There is no texture to the sky today. It’s soft with a dull yellow sun. Not the brilliant blue that often precedes a hurricane.
They say it’s a high-altitude haze from the fires out west. And yet I smell the ash, chasing me indoors – a place I have tried to escape during the pandemic.
No, I’m not in California, or Oregon, or Washington. I am on the East Coast. And yet somehow, a ghost-like layer of smoke has reached all the way across our continent and continues to carry the memories of Pacific rim fires out into the Atlantic.
It’s Day 3 of this relatively minor inconvenience, but it brings home the magnitude of this global event. Just like the fires in California, Australia, Indonesia, and Brazil over the past few years the surface of the Earth is drying out in many places (new record of 130 degrees in Death Valley) and lightning storms are increasing. We are losing control of our goldilocks climate by continuing to poison our atmosphere and not taking the steps that will reduce these threats. Where is the government when we really need them? This is a challenge worth fighting for.
The residue from the West Coast fires will probably be washed out of our skies over the next few days as the residual rains from Hurricane Sally pass overhead. Sally is another climate exasperated event. We won’t get the 30 inches of rain that fell on some of the Gulf Coast or the torrential rains and floods of the Upper mid-West that occurred earlier in the year, but we should get enough to wash some of the remaining particulates from the skies. They will fall into our soils and the waters of the mid-Atlantic states and well beyond.
These events have not directly impacted us here in the East but they have been large enough to get our attention – if only for a few days. They might have impacts on our food supplies and other supply chains, and we will all end up paying for these disruptions somehow. But are these events enough to get us to look at our personal and corporate behaviors and change not just to save ourselves and our lifestyles but to help others as well.
What have we learned from the other great global, man-made crisis – the pandemic. As I attempted to change my behaviors to avoid catching Covid-19, I think I learned a little about myself relative to others. I have had encounters, both friendly and awkward, with people behind masks or not sporting a mask at all. I realized that my actions have not only been about protecting me and my loved ones but I followed the public health recommendations because wide participation is the only way to gain control over the spread of this virus.
I learned that to help fight any of these curses we all need to follow the best scientific advice available. That is the only way to win the fight against a global problem.
I want to invite you to listen to two podcasts with Saul Griffith. They will address most questions you have about electrifying America. At least they addressed most of my questions and provided a very pragmatic vision of the future and how we can get there. I found them both fascinating in the breadth of what they cover.
The first podcast, ‘How to solve climate change and make life more awesome‘ focuses on the technical and practical aspects of rewiring America.
The second podcast, ‘How to decarbonize America — and create 25 million jobs‘ focuses more on the social or political side of this challenge.
The vision of how we do this should be helpful to all of you. The bottom line is that Griffith – who should know what he is talking about – is convinced we can do this with existing technology and financial systems. He paints the picture we all need to have in our heads in order to work together to make this happen.
Who is Griffith? He is a Mac Arthur Genius Fellow and has been working on energy systems for over 40 years. You can also download his latest book, Rewiring America Handbook.
The Pandemic Fog – Since March I’ve been feeling like I’m living in a fog. There is a certain sameness about being in my house all the time and taking the same walking paths around my neighborhood. I miss the hugs and the sense of comfort I get when hanging out without worrying about how close I am to someone else. I miss the excitement of “looking ahead to the next trip or vacation”. There is a lack of freshness, a lack of oportunty and a lack of excitement in my everyday life. On top of that, more fear has entered my life. I’m greatly concerned about how and when this pandemic will end and the financial and health-related hardships many of us are facing.
I don’t think of this Pandemic Fog that I’m experiencing as boredom, however, because I’ve taken the opportunity to read more, walk more, and appreciate my partner and close friends more. I’ve meditated more this year and have tried to always “be there” for my family and friends. I’ve also engaged much more than in past years in the political campaigns and in my ongoing efforts to inspire more people to take personal actions in the fight against climate change. So I don’t think it’s boredom. In fact, life seems to be going too fast and I’m concerned that I’m wasting time and missing out on something important. It’s as if I’m lost in a fog and missing a year of my life.
Don’t miss out on reading good books this summer, especially since so many of us are caught inside due to the temperatures and Covid 19. It’s a great opportunity.
