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Globular Warming photo by Marcia Sloane

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser April 2014)

“It’s not denial. I’m just selective about the reality I accept.” Bill Watterson

I walk to town most every day rather than drive my truck for the same reason I decided in 1967 to create a life for myself independent of automobiles, something I’ve managed to do for most of the last forty-seven years. And my reason for eschewing cars as much as possible had and has to do with my awareness of the destructive nature of auto-centric gas-using systems of transportation, housing and economics, and by destructive I mean earth-killing, and by earth-killing I mean the death of the planet.

Many people share my awareness that cars are bad for children and other living things, as those famous posters of the Sixties summed up our collective antipathy to War, but most people I know do not walk to town or live largely independent of automobiles. Why should they? Our systems of transportation, housing and economics were designed to accommodate automobiles first and foremost, so to not use a car is highly inconvenient, and by highly inconvenient I mean impossible if one is in any sort of hurry, which most of us are.

The United Nations just released their first big global climate report since 2007, and one of the maps included in the report shows areas of the world circa 2050 where agriculture will either be out of the question or still possible. According to this map, when I am scheduled to be one-hundred-years-old, only Canada, Scandinavia and parts of Russia might still be habitable and arable, assuming there is air left to breathe, a bold assumption. The rest of the globe, including all but a few acres in the United States of America, will be too hot and too dry to grow anything. Is there a way to reverse the probability of this prediction coming true? Yes. There is one way. Everyone on earth needs to start walking to town most days and living independently of automobiles. Are we ready to do that?

 “Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.” Mark Twain

In related news, I just read a hysterical (and I don’t mean funny) article about the state governments of New York and New Jersey studying the feasibility of constructing artificial islands off their coasts to blunt the destructive force of storm surges similar to those caused by Hurricane Sandy. Climatologists are 100% certain more hurricanes at least as powerful as Sandy are coming soon, so folks in the governments of New Jersey and New York are seriously considering spending many billions of dollars and burning jillions of gallons of fossil fuels to rip up thousands of acres of land to procure the dirt and rocks to create islands off the New Jersey and New York coasts to, you know, blunt the storm surges.

The denial of the underlying problem by these wannabe island builders seems laughable to me, and by laughable I mean sad. And, yes, there are days when I want to flag down my friends who drive their cars to and from the village multiple times a day to get their mail and buy potato chips and meet friends for coffee, and I want to say, ‘Please. Don’t build artificial islands. Just stop driving so fucking much!” But my friends wouldn’t understand what I’m talking about, and they would resent my holier-than-thou attitude, so I do not flag them down and shout incomprehensible things. Instead, I wave to them as they zoom back and forth between their houses and the village in our globe-heating mammoths known as cars.

 “We live in a world of denial, and we don’t know what the truth is anymore.” Javier Bardem

I can honestly say that mostly walking and rarely driving doesn’t make me feel holier than anyone. I don’t walk to feel holy, though I do enjoy how life unfolds at the speed of walking. I walk more than drive because the population of Kittiwakes in the Orkney and Shetland Islands has plummeted eighty-seven (87) per cent since 2000 and those once plentiful birds may soon vanish entirely. Imagine all the sea gulls suddenly disappearing from the coast of California. Why are the Kittiwakes vanishing? Well, the sandeel (a kind of small fish, not an eel) is the main food for most of the seabirds of the North Sea, and sandeels are vanishing as plankton thereabouts disappear, plankton being what the sandeels eat so they can proliferate and be eaten by the Kittiwakes. And plankton are disappearing around the Orkneys and the Shetlands because of climate change caused by humans burning fossil fuels.

The bird lovers of England and Scotland are terribly concerned, of course, that Kittiwakes may soon go the way of the dodo, but there’s nothing they can do about the Kittiwake Crisis because the vanishing is caused by billions of people the world over driving cars instead of walking or taking the bus etc. The Orkney and Shetland bird lovers are hoping to create artificial sanctuaries for the vanishing birds, except the birds aren’t disappearing from lack of places to live and breed. They are dying from climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

“I have a very highly developed sense of denial.” Gwyneth Paltrow

Looking at that United Nations climate map of how the world is going to be circa 2050, it occurs to me that if I was twenty-five or even thirty-five instead of sixty-five, I might consider moving to Canada (where they really don’t want me) and getting some land way up in the northern regions that are currently next to unlivable, but in another twenty years might be positively Californian. Of course, in another twenty years, if things go as the United Nations is predicting, hoards of desperate people will be heading for those swiftly dwindling cooler climes, so maybe moving to Canada isn’t a better idea than staying here and mostly walking to town.

Speaking of walking to town, I was in Corners of the Mouth a few days ago buying some edible ballast for my knapsack, and when I got to the bulk grains, my jaw dropped because the price for long grain brown rice, a main staple at our house, had jumped in one week from $1.85 per pound to $2.35 per pound. Knowing that 800,000 acres (so far) of California farmland previously under cultivation are being left fallow this year due to the drought, I’ve been expecting increases in food prices, but not thirty per cent in one week. Rice, I should note, is a main ingredient in many food items, including the gluten-free bread I depend on. Which is to say, be prepared to do some gasping at the grocery store in the months ahead.

