The Retreat

During my active consulting years I led so many programs I used to joke that you could wake me up at 2am, put me in front of a group, give me the topic, and I’d pull it off just fine.

That’s no longer true. I’m a little rusty. But, I’m happy to say the retreat went well. The energy in the room was great, we were on target and on time, and we made real progress.

Someone asked me why I do pro bono work at this stage of my life, and I responded that I share with my late husband Jerry a sense of tikkun olam, or the call to heal a broken world. Where I can still contribute, I shall — not casually or willy nilly, but when and where it can make a difference.

I’m glad to have the opportunity to stretch myself back into that professional role.

Climate Change: El Yunque National Forest

I know El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico very well, both from vacationing on the island and from my time in Peace Corps training at Camp Crozier. We had time to explore the island, and one of its treasures is this pristine tropical forest.

El Yunque has suffered a staggering loss of its insect population over the years, attributable to a warming climate. With the loss of insects comes loss of birds, butterflies, and other creatures farther up the food chain.

Does it matter if the world has fewer annoying bugs? Actually, it does.

Thirty-five percent of the world’s plant crops requires pollination by bees, wasps and other animals. And arthropods are more than just pollinators. They’re the planet’s wee custodians, toiling away in unnoticed or avoided corners. They chew up rotting wood and eat carrion. “And none of us want to have more carcasses around,” Schowalter said. Wild insects provide $57 billion worth of six-legged labor in the United States each year, according to a 2006 estimate.

The loss of insects and arthropods could further rend the rain forest’s food web, Lister warned, causing plant species to go extinct without pollinators. “If the tropical forests go it will be yet another catastrophic failure of the whole Earth system,” he said, “that will feed back on human beings in an almost unimaginable way.”–alert-national&wpmk=1

Lesley Stahl asked Trump about climate change on the 60 Minutes interview, and once again Trump reveals his vast ignorance. He said we’ve had bad storms in previous eras, and that the climate will swing back. I suppose had Stahl asked him if he thought the Arctic glaciers would magically reform, Trump would have changed the subject.

I can only imagine Trump’s befuddlement had Stahl asked him about insects.

Fat Boy

Those of us who work out regularly usually go to the gym within the same window of time. I go mid-morning, winding up around noon. Occasionally, if my morning is completely filled, I go right after lunch. But if I haven’t worked out by mid-afternoon, I’m not going to work out that day. You’ll never find me at the gym at 7pm. You won’t find me at 7am either. I need coffee, and breakfast, and a good dose of the morning news before I’m ready to brave a serious workout.

If I’m a regular, I get to know the other regulars who choose the same window. Being a gym rat is a great leveler. Age isn’t a barrier to casual conversation, nor is gender, nor experience, nor social status — everybody kind of looks the same in gym shorts and sneakers, and we’re all doing some variation on the same kind of thing.

Yesterday a young guy asked if he could work in on the resistance machine I was using. I said, “Of course.” Working in is a common courtesy — it means that if you are doing 3 sets of reps, resting briefly in between each set, someone else can have a go while you rest. You then alternate. If you’re especially courteous while working in, you reset the weight for the other person’s turn, and he or she resets for you.

The young guy was pushing a lot of weight on the chest press, and I commented admiringly. He grinned, and I added teasingly “And I’m old enough to be your grandmother. I’m most certainly not hitting on you. I just think all that hard work is paying off. You look great.”

He grew serious. “Can you tell I was a fat boy?” He grabbed at the skin on the underside of his arms. “I’ll bet you can see my loose saggy skin.”

I said that in truth I could not see any saggy skin at all, that I would never have guessed he had a weight problem.

“I was over 300 pounds. That fat boy is still in here, no matter how much I work out.”

He turned back to the machine, and the moment was over. I’ve had moments like that before — almost as if it’s easier to share something with a stranger, someone with whom you have the most casual kind of contact, someone who won’t bring up what you’ve shared ever again.

I’ve never been grossly overweight, so I have no idea how it feels. I don’t think we’re destined to carry with us who we were at an earlier age. I was very shy as a child, shy enough that my grade school teacher was worried because I didn’t talk. I’m no longer shy. I’ve developed the skills to be outgoing and social, at least when I want to.

But clearly sometimes the person we were stays with us, in a way that’s more of a burden than good.

Climate Change: “Like a Smoke Alarm Going Off in the Kitchen”

You know that metaphor caught my eye because of my recent experience of having a smoke alarm go off in my house at 3am. The sound is piercing, and can’t be ignored.

