The Blob

September 29, 2019

BW photograph of dappled sunlight on a brick wall.

Copyright 2019 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

No, this does not refer to the classic 1950s sci-fi movie nor the more recent John Carpenter re-make. Instead, this is a reference to a mass of hot water that has again formed in the Pacific Ocean.  As per that linked report, should the prevailing weather conditions continue, this much warmer water has the potential for impacts up-and-down the aquatic food chain as various species are unable to survive the temperature increase.  There is also a risk for the return of toxic algae blooms.  Both of these create issues for the fishing industry.

BW photograph of dead autumn leaves laying atop a rock.

Copyright 2019 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

NPR also did this story regarding the recent U.N. report, which contains information about these hotter pockets of water as well as a broader range of water-related problems, which include the melting of glaciers and ice sheets-here is the U.N. report.  This report details the degree of dependence and risk faced by the populations living in various geographic locations around the world as the planet warms.  To underline this point, please give this report about the Mont Blanc glacier.

It is so easy to get lost in the latest news of the day, especially given the political systems in place worldwide, and the subsequent issues they create.  This roller-coaster ride can be quite fatiguing when followed closely.  Meanwhile, the inexorable degradation of the planet continues.  As the Amazon rain forest burns, more CO2 is released, and those trees are no longer available for CO2 absorption.  As permafrost melts, greenhouse gases are released.   As environmental protections are eliminated, more damage is done.  The seas are rising.  They are also getting hotter.

It is evermore important for individuals to make concerted efforts to reduce carbon footprints.  At the same time, it is evermore necessary for pressures to be brought to bear on politicians for the larger systemic changes.

All of this flies in the face of nationalism.  In a speech to the U.N., President Trump openly advocated a rejection of globalism.  He has pulled the U.S. from the Paris Accords (not to mention other global agreements). Climate change is the prototypical problem requiring global cooperation and action as rising seas do not respect borders.  Droughts do not respect borders.  Larger and more powerful hurricanes and typhoons do not respect borders.

If you have not already heard Greta Thunberg’s speech to the U.N., it is worth a listen.

Take care.

Diet

September 21, 2019

BW photograph of a food stand at a fair as seen through a chain link fence.

Copyright 2019 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

If you have been following the Democratic presidential candidate debates, then you know that health care is one of the major issues being addressed by those running.  Some want the Affordable Care Act (or ACA-often referred to as “Obamacare”) to be tweaked, others want what is referred to as “Medicare for All”.  There are some positions that are a hybrid of those two.  Republicans, for the most part, have been trying to eliminate the ACA since its inception, even though it was modeled on a plan implemented by Mitt Romney.

Yes, the administration and delivery of health care can do with a re-make.  There are plenty of issues with affordability, accessibility, and accountability-the very issues for which the ACA was devised.  I, for one, am pretty satisfied with the plan provided by my employer-it is purchased with payroll deductions and various co-pays.  When I have needed care, it has been provided.  When I have needed to contact them, I have found customer service to be responsive and thorough.

This coin, however, must be flipped over.  By that I mean, one must also look to the precursors of poor health and thus the need for healthcare coverage-one of which is the preponderance of unhealthy diets in the U.S.  (Stress would be another.  One overlap being that when one is stressed, “stress eating” can be one coping mechanism.  Such eating provides short-term relief in exchange for what may well be long-term health consequences.)  When considering high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, and obesity, just to name many of the more significant and common health problems, diet often plays a part in their creation, progression, and treatment.  Some of the presidential candidates have discussed this side of the problem.

The connection between diet and health can readily be seen when examining the proliferation of food deserts-PBS presented this report, which draws attention to the impact on health that occurs in the absence of a nutritious diet. While the report is a bit dated, the fundamental point is not.  Food insecurity is yet another side of the issue.  Senator Warren, true to form, has proposed a plan to address this…for college students.  At the other end of the political spectrum, the current administration has proposed cutting SNAP benefits.