Aside from reading quite a few picture books, I have somehow found time to read novels and non fiction pieces some of which are both beautifully written and fully engaging. My mind is still elastic enough to learn something which each book I read. So find the time and enjoy.
I sent out my favorite reads of all time last year and they are well worth reading. But this year I would like to add a few more recommendations.
The Overstory by Richard Powers
Between the World and Me by Tai-Nehisi Coates
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
Drawdown by Paul Hawkin
I am also happy to report that my latest novel, The Big Melt, is enjoying brisk sales in both the paper copy and the e version. It has been shortlisted for 2 book awards and reviewers are finding it engaging and inspiring. I have been doing zoom discussions of the book with book clubs, school groups, environmental groups, and church groups. Email me to schedule a time: email@example.com.
What if we focused the 2.2+ trillion dollars on steps and products that will help us shift our economy to one based on clean energy and sustainable practices? Hmmmmm – I don’t need to think very long about that – we could attack several of our biggest challenges at the same time. That’s right, we could crank up the economy and shift it to a direction that will leave us less exposed to the next pandemic and which will help us start to solve the climate crisis at the same time. We could take all that we have learned about working together and use the stimulus to create a healthier, safer, and more robust future for all of us. Just think of the things we could do if we all agreed to take the necessary steps as part of the recovery. We could:
- end commuting and rush hour traffic by demonstrating to our employers that we are actually a lot more effective working at home. This would result in saving a lot of time and money now that we figured out how to do work from home during the coronavirus lockdown.
- end spending countless hours driving and shopping now that we have convinced ourselves to have our food or at least the basics delivered to our front doors – just think of the time we would save.
- reduce all the non-essential business travel by convincing our colleagues and clients to do more, and better, communication on line. This would be safer, cheaper, far less polluting, and give us a lot more time.
- send a clear message to businesses that we want to support sustainable firms and buy sustainable products. We can send that message by:
- all agreeing not to buy food and products wrapped in layers of plastic.
- buying energy efficient appliances
- buying solar and wind generated electricity
- buying electrical vehicles and hybrids
- put to good use the monies dedicated to infrastructure projects by making all of our buildings more energy efficient and by creating a smart electrical grid that supports the development of clean energy.
There is so much we could do.
We could even develop behaviors that would help clean the air and water and soils of this country and beyond.
By working together, we could move mountains!
Here is a link for an uplifting video.
Spent the morning with friends being shown around the Howard County Living Farm Museum. It is a beautiful 400 acre farm across Route 144 from the Howard County Fairgrounds. There are 20 buildings on the farm which is owned by Howard County Recreation and Parks. It is managed and maintained by all volunteer efforts by about 200 members of the Howard County Antique Farm Machinery Club. They mow about 6 miles of trails around the farm land and back into the woods on the north side of the Middle Patuxent River. It is a wonderful place to get away, learn about our past, and go for a walk.
John and Virginia Frank have been very involved in the club from the beginning. They and a group of farmers initially held annual events at the Howard County Conservancy. But they had ambitious plans and secured a deal with the county for this farm and have accomplished a great deal.
They showed us around and we learned a great deal about the past – I recognized most of the equipment and home furnishings, but also learned a great deal. Kathy and I became members of the club because it provides a real service to the community and we hope to take our family out for events. I look forward to attending music and other outdoor events there in the future when things open back up and they return to hosting seasonal events.
For now, I suggest you check out the trail map on their website, go for a walk, and consider supporting them during these challenging times.
I have learned to appreciate so much during the pandemic that I have gained a great deal of perspective on my life and the health of all of us on the planet. Here are a few items that I pledge to change.
I will enjoy all that my local community has to offer
I will walk more
I will read more
I will snack less
I will eat less meat
I will drink much more water that comes out of the tap with no packaging
I will engage with others more
I will listen more
I will drive less (goal is to get off fossil fuels). There is so much to do, see, and enjoy close by.
I will reduce my energy use at home
I will fly less but stay longer
I will buy less stuff
I will vote every time I get the chance
I will encourage others to vote
I will continue to wash my hands
I will advocate more for the climate
I will advocate more for science
I will advocate more against oppression
I will smile more
A few years ago there were not many options for climate impact investing. But things have evolved. There is a Dow Jones Sustainability ranking for most large companies. The bigger financial firms have developed a wide range of screening protocols for a whole host of environmental, social, and governance parameters (ESG). And there is a ‘divestment from fossil fuels’ initiative expanding across the country from the board rooms of our most prestigious universities and corporations to your average citizen. You might want to look at investments through a ‘climate lens’ as you plan for the long term health of your family and your portfolio – especially as you restructure your investment strategy during this pandemic.