“Security is when everything is settled, when nothing can happen to you; security is the denial of life.” Germaine Greer

In the 1960’s, when I first got religion about what fossil fuel burning was doing and would do to the earth, I preached with fervor to friends and neighbors and relatives about the virtues of not driving and not traveling in jets, and how we needed to work together (what a concept) to create car-free lifestyles and solar and wind-powered energy systems. My fervor, however, seemed to mostly piss people off, and soon thereafter most of my hippie colleagues bought big cars and drove off into various sunsets. Our short-lived utopian dreams and schemes—based on the principle of Take No More Than We Give—went the way of the dodo.

I continued to live without a car, which was not terribly difficult when I lived in cities with decent public transit in those halcyon days when roomy Greyhound buses made daily stops in towns large and small everywhere in America. But as the bus and train systems disintegrated, I started renting cars to go on the few long trips I took each year and confirmed that absolutely everything in America is designed for the use of automobiles, and nothing else.

Oh I would love to blame evil people and evil corporations and corrupt governments and criminal bankers for the dire situation we find ourselves in today but evil corrupt criminals are not the problem. No, the underlying problem is…

Long ago there was a little band of humans wandering the earth looking for things to eat. Human existence was, at best, a few short years of uninterrupted grubbing for tubers and killing little mammals, with a few fleeting moments of sex to produce more humans. At worst, human existence was being attacked by someone trying to get your scrap of dried rat meat, and then being eaten by a tiger.

One day the little band of humans came upon a pile of grape-sized golden orbs. Not knowing what the orbs were, but hoping they were food, the strongest human in the band made the weakest human eat one of the orbs. Upon swallowing the orb, the weakest human became highly intelligent and could fly like a bird. So everybody else in the band ate an orb, and they all became intelligent and could fly like birds. And every time they felt the need to boost their intelligence and flying abilities, they would eat more of the golden orbs.

Just when it began to dawn on the humans that they might want to use their higher intelligence and flying abilities to create a better future for themselves and their children, they ate the last of the golden orbs. Shortly thereafter, their intelligence and ability to fly went the way of the dodo, and they resumed wandering the earth looking for things to eat and killing each other and being eaten by tigers.

They were human beings and could not overcome the underlying problem—their essential nature.

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Nature Bats Last

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser November 2012)

“Deer have been around for five million years and must know what they’re doing.” Elizabeth Marshall Thomas

Our new home turns out to be a deer park, the resident deer so numerous and hungry that only rhododendrons and redwoods and ferns and huckleberries (the bushes not the berries) and a few other large trees can hope to survive the ravenous hordes. A crumbling wooden fence surrounds our property, and here and there remnant strands of barbed wire speak of a time when the previous owners may have experienced a modicum of deer-free living. I am a vegetable and herb gardener and hope to have a large garden growing soon, as well as berries and fruit trees and flowers, with a few raised beds off the deck outside the kitchen, none of which I can have until we transmogrify the deer situation.

To that end we have engaged the services of a deer fence installer, and at the moment he arrived last week to give us a bid, there were not four or five deer, but seventeen of those hungry animals browsing the shrubs and lower branches of trees and vacuuming up the golden leaves fallen from a very tall plum tree and devouring lilies and daisies, and shitting profusely everywhere around our house. And the deer fence guy, scanning the assembly of does and bucks and fast-growing fawns, quipped, “I see the problem.”

We have decided to bequeath the northern half our property to the deer and other wild things while fortifying the smaller southern portion of our humble homestead. The deer fence fellow is booked several weeks in advance and can’t start working on our property until December, so I might not get my garlic in this year, though I may plant a small bed and surround it with land mines or a more humane equivalent.

“There’s no place on Earth that’s changing faster—and no place where that change matters more—than Greenland.” Bill McKibben

Having recently read a number of fascinating and frightening articles about the sudden disappearance of the Greenland ice sheet, I was not surprised to hear that the super storm Sandy caused upwards of eighty billion dollars of damage. Such awesome storms are precisely what numerous new weather models predict will be the direct consequence of the vanishing ice sheets combined with warmer ocean temperatures, rising moisture content in the atmosphere, rising sea levels, and myriad other factors related to global warming. In other words, though Sandy has been called the storm of the century, she may very well be the first of many such super storms to frequently pummel North America in the foreseeable future. Even as I write this, another massive storm is swirling through New York and New Jersey and Pennsylvania, with winter barely begun. Yikes.

