What a Wonderful World

If you’re feeling jaded about the state of the planet, whether it be environmentally or politically, I urge you to take a moment to do the following internet search: Scott Kelly Photographs. You won’t regret it.

As an astronaut and three-time commander of the International Space Station, Scott Kelly has spent a great deal of time gazing at our planet from outer space. In the process, he was kind enough to take many stunning photographs of what he saw, so we could share in the beauty and wonder.

There are two other great ways to see his spectacular work. You can read this article about him in the New York Times, or you can buy his book, entitled Infinite Wonder: An Astronaut’s Photographs from a Year in Space. This book is making me struggle to remember that I’m trying really hard not to accumulate more stuff. I want it, I want it, I want it…

But whether it winds up gracing my coffee table or not, I’m really thrilled that these photos exist in the universe. Because no matter how horribly we behave as a species, we still, it seems, haven’t quite managed to muck up the planet beyond all recognition. These photos are proof positive of that.

We live in a gorgeous place, full of color and wonder and infinite majesty. There’s still a slight hope that we can preserve what’s left, and these photographs, more than anything else I’ve seen in a long time, give us all the reason we need to do so.

And dare I say it? They’re a testament to the fact that the earth is not flat! If you believe otherwise, you’re a fool.

Anyway.

Earth. What a gift!

(Join me in gazing up at the International Space Station as they gaze down at us. Learn now, here. It’s fun!)

Scott-Kelly--800x430
That’s one helluva selfie!

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Biosphere 2

Recently, I visited Tucson, Arizona for the first time. I met a lot of really great people, ate a lot of delicious food, and the desert is so amazing that these topics will call for additional blog posts, but I thought I’d start with the first thing we did on our first day, because it was so geek-fabulous that even as I write this I have a silly grin on my face.

Please forgive me. I’m bouncing up and down in my chair, and I can barely contain an excited scream. I got to see Biosphere 2!!!!!!!!!!

This facility, in Oracle, Arizona, first captured my imagination in 1991, when 4 women and 4 men entered its closed ecological system to conduct scientific experiments for two years. They produced their own food, and maintained a mini ocean, rainforest, fog desert, and mangrove swamp as well as a fruit orchard. They even grew their own coffee, but only produced enough for a cup once every few weeks, which must have been torture for coffee lovers.

The purpose of this entire elaborate experiment was to see if it would be possible to maintain human life in outer space. That was what I found so exciting. It was like a space mission right here on earth. I wanted to pull up stakes and move right in myself.

It’s probably best that I didn’t, though. It was hard work. They were constantly hungry. They burned 400 more calories than they ate on most days. I’d have been grumpy. I’d have wanted ice cream.

And, in fact, the psychological aspect of the experiment was what intrigued me the most. The group of 8 wound up splitting into two groups of 4, and the two groups really didn’t like one another. They barely spoke. And yet they still managed to put the biosphere first and maintain the mission. The divisions make me sad for humanity and its attraction to drama, but the fact that they still worked toward a common goal, the health of the biosphere, gives me hope.

Because where’s Biosphere 1? You’re living in it. We all are. It’s planet earth. This complex, life-sustaining ecosystem of ours is critical for our survival, and if we don’t start taking climate change seriously, we’re not going to leave much for future generations. And as the saying goes, there is no Planet B. To heck with surviving in outer space. We need to be able to survive right here, and we’re certainly doing our level best to make that a challenge.

The tour of Biosphere 2 also takes you beneath it, to where all the mechanical systems are, and into the gigantic lung, which kept the facility from imploding or exploding during differing pressure systems. A picture of the lung room is below. (A fun fact is that it was also used as a film set for a very bad movie starring William Shatner in 2002, entitled Groom Lake, which sounds like an entirely miss-able movie.)

Both closed missions in this facility were fraught with controversy, but they taught us much. Currently, Biosphere 2 is owned by the University of Arizona, and they’re doing untold numbers of research experiments, including a Landscape Evolution Observatory (LEO), a Lunar Greenhouse, and a vertical farming project. I’m so glad that this amazing place is still contributing to our knowledge. We need all that we can get, in this age of ignorance.