As an important aside, it is worth looking at the income amount that factors into the eligibility for public assistance-please take a look at this link.  These are the numbers that would allow for one person, or a family constellation, to be considered living in poverty and thus eligible for SNAP and other federal programs.  For example, if you were a single person earning $15,000 per year, you would be ineligible for such assistance.  You would be making too much money.  Given the cost of housing, energy, and transportation, such a figure allows little room for food, let alone a healthy diet-hence the issue of food insecurity.  When you factor in the socioeconomic determinants that create food deserts, then eating well becomes quite impossible.  Diets full of Salt Sugar Fat, ingredients in heavily processed foods and the title of Michael Moss’ 2013 book on the subject, take consumers down the path of what can be catastrophic health consequences.

Of course, one does not need to be living in a food desert or concerned with food insecurity to eat in an unhealthy manner.  All that is required to truly understand that is to take a walk through a Giant or Mars or Safeway or other local grocery store.  Spend time going up and down the inner aisles, that is, those furthest from the produce sections, and randomly pull canned and boxed and bagged items from the shelves and read the ingredients.  Check the refrigerated/freezer sections and notice the amount of sodium and other chemicals in processed meats.  Pull a few cups of yogurt and check the amount of added sugar.  Be sure to also check the “serving size”.  For example, bottled juices often contain up to two servings-therefore, if the entire bottle is consumed, the contents and calories must be multiplied by the servings per container.  Interestingly, many bagged products, potato chips for example, are labeled with the total calories if the entire bag is eaten.  This is important information.

Healthcare delivery in the U.S. must be discussed as there are many, many issues with the current system.  However, placing an emphasis on preventative care, diet, in this case, would seem to be at least as important.

Take care.

Dorian

September 2, 2019

BW photograph of water rushing between rocks.

Copyright 2019 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Hurricane Dorian blasted parts of the Bahamas yesterday-please pay close attention to the wind speeds generated by the storm as reported here.

BW photograph of debris collected against a tree after a flood.

Copyright 2019 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

At the time, Dorian was classified as a Category 5 hurricane, which is currently the highest level of the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.  As with many of the hurricanes of the 2018 season, the amount of rainfall being generated-as much as 30 inches in some areas in the Bahamas-is also a major concern.

BW photograph of a branch caught in overhead powerlines.

Copyright 2019 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Last year, the idea of creating a new level, Category 6, was discussed due to the increased intensity of the hurricanes in this era of climate change and the warming of the oceans. That designation has not as yet been made official.

BW photograph of a branch caught in overhead powerlines-closer view.

Copyright 2019 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Dorian’s impact of the U.S. remains to be seen and experienced, although it appears that she may scour the coast from Florida to the Carolinas in the coming days.  Evacuations have already been ordered, and it appears prudent to take heed of them as applicable.

Given that Dorian has had wind gusts of up to 220 mph and rainfall totals that could reach 30 inches, storms such as this will have far reaching consequences.  Building codes will need to be updated, insurance rates will most likely increase, some geographic locations will no longer be sustainable for human habitation.

Ironically, this storm arrives at a time when the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has proposed rollbacks to the regulations of methane emissions.  Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than is CO2-this is one of the main issues here.  As such, it also another example of the short-term economic thinking in support of the fossil fuel industry, which is the modus operandi of the current administration.  That these rollbacks are being proposed by the same agency that brought us the Clean Air Act demonstrates just how far afield that agency has gone under this administration.  Please be sure to read through the info from that link as it details the manner by which “global warming emissions” have been determined to be included in this legislation.  That not all of the multi-national energy companies support this rollback is at least, at least, some good news in this story.

However, tell that to those in the Bahamas or the areas that will be hit in the coming week.

Should one be in the path of this, or any major weather event, the government does have a web site for what to include in a go-bag, which is a key part of emergency preparation.

Take care.

PHOTOGRAPHER’S NOTE:  The photos included in this post have no relation to Hurricane Dorian-the first is one of the normal level of water flow at Morgan Run.  The second is a debris pile from an earlier flood at Morgan Run.  The last two are the result of trees that were cleared for a new building project.  They all, though, do serve as metaphors of what powerful storms can leave behind.

Water

August 8, 2019

BW photograph of trees reflected in a puddle after a thunderstorm.

Copyright 2019 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

And lack thereof.  The content herein would be well-taken in combination with that of the recent post “Hot”.

NPR’s 1A aired a discussion this morning concerning “water stress” and the risk of reaching “Day 0”.  Please listen to the broadcast for the definition of those terms and the conditions creating them.  The World Resources Institute recently published this report, which forms the basis for that discussion.  The full WRI report is also worth a read.  That millions will be displaced due to sea level rise subsequent to melting arctic ice as a result of climate change is a cruel irony.  The same can be said for the cycle of drought/flooding experienced in many parts of the world.

