Weblog by A. Elizabeth Graves. iPhone photography and links to science-y and foodie topics.
We are having an unusually dry and summery January here in California, which seems set up to remind me that just last month, I had been considering living in Boston (which is under a blizzard warning) for a professional adventure, but perhaps I should stay put.
Walking around town without a coat is pleasant, until I remember how much rain we desperately need to function during this historic drought. For context: wildfires have already started – in JANUARY. Which… is just NOT RIGHT.
I would happily trade these bright, still days for the water we need to thrive!
The sunrises remain a striking yellow-gold. This still has the capacity to surprise me. The wildfires are still sending particles to the upper atmosphere, and I am sad that I’m becoming used to the yellow tint to my surroundings. I don’t want to get used to it, but it is a daily filter. It is becoming normal.
I don’t write here about everything I read. I try to limit myself to books I strongly recommend. And the bulk of what I read each day aren’t books!
I read both US and international news each morning (not just the book reviews!), and I’m trying NOT to provide running commentary on that. (I’ve done that in the past on blogs, and it’s tiring. Also, you can get personal commentary on just about everything all the time on social media, along with an endless collection of reposts of things you’ve already read.) I don’t write about books until I finish them (notes for myself notwithstanding), which means I am always in arrears on endorsements.
On Twitter, which can consume an entire afternoon if I’m not careful, I read posts by my favorite authors, journalists, comedians, artists, and activists. There is a beneficial crossover of articles and other media on topics that interest me, recommended by people with similar interests, and written about by professional sources. It allows me to have a positive experience of Twitter, which wouldn’t be possible if I didn’t filter carefully.
That makes it sound like I only do super-professional research on Twitter, which is not the case. Twitter is also full of jokes, puns, highly charged commentary, mockery, illustrations, photos, AI software being used to match celebrity outfits to natural phenomena, and dumb-but-funny observations. I have geeky sense of humor, so I wind up with a lot of this sort of thing (below, sung to the tune of “That’s Amore“)
This continues in many flavors, and is also enjoyed by the professional media (though non-media types shared the links with me in the first place):
🎶 When an eel climbs a ramp to eat squid from a clamp, that’s a moray
When an eel wants a squid that’s on land — god forbid! — that’s a moray
The smoke hanging over us every day is a difficult and stressful reminder of what is happening to places we love.
Every day, the news names places I have been to, places I have hiked through, places I have photographed, and notes that these places are on fire at that very moment.
We aren’t yet at the phase where we fundamentally rethink how to live here, and how to be safer and more environmentally responsible, not just at an individual level – individuals can’t solve this alone! – but region-wide at a governmental, societal, and even corporate level. We really need to have those conversations. Soon.
In easier times, we look at the weather forecasts before going out. With the climate crisis making itself more apparent, now now also check smoke forecasts! Our environmental agencies have modeling just for this, and it is smartphone-friendly.
I regularly use airnow.gov or fire.airnow.gov to know if I need to wear a particulate filtering mask. These services are provided by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Park Service (NPS), NASA, Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and host of local agencies.
Fire and Smoke Map
In 2021, several features have been added to the information available when you click or tap a monitor or sensor icon. We’ve added a dashboard that gives you quick access to key information you can use to help plan your activities:
In recent days, the smoke coverage in satellite photos has been alarming, and sunlight has had a strangely yellow tinge to it. That’s is caused by high level smoke, but we also need to know if the smoke is close to the ground, because then we have to take precautions for our breathing and overall health. Waiting to smell it isn’t enough – it may come and go, and catch us unprepared.
The National Weather Service delivers on this surface smoke forecasting need!
As popularly requested, here is the latest hi-resolution forecast for NEAR SURFACE smoke through the next 44 hours. Another loop for suspended smoke at roughly ridge level will follow shortly. NEAR SURFACE smoke is more important to focus on. pic.twitter.com/6maez58bLO
Life in San Francisco: July was a very foggy month in my San Francisco neighborhood’s microclimate, and I’ve had to make field trips to other parts of town to see beyond the edges of our gray blanket. It still amazes me that a blue sky can be just a streetcar ride away!
