grotesque, to the people who used to live here. Yet we are no different from them in any essential way, only accustomed to a different way of life, a different built environment, a different set of narratives and concepts that shape our sense of reality.

The thing we humans of the Anthropocene share with the Nanticoke and the Unami-speaking Lenape who used to live on the Delmarva Peninsula, and with the !Kung of the Kalahari, the Yukaghir of Siberia, the medieval Persians, the ancient Mayans, the blue-painted Picts, the Neolithic proto-Chinese Peiligang peoples and the Paleolithic nomads of the Pleistocene Era is precisely our ability to adapt to changing conditions, primarily through the collective use of symbolic reasoning and narrative. Homo sapiens can live almost anywhere on Earth, under almost any conditions; all we need is a story telling us why our lives matter.

In the transition from the Mesozoic to the Cenozoic eras, around 65 million years ago, when the North American continent began to take shape, much of what we call the Eastern Seaboard was under water. No human beings existed then; it would be millions of years before any hominids evolved.

Today, Delmarva’s highest point is barely above sea level, a low hill on the peninsula’s west coast where you can sit and watch Chesapeake Bay slowly rise as Antarctica and Greenland melt, as the planet warms one-tenth degree by one-tenth degree, and the world to which we have adapted changes into something else. The beach will disappear, the McMansions will fill with water, the lifeguards will age and die and even the towers built to watch for Nazis will crumble and fall.

In some unknown future, on some strange and novel shore, human beings just like us will adapt to a whole new world. You can see them sitting circled around a fire on the beach, the light flickering on their rapt faces, one telling a story about a mighty civilization doomed by its hubris, an age of wonders long past.

Red hot planet: This summer’s punishing and historic heat in 7 maps and charts


Temperature difference from normal May through July. ( Robert Rhode/Berkeley Earth )

The headlines of record-crushing heat in the Northern Hemisphere began in June and haven’t stopped midway through August. Scores of locations on every continent north of the equator have witnessed their hottest weather in recorded history.

The sweltering temperatures have intensified raging wildfires in western North America, Scandinavia and Siberia, while leading to scores of heat-related deaths in Japan and eastern Canada.

Even with peak of summer having passed, several locations in western North America notched their highest temperatures on record last week. They included Calgary in western Canada, and Glacier National Park in Montana, where the temperature touched the century mark for the first time in 70 years of records.

A weather station in Idaho soared to a torrid 119 degrees (48.3 Celsius) last week. While it requires verification, it would mark the state’s highest temperature ever measured.

Maps and charts really help tell the story of the incredible heat this summer and place it in historical perspective. Here are 7 of the most compelling:

1. Record heat, day by day, May through July


(Robert Rhode/Berkeley Earth)

The remarkable coverage of both record-challenging and record-breaking heat is shown in this animated map which shows how many locations around the planet were coping with exceptionally hot weather every single day.

Few areas were left untouched by the heat which spread around the planet. Some areas, like the western United States, Japan and Scandinavia, were hit repeatedly.

2. The hottest May through July on record in the U.S. Lower 48 states


(NOAA)

The contiguous United States witnessed its hottest May on record, passing the previous mark set during the Dust Bowl. But it was July, which ranked 10th hottest, which delivered some of the most remarkable heat extremes.

California endured its hottest July on record. The scorching weather created idea wildfire conditions, and blazes have since consumed about 750,000 acres. Death Valley’s average July temperature of 108.1 degrees (42.3 Celsius) represented the hottest monthly reading ever measured on the planet.

In early July, the weather station at the University of California at Los Angeles, which has kept measurements since 1933, posted an all-time high of 111 degrees (43.9 degrees).

San Diego has seen astonishing warmth, including a record 16-day streak with highs of at least 83 degrees (28.3 Celsius) that just ended and an ongoing 21-day streak in which its low temperature hasn’t fallen below 70 (21.1 Celsius).