Interestingly, and importantly, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released a  report regarding the impact of agriculture on climate change.  This report also addresses water management as does that from the WRI.  The IPCC report, though, underlines the point that current agricultural practices create an extraordinary amount of methane, a greenhouse gas that is much better at trapping heat than CO2 and is thus a significant contributor to climate change.  As such, a reduction in meat and dairy consumption as well as a re-allocation of agricultural land would be necessary in order to intervene in the escalating environmental damage wrought by a lifestyle dominated by such dietary habits.

WBUR’s Here and Now addressed the IPCC report by focusing on the degradation of the Amazon rainforest.

The BBC’s Newshour also covered the IPCC report this morning (8/8/19).  As part of the coverage, several person-in-the-street interview clips were broadcast at the beginning of that segment.  Perhaps not surprisingly, some were not interested in diet modification and others needed more evidence of the environmental damage before considering a change.  It was not clear as to what more info would be needed to recognize the need for intervention.  Would those individuals read the IPCC report?  Would they listen to the rest of the BBC segment for the details about land degradation and climate change? A few did say they would alter their eating habits.  While these responses were expected, they are not in the aggregate encouraging.

Part of the problem here is the “all or none” manner by which the environmental impact of diet is presented and/or perceived-either one must give up all meat and all dairy or do nothing different.  Indeed, one of the best ways to create resistance is to tell people that they have to give up “all” of something.  (As an aside, this is one of the prime tactics used by the NRA and others to promote the fear of gun control.)  Heels dig in and the planet continues to cook (if you pardon the pun here).  There is middle ground.  This article details the potential benefits if one were to forego the eating of beef for just one meal a week.  Of course, the further one moves away from a meat/dairy heavy diet, the better for the environment.  This is not new information.

It goes without saying that water and land are intricately intertwined.  It also goes without saying that humans continue to adversely impact that relationship in ways that further jeopardize the flora and fauna that populate the planet.  The recent WRI and IPCC reports make that abundantly clear.

The information is available.  The science is there.

Take care.

 

 

 

Stormy Weather

May 28, 2019

BW photograph of a hat outside of a destroyed house in New Orleans post Katrina.

Copyright 2008 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

With all due respect to the song by the same title, this post is about weather.  The lyrics of the song, though, are entirely appropriate as they reflect the bone-weariness of loss.  Rain is often a metaphor for feelings of sadness, depression, and grief-climate change induced weather patterns featuring inundations of water and scouring winds leave such emotions in their wake.

We are on the cusp of the 2019 hurricane season, which begins June 1, and the National Hurricane Center has posted its prediction.  Come December 2019, we will be able to assess its accuracy.  In between now and then, many will have to deal with the reality, not the prediction.

Meanwhile, with the official start of the hurricane season just a bit ahead of us, the Midwest has already been hammered by significantly violent tornadoes .  A couple of days ago, El Reno, OK was hit again.  Significantly, that area is also dealing with flooding from excessive rainfall that has caused waterways to exceed their banks. (As I am writing this, a weather update on the radio just advised that the Washington D.C. area could have thunderstorms accompanied by wind gusts of “up to 22 mph” this afternoon.  That hardly seems worth mentioning in this context.)

Given that climate change is one of the central themes of this blog, my teaching, and certainly my personal reading, I thought I had a pretty good handle on the severity and scope of the problem.  After having read David Wallace-Wells’ The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, I realized that I did not.  Truthfully, that statement may not be entirely accurate, but the reports and statistics presented in the pages that follow certainly support the book’s opening sentence:  “It is worse, much worse, than you think” (pg. 3).  Indeed.  As the Guardian review linked above reports, and the book itself clearly documents, it is the speed by which the environment has been altered that is most shocking.  And it is not nearly finished as CO2 and methane emissions continue to rise, not fall.

If there is an upside to this, it is that, as Wallace-Wells describes, the human race has the ability to make in-roads so as to minimize the more extreme of the outcomes of our behaviour.  Having said that, he also very clearly states that millions around the world, including in the U.S., are already dealing with the catastrophes that accompany the rise in the planet’s temperature.  Those in the Midwest mentioned above, for example, have had yet another look into the maw.