Last weekend, I spent 6+ hours walking in the sun with another fog refugee on the east side of town. It was a delightful, relaxing, restorative day. I watched a bike rally and its DJ on the back of a flatbed truck; I had an excellent (yet overpriced) espresso drink; I advised my friend not to interact with a gathering of furries; we squirmed through a cheerful crowd of baseball fans; we enjoyed a delicious vegan Indonesian lunch at a picnic table; we explored a neighborhood she’d never visited; we had delicious frozen vegan desserts… [Drifting into a saffron-flavored reverie…]
I kept saying aloud: we are so LUCKY to live here. After sunset, we walked back to catch streetcars to return to our still-foggy homes. *sigh*
It was restorative not only because we enjoyed bright, mild weather, but also becauseit felt like the Before Times. The many traumas of the past year weren’t on the surface, and it was barely noteworthy to wear masks on transit or while ordering food.
We are so very lucky.
Life in a Global Pandemic: It has been discouraging to read the news on the dominance of the Delta COVID variant, and to see the local cases rise from low double digits up into the hundreds.
It is especially discouraging knowing that this scenario was preventable. That future similar (or worse) outcomes are preventable. But too many people are choosing not to contribute to prevention.
I now have my first, close/personal, vaccinated friend with a ‘breakthrough’ case. She is an organized person with natural curiosity, so she formally polled her social circles, and has come up with 14 breakthrough cases within her network. (Yes, she is in the greater Los Angeles area, which has been an infection hotspot this entire time, likely due to right wing anti-prevention sentiment.) This alarming information helps me reset some of my own planning about indoor activities as a vaccinated person, which I am less likely to expand now.
I’ve ordered some more fabric face masks in nice patterns, and in black. Including more that have a pocket for an anti-particulate-smoke filter.
Life in a Climate Crisis: Speaking of smoke masks, the climate crisis is in the news daily, for all the wrong reasons. Rather than great news about countries meeting their climate goals, there have been a long series of disasters relating to increasing, localized extremes. There were so many flood stories last month (Japan, China, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the US (New York City)) and so many fire stories (we have more area burned here in California than even last year gave us; Siberia is on fire; tourists are being evacuated from fast moving fires in the Mediterranean by boat!) that any disaster image that appeared on my phone’s screen from the news could be from ANYWHERE.
Because: the climate disaster is striking everywhere.
There were some unflattering quotes from survivors of the German floods saying that they had not believed this sort of thing could happen TO THEM, in THEIR country. (One of them named places where they WOULD expect this to happen, as if such events reflect a personal flaw of the citizens of those regions.)(*facepalm*) It suggested that they hadn’t had sympathy with flood-hit regions they had seen on the news. They hadn’t found it relevant when people in low-lying Pacific islands went to the UN, or when Greenlnd’s high northern communities were suffering, but NOW it is real to them.
Perhaps this is what it takes. Wealthy, developed countries watching flood waters destroy their own cities and towns. Perhaps that is what makes it real enough for urgent action.
The news is filled with stories of Americans who are hospitalized with COVID complications, who want the vaccine too late to save their lives. I desperately want us to be smarter than that – not just about COVID, but about our environment. Perhaps we are already in the climate-crisis-hospital stage, and I’m just not accepting it.
I was cheered earlier this year during videos from the French crew of the solar-sailing-hydrogen ship Energy Observer, which is sailing around the world to publicize solutions to the climate crisis.
I got a little misty when they arrived here in San Francisco earlier this year, and spoke with such optimism of the technology and solutions that our region offers.
I recommend the Energy Observer YouTube Channel, which is filled with short, manageable clips on diverse projects, which include interviews with innovators solving specific environmental problems, including locals who are responsibly improving the natural environment in their areas (normal people, not JUST VC-backed inventors!). You can turn on English subtitles for the videos, and hear members of the crew speak about a range of topics during their adventures.