The historic warmth has transformed the normally cool ocean temperatures off the San Diego coast to ostensibly bath water in early August. The water temperature at Scripps Pier broke its previous record high mark set in July 1931 four times, most recently climbing to 79.5 degrees (26.4 Celsius) on August 9.

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Ryan Zinke blames ‘environmental terrorist groups’ for severity of California wildfires ~ The Washington Post

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August 15 at 6:31 PM

Wildfires strike California every year. But they’re getting worse, causing deaths and uprooting communities. But who is to blame for these increasingly destructive wildfires?

According to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, it’s “environmental terrorist groups.”

During a radio interview with Breitbart News, Zinke said that “environmental terrorist groups” are preventing the government from managing forests and are largely responsible for the severity of the fires. But fire scientists and forestry experts have said climate change is the main factor behind the problem.

Zinke said during the interview that an overabundance of fuel load — things such as twigs and leaves that make it possible for fires to burn — make fires more intense.

“There have been a number of instances where environmental groups have submitted petitions to the Bureau of Land Management, halting companies from removing dead and dying timber until the BLM can sort through each petition point,” Department of the Interior spokesman Faith C. Vander Voort said in an email. “These actions halt proper forest management and leave the West vulnerable to incredible devastation.”

But Monica Turner, an ecologist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, said this argument doesn’t address the bigger problem.

“Making minor changes in the fuels [which] you then have to do repeatedly for many years is not going to solve the bigger problem of having to face climate change,” she told The Washington Post. “We cannot clear or thin our way out of this problem.”

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On the Front Lines of America’s War on Fire ~ Men’s Journal

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On a cool morning last November, Tirso Rojas, a lifelong firefighter turned disaster-cleanup specialist, parked his Chevy Silverado pickup among a cluster of burned houses in the charred foothills surrounding Santa Rosa, California. A man in a hard hat and a Day-Glo vest sat smoking a cigarette on a stump by the skeleton of a garage with a burned Nissan truck inside. Meanwhile, five other workers cut a log with chainsaws and loaded it into a chipper.

“Saw some turkeys in that tree this morning,” the guy smoking the cigarette said to Rojas, who nodded a hello.

A few of these men had come directly from Houston, where they’d spent months cleaning up after Hurricane Irma. Rojas, in charge of the crew, grabbed a length of power line lying on the ground and cast a stank-eyed glance at the men as he coiled it—they should have done this.

“What’s your plan? Qual es tu plan?” he asked them, nodding to five trees near the foundation of a house. The trees, all black and needle-less, leaned over a power line. The men sat silent.

“This one first,” Rojas said, tapping one tree. He then considered the others for a moment. “Then here, here, and here.”

Rojas, 40, has the stout build of a lumberjack, which he happens to be. That day, he wore well-seasoned Prison Blues work pants and an air of anxiety. Last year’s fires marked the biggest disaster in the Golden State since the Loma Prieta earthquake rattled the Bay Area in 1989, and the cleanup wasn’t progressing as quickly as Rojas preferred. For miles in all directions lay the ruins of some 5,500 homes that the Tubbs Fire—the most destructive in state history—had cremated in October. In order to get Northern California’s economy and its communities back on track, those buildings, plus the 30,000 burned trees that threatened to knock out power lines around them, needed to be cut and cleared as quickly as possible.

“I’m 100 percent OK with you doing this—100 percent,” he told the other sawyers, who watched him intently. “Just make sure I’m here to watch. That wire is live.”

Firefighter and disaster-cleanup specialist Tirso Rojas in 2012 during a fire in Northern California
Firefighter and disaster-cleanup specialist Tirso Rojas in 2012 during a fire in Northern California.  Kyle Dickman

That morning, I’d met Rojas before sunrise in an empty field, lit by rented floodlights and surrounded by barns. This was the biggest of four cleanup base camps that Pacific Gas and Electric, one of the nation’s largest utility companies, had established in the Santa Rosa area. Between PG&E’s camps were 4,300 workers, all brought in to fell trees and repair the electrical grid. Spread out in other nearby camps were tens of thousands more workers who had come to remove debris, inspect homesites for volatile household poisons, and repair roads, sewer pipes, stoplights, and DSL wires. In other words, to fix a broken city.

