Climate Change: Denial Swamped by Salty Seas

Some years ago the North Carolina legislature actually voted that climate change data couldn’t be taken in to account in planning economic development along the coastline. Had it been, of course, construction of expensive new properties would have been curtailed. Showing all the bravery of Don Quixote tilting at windmills, North Carolina legislators were sure they could turn back the encroaching salty sea.

Now, North Carolina farmers who work the once rich soil along the tidal flats and swamps that were drained to create arable land are dealing with dead crops, high levels of salinity in the soil, and visible salt crystals making increasingly large patches of land useless for cultivation.

Of climate change’s many plagues — drought, insects, fires, floods — saltwater intrusion in particular sounds almost like a biblical curse. Rising seas, sinking earth and extreme weather are conspiring to cause salt from the ocean to contaminate aquifers and turn formerly fertile fields barren. A 2016 study in the journal Science predicted that 9 percent of the U.S. coastline is vulnerable to saltwater intrusion — a percentage likely to grow as the world continues to warm. Scientists are just beginning to assess the potential effect on agriculture, Manda said, and it’s not yet clear how much can be mitigated.”

I hardly know what to say to the North Carolina legislators — some of whom are probably out of office now anyway. Climate change denial is “somebody else’s problem” until it the adverse effects of a changing world affect constituents’ day to day lives. Would North Carolina legislators vote differently today, when their own farmers are losing their land and agricultural production is down?

Denial is a powerful thing, and I’m not so sure they would.


Death of Gum Wood Trees

Our first home in Rochester, a two family in the 19th Ward, had beautiful gum wood trim throughout. Our second home, a single family in a nicer neighborhood and with more room, was a step up for us — but lacked the rich gum wood framing doors, providing floorboards, and encircling rooms with classy ceiling trim. And, I grew up in New Jersey — north Jersey, not the swamp areas of the southern part of the state from which this article is taken. The two connections drew me to read the article, which is an overview of significant examples of ecological loss — all likely irreversible.

Bear Swamp is a forest of 400- and 500-year-old black gums, some of the oldest trees in eastern North America, along the Delaware Bay in southeastern New Jersey. The trees have begun to die. The cause is the rising sea, which is making the groundwater at the base of the forest saltier. The trees are doomed. Much of the Glades Wildlife Refuge, which contains the forest, eventually will be under water.

Though I live only 55 miles away, I’ve never seen the forest nor had I heard of its old-growth trees until I read about them recently in The Philadelphia Inquirer. This knowledge was enough to make me grieve for the world that is vanishing before us. Earth is rapidly shedding life and the systems that sustain it. We know this but we don’t seem to be able to face it, for ours is an age of loss disguised as plenty.”

Loss disguised as plenty.” Now that’s not something to celebrate in the New Year, is it?

Panama 2019: Classy Hat

A hat with a brim wide enough to protect my face and back of my neck is essential for Panama. We’re right on the equator, and the sun is merciless, whether in the city or out at the beach. I’ve had this hat for a year or so, minus the feather adornment. I wear a hat in Seattle during the summer too, on strict instructions from my dermatologist. I don’t really like wearing a hat, so sometimes complying is a chore. Friend Nicki gave me the feathers for Christmas, and I can’t wait to step out in Panama City with my newly classy head gear. 🙂

Contemporary Culture: Our Water Use

Most of us in the United States have ready access to clean water, and we don’t think much about our usage. I think back to the Peace Corps years, when Minga had to carry all the water her family used on a daily basis. That meant multiple trips to a well that was several hundred feet from her house, filling a 5 gallon can each time, and bringing the heavy, unsteady burden back balanced on her head. At the house she had a large oil drum, and that’s what she filled each time — many trips, 5 gallons at a time. She did it at least 3x a day: after washing the clothes in the morning, sometime mid-afternoon, and then the last thing at night before going to bed.

Amazon is moving new headquarters offices into Queens, which has an aging sewer system. Estimates are that the 25,000 anticipated workers will each use 100 gallons of water a day. The article below discusses how well equipped the city water system is to handle that usage — as in, 25,000 toilet flushes several times a day.

But what sticks in my mind is what it might have been like for Minga to have to carry 100 gallons of water a day for each of her then 7 family members. Seven hundred gallons every day? Would never have happened.

This is a pic from the Peace Corps era — not Minga, but two of her neighbors. You can just see the spout of the pump sticking out just above the yellow water can. And the woman in the checkered blouse has the pump handle in her hands. The people in Rio Hato were lucky — they had a well that delivered clean water. At least I assume we had clean water. Most of us got parasites, including me, but I assumed that was from muddy ground water, not what we drank.

Climate Change: Closing the Peat Bogs of Ireland

Before Minga died I had the blog posts all written for the next day — three of them. I’m going to start rolling them out, along with my ongoing reflections about Minga. It’s a sign that Minga’s death is not consuming all of my life, and that I’m able to move in and out of sadness.