Their well planned media approach shows there are MANY solutions to our current environmental challenges available, each fit for its local purpose, and that we’ll need many of them to solve the climate crisis.
You can also visit them for a detailed look at their own ship’s tech at the Energy Observer website (energy-observer.org).
You might already know I geek out over the experimental art/science of Studio Olafur Eliasson, which I’ve likened to the Exploratorium, but for fine artists, which somehow also has an amazing vegan restaurant for staff. (Ooooooo!)
The Studio has a new show in Japan right now, and the studio decided to avoid air freight by using land and sea-surface transport to get the exhibits from their current locations and/or Germany. The transport containers included art devices to make abstract, graphical records of the journey, and the show includes those results, and everything from water and light art to experiments in using kitchen and art studio scraps to make pigments and solid modules for future artwork.
It’s CLEVER and it’s ART. Such a happy combination!
Sometimes the river is the bridge – Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo – Studio Olafur Eliasson
The beautifully laid out pages, which include installation images of the exhibition, scroll horizontally. (On my computer do so rapidly, so be ready to use some fine motor control!). The studio’s layouts and images impress me, as they always do.
The ‘materials lab’ section is where a lot of the innovation appears, and the experiments all look thoughtful. It’s nice to see the process-thinking behind the studio’s work, rather than only finished pieces.
If you need an art break from [*gesturing at the state of the world*] things, check it out.
Here in California, where the climate crisis is literally hanging in the air, we are looking at ways to limit the remarkable damage that humans are doing to the environment. While individual responsibility is popular as a feel-good activity that makes some small positive difference (and which we should obviously all do), we could get ‘more bang for our buck’ by making big, systemic shifts. The usual obstacle is the business world and those who profit from polluting sectors. (We all know who those are.)
It’s always nice to look at data, though, and see whether the political battles over things like water use between the cattle farmers (VERY polluting & water sucking) and the almond farmers (less so, but they have a smaller lobbyist fighting force) are what should be taking up our attention.
Let’s walk through each of the sectors and sub-sectors in the pie chart, one-by-one. Energy use in industry: 24.2% Iron and Steel (7.2%): energy-related emissions from the manufacturing of iron and steel. Chemical & petrochemical (3.6%): energy-related emissions from the manufacturing of fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, refrigerants, oil and gas extraction, etc.
It’s nice to look at the breakdowns of this data, because something like “energy” isn’t just about the oil and gas companies operating in isolation: they have customers, and those industries are co-responsible. (Yes, this has been the oil industry’s go-to position for years, and I am reluctant to agree with them on anything, but they are selling their dirty products to other industries, and those buyers are also to blame.)
Our World In Data also has a breakout, which they link to here, about food. Food is a subject that is dear to my heart, and the environmental impacts of food have contributed to my commitment to a plant-based diet. When you look at this data, the reasons for this are obvious.
When it comes to tackling climate change, the focus tends to be on ‘clean energy’ solutions – the deployment of renewable or nuclear energy; improvements in energy efficiency; or transition to low-carbon transport. Indeed, energy, whether in the form of electricity, heat, transport or industrial processes, account for the majority – 76% – of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Human food production deserves so much more scrutiny. The industry is rife with politics and waste, and has a major impact on the health of the planet AND on our health. My government has a history of subsidizing tobacco, regardless of the cancers smoking causes, because it is a US agricultural product, and all such products were worthy of promotion with tax money! (Gaaaah!) The “four food groups” concept was not about human health, it was about product promotion OVER human health! (Gaaaah!) And then there are these animal-agriculture-sourced diseases, like bird flu and swine flu and COVID-19, or the terrible (and often fatal) e. coli outbreaks when plant foods are contaminated by animal waste, which threaten humans because some humans eat animals. We are all paying for that.