Forces allied against tackling climate change here in the U.S. include some of our least coherent legislators like Senator Inhofe who claim it all to be a hoax — and Trump for that matter, who pins the hoax on China — but also industries that make much of their profit from fossil fuels. Enter the Koch brothers again.

The report was prepared by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the gold standard for research and a body known for its conservative conclusions.

The good news is that the IPCC feels that with dramatic change, the goal of keeping warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius is still possible. The bad news is what we all know: the concerted action that would need to be taken by governments around the world is extremely unlikely. The fact that climate change deniers, some of them at the highest reaches of government, risk getting all of us mugged by reality seems not to penetrate.

“It’s like a deafening, piercing smoke alarm going off in the kitchen. We have to put out the fire,” said Erik Solheim, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program. He added that the need to either stop emissions entirely by 2050 or find some way to remove as much carbon dioxide from the air as humans put there “means net zero must be the new global mantra.

The radical transformation also would mean that, in a world projected to have more than 2 billion additional people by 2050, large swaths of land currently used to produce food would instead have to be converted to growing trees that store carbon and crops designated for energy use. The latter would be used as part of a currently nonexistent program to get power from trees or plants and then bury the resulting carbon dioxide emissions in the ground, leading to a net subtraction of the gas from the air — bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, or BECCS.

“Such large transitions pose profound challenges for sustainable management of the various demands on land for human settlements, food, livestock feed, fibre, bioenergy, carbon storage, biodiversity and other ecosystem services,” the report states.”

This is much larger than a battle over a single pipeline or concern about a single coral reef or alarm over the air quality in Beijing. This is a galvanizing call to action, something that could draw all countries of the world together in a single, planet-saving battle.


Climate Change: Who Is Leading the Way?

A fifteen year old? In Sweden, that’s apparently the case. Greta Thunberg has been protesting on the steps of the Swedish parliament — a solitary figure calling Swedish elected officials to account. She reminds me of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas kids. I wish I had been like this as a 15 year old.

Sometimes the world makes so little sense that the only thing to do is engage in civil disobedience—even in a country as attached to its rules and regulations as Sweden is. Fifteen-year-old Greta Thunberg has been protesting for more than a month. Before the country’s parliamentary election on September 9th, she went on strike and sat on the steps of the parliament building, in Stockholm, every day during school hours for three weeks. Since the election, she has returned to school for four days a week; she now spends her Fridays on the steps of parliament. She is demanding that the government undertake a radical response to climate change. She told me that a number of members of parliament have come out to the steps to express support for her position, although every one of them has said that she should really be at school. Her parents think so, too, she said—that she should really go to school, though she is right to protest.”

Climate Change: Arctic Lakes

When I say that my blog posts are in response to what I notice every day, I decided formally to add a new category: climate change. For most of us, I suspect “climate” on a daily basis means is it sunny or cloudy or going to rain, and do I need a jacket today when I go out.

“Climate” also means an increase in dryness in the Pacific Northwest, leading to more damaging and widespread fires that give Seattle episodes of curiously smoky air, even though the city itself is far from an actual burn. “Climate” means an increase in 100 year storms, like the one that just hit the Carolinas.

Climate change is always with us, on a daily basis, even though what gives rise to the effects of climate change may reflect much longer-standing patterns. Those patterns don’t usually create the same visible level of ruckus as our current political environment, so we overlook them. I’m committing not to do that.

Climate change is one of the things I’m going to pay attention to every day — not in the way that I notice whether it is raining or not, but in the way that I attend to things that matter. Even with the climate-change denying Trump administration, the information is out there.

Washington Post publishes an Energy 202 five day a week newsletter. The lead item on Tuesday was fascinating, and alarming.

Certain Arctic lakes that are emerging in connection with melting permafrost are emitting large quantities of methane — bubbles that come up from the muck that constitutes the lake bed and burst into the atmosphere.

“When the scientists examined samples of the gases, they found the chemical signature of a “geologic” origin. In other words, the methane venting from the lake seemed to be emerging not from the direct thawing of frozen Arctic soil, or permafrost, but rather from a reservoir of far older fossil fuels.

If that were happening all over the Arctic, Walter Anthony figured — if fossil fuels that had been buried for millennia were now being exposed to the atmosphere — the planet could be in even deeper peril.”

Here’s the WaPo article on which the Energy 202 piece is based:

I’m aware that paying attention to climate change requires action, not just information gathering. But my new level of attention is a start.