 

When the briefing started at 6 a.m, Rojas joined a semicircle of 30 men and a few women forming around the superintendent, a former smoke jumper and a longtime friend named Brad Moschetti. Disaster relief is a contract industry, and the contracts are stacked atop one another in M.C. Escheresque layers. In this case, Moschetti, Rojas, and all these other workers were local subcontractors employed by a regional subcontractor employed by a prime contractor from Tennessee that had cut its teeth cleaning up after hurricanes in the Southeast—the other type of disaster of this scale.

The workers were dressed in Carhartts streaked with oil and hunched over steaming coffees. On the crew, only Rojas and Moschetti had been career firefighters, men who intimately knew California’s woods and the disasters associated with them. The overwhelming majority were blue-collar men in their 30s and 40s. Some were locals the state insisted be hired to pump some income back into the depressed community while others were out-of-towners from Florida, Texas, and Mexico who made their living chasing catastrophes. Most of the guys here made $20 an hour plus overtime and worked 10 hours a day, six days a week, until the job was done. That would take four months.

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The Perseid meteor shower has many colors of shooting stars.

August 10


The 2007 Perseid meteor shower, one of the more intense Perseid events in recent memory. (NASA)

No matter how many shooting stars you’ve seen, every one remains magical. A quick streak of brilliant light racing across the sky, a lingering shimmer trailing behind, and a silent wish for a hidden hope or aspiration. These experiences are what makes the annual Perseid meteor shower so special.

But have you ever wondered what a meteor is, or where their colors come from? The science behind it is mind-boggling. It is based on two primary details about the meteor, with elemental makeup often being key.

While it may seem like shooting stars are enormous, they’re actually quite small — many are only about as large as a grain of rice. Meteors come from a spattering of debris left in the wake of comets. For the Perseids, the instigating comet is Swift-Tuttle, which last passed Earth in 1992.

These itty-bitty interstellar chunks burn up in Earth’s outer atmosphere. That happens when our planet plows through the comet’s trail of remnant space rocks during the annual revolution around the sun. In space, there’s nothing to slow down these celestial pebbles. But when they encounter air drag at the edge of the mesosphere — 50 miles up — that friction generates heat that lights the space fragment ablaze.

The color of a meteor is dependent on two main factors: its elemental composition and its speed.

The flame’s hue depends on the metals within the meteor. While the Perseids are known for being neon green, purple, pink, orange and white, the December Geminids are tones of azure, turquoise and emerald.

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Author Jonathan Thompson at Sherbino Monday, August 13th

Jonathan Thompson
River of Lost Souls

Monday, August 13th – Sherbino Theater, Ridgway
Doors at 7:00 pm, presentation at 7:30pm. $5 entry at door.

Join the Mountain Independent and the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership for an evening with JONATHAN THOMPSON on his Ouray County stop for his book tour to present RIVER OF LOST SOULS.

Part elegy, part ode, part investigative science journalism, RIVER OF LOST SOULS tells the gripping story behind the 2015 Gold King Mine disaster that turned the Animas River in southwestern Colorado orange with sludge and toxic metals for over 100 miles downstream, wreaking havoc on cities, farms, and the Navajo Nation along the way.

Jonathan P. Thompson is an award-winning freelance author, journalist and editor. He usually writes about the land, culture and communities of the American West, with an emphasis on energy development, pollution, land-use politics and economics. But he’s fascinated by the complexity of the world around him, and is happy to delve into almost any topic. He is the author of River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics, and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster (Torrey House Press, February 2018) and is a contributing editor at High Country News.