Humans cannot construct storm fences around their big cities, though there is serious talk of building a gigantic sea wall around the island of Manhattan in anticipation of rapidly rising sea levels. (You gotta be kidding!) I wonder who will pay for the construction and upkeep of such a gargantuan wall? And how will such a wall keep hurricanes from toppling skyscrapers? Then, too, the eastern seaboard is rife with crappy old nuclear power plants full of plutonium ready to start melting down, several of those junky old plants identical to the crappy ones currently melting down at the Fukushima nuclear facility in Japan and radiating the entire Pacific Ocean. How many super storms will come and go before one or another of those nuclear power plant time bombs goes off? Not to be an alarmist, but we may very well be on the verge of millions of Americans and tens of millions of people in other countries being displaced annually by super storms and super droughts and super famines and super nuclear disasters; and I wonder where all those displaced people will go.

“He knows nothing; and he thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career.” George Bernard Shaw

Election night, as Marcia and I took turns monitoring the voting results on our computers, I suddenly found myself hoping fervently that Obama would win, though I did not vote for him and I think he is a supreme poophead regarding most of the tremendous challenges confronting humanity today. What, I wondered, was behind this sudden hope that Obama and not Romney would be President for the next four years? And as I wondered, my mind filled with visions of being part of a band of ancient hunter-gatherers watching two alpha males fight to the death for control of the band. Both alphas were cunning and violent, but one of them was vastly more intelligent and resourceful than the other and would be much more likely to act to insure the survival of the entire band when we were down to our last few pieces of deer jerky and giant tigers were pawing at the walls of our hut—or so I felt in that moment of their mortal combat.

“America makes prodigious mistakes, America has colossal faults, but one thing cannot be denied: America is always on the move. She may be going to Hell, of course, but at least she isn’t standing still.” e.e. cummings

When my sister Kathy lived in Los Angeles, she rented the ground floor of a two-story house at the end of a little canyon road at the base of a steep hillside composed of wholly unstable soil and stone, a formation geologists call a junk pile. In the winter of 1979 torrential rains caused massive mudslides, one of which obliterated Kathy’s home and smashed her car to smithereens with a boulder the size of an elephant. Having lost most of her possessions to that torrent of mud and rocks, my sister moved out of the hills and settled in the flatlands. And less than half a year later, her former abode had been rebuilt and leased again (with an exorbitant increase in rent) to a couple newly arrived in Los Angeles who had no idea they were pitching their tipi, so to speak, in the line of inevitable disaster.

In that same year, while visiting my sister in the aftermath of the mudslide and her relocation to level ground, I dined with a movie producer whose home was built at the top of another massive junk pile of soil and rock very much like the one that had shed part of its mass and obliterated my sister’s place.

“Amazing view,” I said, gazing out on the smog-cloaked city. “I’ll bet it’s really something on a clear day.”

“Don’t be sarcastic,” said my host, joining me on her deck. “The air is getting better. It really is.”

“Do you ever worry about losing the house to a landslide?” I asked, noticing several ominous cracks in her patio.

“I’ve been told this place has gone down twice in the last twenty years,” she confided with a shrug. “And they are forever shoring up the foundation and sinking piers and doing whatever to keep it from going again.”

“So…”

“So that’s why I’m leasing instead of buying,” she said, nodding confidently, “and why I’ve got the best renters’ insurance money can buy and why I stay in my townhouse in Santa Monica when the rains get crazy.”

“All great change in America begins at the dinner table.” Ronald Reagan

One young left-of-the-mythic-center pundit we listened to in the wake of Obama’s victory over Romney opined that henceforth the only way the Republican Party would ever be anything more than an obstructionist gang of amoral dinosaurs, and a shrinking gang at that, was if they could find a charismatic leader, a latter day Ronald Reagan, to take the helm and mesmerize the masses as old Ronnie did.

Now I was never for a minute mesmerized by Reagan. On the contrary, I found him repulsive and so obviously the puppet of George Herbert Bush and his cronies that I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why anyone found him attractive, let alone likeable and trustworthy. He knew almost nothing about anything, said only what he was told to say, and did such serious damage to our country and the world that we are still suffering from the impact of his policies. And yet he was the most popular President since Franklin Roosevelt. Why? I dunno.

“It’s too bad that stupidity isn’t painful.” Anton LaVey

From all I’ve read about the evolution of humans and human society, it is clear that we would not have survived as a species for long had it not been for our ability and willingness to cooperate with each other for the greater good, the good of the group transcendent of the selfish desires of individuals. And in thinking about the recent election and the San Francisco Giants winning the World Series and how people voted on the various state propositions and our wanting to install a deer fence around part of our property and the dawning of the age of rampant super storms and super calamities, it occurs to me that stupidity should henceforth be defined as the unwillingness to do what is best for the greater good.

After the Giants won the World Series, I read several articles by baseball writers and so-called baseball experts who were all baffled as to how the Giants could have possibly beaten the Reds, the Cards, and ultimately the Tigers, when the Giants, according to these experts, were so clearly the inferior collection of individual players. What a bunch of shortsighted knuckleheads! We, the Giants, were clearly the superior team and that’s why we kept on winning—because a great team is always far more than the sum of its parts and is invariably a highly cooperative community intolerant of selfishness. Or put another way, a great team is a collective dedicated to the success and well being of the entire group, and not just the enrichment of a few jerks who don’t care about anybody else.