Take care.

Photographer’s Note:  The above photograph was made outside of a destroyed house in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans.

Protection

May 16, 2019

BW photograph of a plane flying into a cloud bank.

Copyright 2019 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

I fly.  Not too much.  But enough.

BW photograph a plane flying into a cloud bank.

Copyright 2019 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Therefore, the crashes of two Boeing 737 Max 8 planes and the subsequent grounding of that fleet caught my attention.  (I had had a flight scheduled that most likely would have been on one of those planes for just after they had been grounded-otherwise, I would have faced the decision of whether or not to make that trip.)  Later, there were additional reports about quality control problems at Boeing.  That these issues appear to be related to the efforts to remain competitive with other manufacturers’ aircraft exacerbated the concern.  Yes, statistically I am more likely to be injured or killed on my daily commute than when flying.  However, when planes go down, often resulting in scores of deaths, one takes notice.  Given that it now appears Boeing knew about the issues with the 737 Max 8 in advance of the first crash, one begins to seriously wonder about the company’s priorities with regard to safety, communication with constituents, and quality control.   That the FAA has allowed Boeing to largely regulate itself does not inspire confidence.  More on this point in just a bit.

BW photograph of the cloud bank into which a plane just flew.

Copyright 2019 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

On a related note, HBO is currently showing Chernobyl, which is about the nuclear reactor explosion that occurred in 1986.  I am currently reading Midnight in Chernobyl and have started to watch the series.  What is striking, if not surprising, is how similar the issues with that disaster are to the ones that led to the current problems at Boeing-obfuscation, secrecy, and regulatory concerns are examples.  At Chernobyl, those working in the facility, their families and neighbors in Pripyat, the emergency personnel called to the scene, and anyone/anything downwind of the reactor, paid that price.  The book is definitely worth a read.

While the scale of these disasters are not equal, Chernobyl presented a genuine global risk, the pain of loss felt is a common denominator.

So, this begs the political question:  to what degree are governments responsible to protect their citizenry from problematic business practices?  The relationship between Boeing and the FAA is one example.  That the U.S. was one of the last countries to ground the 737 Max 8s adds to the mix.  For another example, think about the issues presented by Facebook with privacy in general and the 2016 election in particular.  On a different note, what if the governmental practices are the problem?  That is certainly a large part of the issue with Chernobyl.  In the U.S., the current administration systematically gutted the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.   There is enough in the Mueller Report and the Attorney General’s summary to be concerned about as well.

With regard to corporate malfeasance, it often takes individuals within the company to step forward and become what are known as whistleblowers.  There are laws to protect such individuals as otherwise problematic, if not outright illegal, behaviour may not come to light.  The Obama administration had a complex relationship with that practice.

If the above is not enough, there is also the content of this interview.  Please listen for the use of the term “whistleblower” toward the end.  Here is a link to the NPR book review of that which is discussed in the interview.

One conclusion to draw from all of this?  Caveat Emptor.

Take care.

 

BW photograph of the Monocacy River on a foggy morning.

Copyright 2019 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

“Unprecedented threat” is how the recent U.N. report characterizes the human relationship to another one million species with whom we share the planet.

BW photograph of food trash laying at the base of a trash can.

Copyright 2019 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Humans are but one of eight million species that populate Earth-and we are the one creating the clear and present danger to that one million.

1A’s host Joshua Johnson draws a critical parallel to genocide-after all, estimates for those killed during the 1994 Rwanda genocide, as one example, range from 500,000 to over one million.  There are of course, other genocides in human history.

NPR aired this report, and here is a link to the U.N. IPBES media release.

In keeping with the current administration’s focus on climate change denial, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo highlighted the perceived economic advantages of polar ice melting.  As the panelists for the 1A discussion point out, this example of (extremely) selective attention ignores the larger global consequences resultant from the loss of polar ice.

Importantly, the U.N. report does point out that we, the humans of Earth, can still intervene in this destruction.  Individual states, cities, and corporations in the U.S. are making efforts to bring us into compliance with the Paris Accords.  This, though, also needs to be part of a nuanced review-the parameters of which are discussed by the 1A panel.  Please do listen to the full discussion.

Take care.