Learn More

 

 

 

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“Thompson, a southwestern Colorado native, knowledgeably and sensitively addresses ethical questions at the heart of his inquiry, including what it would mean to restore the water system to its precolonial state. He effortlessly explains the technical elements of this story, such as the complex chemistry of the environmental effects of mining. This is a vivid historical account of the Animas region, and Thompson shines in giving a sense of what it means to love a place that’s been designated a ‘sacrifice zone.'” —PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
“An elegy of sorts for a beloved natural area with a long history of human exploitation.” —FOREWORD REVIEWS
“The reader will revel in the beauty of the Colorado landscape while recoiling from descriptions of cruelty towards the Native Americans and the horrors of acid mine drainage.” — BOOKLIST
“Thompson’s writing meanders through Western history, family stories, and pollution–causing activities to create a vivid and, at times, horrifying time line that shows the aftereffects of human exploitation of nature… Aficionados of Western history, environmentalists, and even general readers will enjoy this cautionary tale that takes an intimate look at the side effects of human industry.” — LIBRARY JOURNAL
“Thompson’s investigative chops are impressive. But the book is most evocative when the author negotiates the strange eddies of his personal connections to this landscape.” —SIERRA MAGAZINE
“Thompson’s debut work tells the tale of the Four Corners, its history, its people and their interaction with the land—all from the perspective of a fourth–generation Durango resident.” —THE DURANGO HERALD
“Thompson weaves his skills of investigative journalism and factual verification with the empowering tools and devices of a novelist to bring the reader directly into his new book.” —THE UTAH REVIEW
“An important book of investigative journalism, especially relevant for those living in the Mountain West.” —ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL
“By turns mournful, optimistic, angry and hilarious, Thompson offers fresh takes on everything from a mountain town’s bare knuckle politics to a young man’s loss of innocence to what it truly means to be a Westerner. Deeply researched, thoroughly unsentimental, this is a moving and rip–roaringly told tale.” —STEVE FRIEDMAN, author of Lost on Treasure Island and Driving Lessons
“A rich historical and personal account of the San Juan Basin, a region blessed and cursed by its geology. From the hard rock mining era of the late 1800s to the recent natural gas drilling boom, some things never change: the extractive industries fight common sense rules to their own—and the public’s—detriment. This book is a must read for every person who loves the West and needs to understand how we got to where we are today.” —GWEN LACHELT, La Plata County Commissioner and founder of the Western Leaders Network ​
“Equal parts The Quiet Crisis and Silent Spring, and 100% scary, timely, and so very important. Every citizen in every western mining community MUST read this book, as should every politician at every level of government.” —ANDY NETTELL, Back of Beyond Books ​
” Thompson, a fifth generation Animas Valley local, and a master craftsman of the written word, makes this book a privilege to read.” —PETER SCHERTZ, Maria’s Bookshop ​

Award–winning investigative environmental journalist Jonathan P. Thompson digs into the science, politics, and greed behind the 2015 Gold King Mine disaster, and unearths a litany of impacts wrought by a century and a half of mining, energy development, and fracking in southwestern Colorado. Amid these harsh realities, Thompson explores how a new generation is setting out to make amends.

As shocking and heartbreaking as the Gold King spill and its aftermath may be, it’s merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The disaster itself was the climax of the long and troubled story of the Gold King mine, staked by a Swedish immigrant back in 1887. And it was only the most visible manifestation of a slow–moving, multi–faceted environmental catastrophe that had been unfolding here long before the events of August 5, 2015.

Jonathan Thompson is a native Westerner with deep roots in southwestern Colorado. He has been an environmental journalist focusing on the American West since he signed on as reporter and photographer at the Silverton Standard & the Miner newspaper in 1996. He has worked and written for High Country News for over a decade, serving as editor-in-chief from 2007 to 2010. He was a Ted Scripps fellow in environmental journalism at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and in 2016 he was awarded the Society of Environmental Journalists’ Outstanding Beat Reporting, Small Market. He currently lives in Bulgaria with his wife Wendy and daughters Lydia and Elena.