This article about the bogs of Ireland caught my eye because of my mother’s Aunt Ella — a cousin actually, I think. Ella Delaney had a summer house in Avon-by-the-Sea at the Jersey shore, a middle class Irish Catholic enclave where Margaret longed to live. Wealthy Irish Catholics went to Sea Girt, or Spring Lake, but Avon was quite elite enough for my mother. The best we could afford growing up was a $35 a week bungalow in the adjacent town of Bradley Beach, and Margaret never got over her disdain for the place. She invested scarce dollars into having Ella get us beach badges for Avon, so we could at least swim there and pretend to be summer residents.

Ella’s summer house had a cottage in back on the lane, where Ella stayed from May until October while she rented the Big House. She was ruthless in discerning suitable renters. Italian Catholics need not seek her out; their garlic cooking smells would get in her walls and ruin the place. She preferred lace curtain Irish — the upper part of the crust who came on the train from North Jersey to summer in Avon — and would tolerate shanty Irish if they didn’t look like drunks or have too many children. But bog Irish were out, and Ella claimed to know the difference just by the way prospective renters walked down the street.

Anyone not Catholic need not apply at all.

This article is about Ireland closing the peat bogs — from whence all of those undesirable bog Irish surely came —  in the interest of reducing carbon emissions. Actually the damaged bogs will continue to emit carbon, a lot of it, even though no further material for burning will be extracted. Another of those pesky unintended consequences, it turns out that harvested peat bogs are the carbon emissions gift that keeps on giving.

Aunt Ella wouldn’t have doubted the curse of the peat bogs for a moment.

Conscious Aging: My “Sahara Badge”

I’d like to say that I’m motivated to exercise without inducements or rewards, and mostly I am. But I love getting my Fitbit notifications  that I’ve hit a new level. Most recent is the Sahara Badge, which means I’ve walked the length of the Sahara desert since beginning to use my Fitbit. That’s 2,983 miles. When did I get my Fitbit, you might ask? May 24, 2017 — birthday present for myself.

You don’t actually get a badge, just on the App. 🙂 That’s OK. I like it anyway, and heaven knows I don’t need more small useless objects cluttering up my kitchen drawers.

You might also ask why I’m not a sylph if I do all that walking. Good question. With what we now know about diet and exercise, you can’t really exercise your way to a slender self. What you eat, combined with exercise, is the determining factor. That, plus body shape — I often say I have an Irish peasant woman body: broad shoulders, hardly any waist, and slender legs.  In my era of high school there was a basic anorexia-level model named Twiggy whose gaunt appearance was a goal to which all adolescent girls aspired. I realized pretty quickly I wasn’t ever going to be that, so I focus instead on appreciating my strong and mostly reliable body.

Unintended Consequences

We’ve all felt the sting of unintended consequences, likely in our personal lives if nowhere else. Perhaps in choosing something that’s demonstrably right for ourselves, we’ve disappointed someone else. Perhaps in seeking a single over-arching goal, we’ve sacrificed other important even if less visible ones. Perhaps by being too conservative, too risk-averse, we’ve lost the chance for creative disruption, reorganization, and deeper growth.

Unintended consequences can happen with policy decisions as well. A striking example of unintended consequences arose after Western nations initiated plans to reduce carbon emissions by using vegetable oil in fuels.

“Most of the plantations around us were new, their rise a direct consequence of policy decisions made half a world away. In the mid-2000s, Western nations, led by the United States, began drafting environmental laws that encouraged the use of vegetable oil in fuels — an ambitious move to reduce carbon dioxide and curb global warming. But these laws were drawn up based on an incomplete accounting of the true environmental costs. Despite warnings that the policies could have the opposite of their intended effect, they were implemented anyway, producing what now appears to be a calamity with global consequences.

The tropical rain forests of Indonesia, and in particular the peatland regions of Borneo, have large amounts of carbon trapped within their trees and soil. Slashing and burning the existing forests to make way for oil-palm cultivation had a perverse effect: It released more carbon. A lot more carbon. NASA researchers say the accelerated destruction of Borneo’s forests contributed to the largest single-year global increase in carbon emissions in two millenniums, an explosion that transformed Indonesia into the world’s fourth-largest source of such emissions. Instead of creating a clever technocratic fix to reduce American’s carbon footprint, lawmakers had lit the fuse on a powerful carbon bomb that, as the forests were cleared and burned, produced more carbon than the entire continent of Europe. The unprecedented palm-oil boom, meanwhile, has enriched and emboldened many of the region’s largest corporations, which have begun using their newfound power and wealth to suppress critics, abuse workers and acquire more land to produce oil.

The unfolding disaster in Indonesia suggests that rigorous science and a much more sophisticated level of thinking need to undergird policy on global climate change.

What we have now, under the administration of shoot-from-the-hip Trump, is nothing resembling that.

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.