I suggest that you read: citing-climate-change-blackrock-will-start-moving-away-from-fossil-fuels. People want good returns and they no longer trust fossil fuel companies or firms who aren’t planning and helping to create a more sustainable future.
There is also a big move toward rebuilding our country from the coronavirus impacts in a way that will make us more resilient and better prepared for the looming climate challenges. Check out recent actions by over 300 businesses.
There is also a trend among the baby-boomers who want to have an impact with their investments. As a group they represent the greatest transfer of wealth of all time. Just think what they could accomplish if their funds were funneled in the right way. Some of the largest Wall Street firms are trying to meet this demand. For example, look at the strategy of Morgan Stanley. institute-for-sustainable-investing. We as consumers and investors can have a great deal of influence on which businesses we support and which ones we choose not to support. I try to consider these impacts every time I spend a dollar – whether it is purchasing something or where I invest. Just think of the impact we might have on shaping the future if we all did this.
As I mentioned in my May 12, 2020 blog, the people who are hurt the most from pollution and the impacts from our changing climate are often people with the least means to avoid these problems. People who live downstream or downwind from an ‘out of compliance’ manufacturing site or power plant have the most exposure to air and water pollution, and they are without the financial resources to move to a more expensive but cleaner area. They may benefit from the power generated or commercial goods produced, but they often suffer most from the exposure to toxic chemicals. This is one good reason that we have regulations and why we need to enforce these regulations at all times. The costs of good environmental regulation has proven to be far less than the health and economic benefits that we all gain.
Caring for the environment may seem like a luxury to some because it takes time, money, knowledge, and political power to clean things up and keep them clean. The exposure to toxic chemicals has been made worse by the practice of redlining in many parts of the country. Redlining is the systematic denial of various services by government agencies and the private sector to residents of specific neighborhoods – most notably black and brown communities. This is done either directly or through the selective raising of prices. Just think how these historic and current practices make things worse for some sectors of our population. Here are a few ways that people who are trapped in poor areas suffer more than the rest of us when it comes to the wide-ranging impacts of a changing climate.
Health impacts in poor areas:
- Existing social, health, infrastructure, food supply, and housing vulnerabilities in poor areas will impact residents’ ability to respond in the face of a changing climate.
- Weather – Major rain storms threaten all of us but especially people living in low-lying areas with inadequate and poorly maintained stormwater, sewage, transportation, and electrical infrastructure.
- Air Quality – Coal, oil, and natural gas fired power plants and manufacturing facilities are often located in or near poor areas. They can emit toxins, e.g., coal plants often emit mercury, arsenic, lead, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide.
- Higher temperatures are exacerbated by the ‘Heat Island Affect’, and our cities often lack the cooling and cleaning benefits of a forested area. This leads to higher temperatures and greater risk of heat stroke, COPD, heart attack, and premature death.
- Increased heat and ozone levels result in more asthma attacks and hospitalization.
- Extreme heat and extreme precipitation events increase the risk of salmonella infections.
- Mental Health – Greater impacts result from repeated exposures and climatic events.
For further information, I would recommend resources from EcoAmerica. They have an entire climate and health program. Climate Justice Alliance is also a good resource for climate and social justice concerns.
In times of stress, many of our wounds come to the forefront. The best solutions to stress are to take action and to take care of yourself and your neighbors – all of them.
Action – Lets do whatever we can to:
- confront our racial inequities, xenophobia, and other institutional and personal oppressions.
- support our health professionals and follow their advice.
- keep moving forward on reducing fossil fuel emissions and creating a more stable climate.
Please take actions today on each of these fronts. We all need to act, each and every day.
Mental Health – And make sure you are taking time out for your own mental health by going outside.
Here are some of my favorite walking location suggestions in Howard County that may be of value to you.
Here are some great places to visit.
Here are some of my favorite walking locations in Maryland.
Here are my favorite kid-friendly camping grounds.
It’s a balance between helping others and keeping strong and in touch with the Earth.