If you ever get a chance to take a tour, I highly recommend it. I’m also adding a book that was written by two of the original biospherians to the very top of my reading list. Life Under Glass: The Inside story of Biosphere 2 by Abigail Alling and Mark Nelson sounds like a fascinating read. There are actually several books on the subject, but this seems like a great place to start.

Without further ado, here are some of the pictures from my visit.

Biosphere 2

Biosphere 2 Rainforest
The rainforest
Biosphere 2 Cloud Desert
The Cloud Desert
Biosphere 2 Ocean
The Ocean
Biosphere 2 Lung
The lung. That heavy aluminum plate sinks to the ground when it’s cold, and rises when it is hot. It was 100 degrees that day.

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Earthing

One of the best things about the advent of spring is that I find more and more opportunities to walk barefoot. I love the feeling of grass under my feet and sand between my toes. I love feeling connected to the planet, especially after long months of raw, bitter, wet, isolating cold.

In particular, I love the grass out west. It’s soft and smooth, like the grass of my Connecticut childhood. In the South, one is forced to live with St. Augustine grass, which is actually lumpy and painful to walk on. That, and you have to watch out for fire ants and snakes and scorpions and hostile plant life. It’s not the same experience at all. (But I do miss walking on Southern beaches! Warm sand, not painful rocks!)

But walking barefoot, or “earthing”, is now being scientifically studied. It comes as no surprise to me that people are discovering that there are actual health benefits to the practice. I know I feel calmer and happier and much more centered when I’m barefoot.

According to this article, scientists are discovering that earthing improves sleep, reduces inflammation, and increases antioxidants. It has something to do with having direct contact with the electrons that the planet produces. It also reduces stress, regulates glucose and heartbeat, and increases immunity. According to this article, walking barefoot also helps loosen tense muscles, relieves headaches, reduces menstrual cramps, and boosts energy levels.

Whether or not these studies stand up to further investigation, I just know, instinctively, that I feel better when I can feel the earth beneath my feet. After all, we evolved to live upon it. Our very existence depends on it. We are meant to be connected to it. I find it sad that our idea of “progress” is removing us more and more from the natural world.

So get out there and wiggle your toes!

Barefoot-walking

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The Sun Will Still Rise When the World Ends

It baffles me that wanting to save the planet is even the slightest bit controversial. What are the down sides to it? It may take time and money, yes, but those are things we won’t have anyway, if we continue to destroy the environment.

It seems that the most primal motivator for humanity is, unfortunately, greed. The worst perpetrators of global destruction are those who are exploiting resources to get every single penny out of them while they still can. To hell with the future. They are only concerned with instant gratification. They think trees were put on this earth to provide the wood to build their three-car garages.

Perhaps those of us who are ringing environmental alarm bells are going about this all wrong. Selfish people, by definition, care only about themselves. They are incapable of the concept that we need to put the planet first. To get them to hop on this life-or-death bandwagon, we need to make the issue about them.

Here’s what these selfish people need to know. We don’t need to save the planet. The planet is, basically, a rock that’s hurtling through space. There’s not much that we can do that is going to mess with that rock. We can burn the entire world to the ground, blow everything up, kill every living creature and leave not one drop of drinkable water on the earth’s surface, and that rock will continue on its path around the sun. The sun will rise and set, and the earth will spin, with or without us.

What we need to save is ourselves.

For humans to survive, we have to maintain the environment in a state that is conducive to humans. It behooves us to keep it from getting much hotter. It’s a good idea to make sure we can grow the food we need to eat. We may also want to think about the fact that we need air to breathe and water to drink. And maintaining this system is rather complex. It means that we need bees to pollinate, and a diverse web of flora and fauna, or the whole project will fall like a house of cards, and that, dear readers, will be the end of us.

So if you can’t be bothered to care about the planet, think about saving yourself.

Environment conflict

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You Don’t Have to Believe in Global Warming

It must be awfully stressful to be a climate change denier. If you fall into that category, I have to admire your tenacity, your grit, your firmness of conviction. Especially in light of the fact that fewer and fewer people agree with you.

According to a Gallup Poll in March, 2016, 64 percent of Americans are extremely concerned about it, up from the all-time recorded low of 51 percent back in 2011. And 65 percent of us believe global warming is caused by human activities.

And scientists (the ones who study these things, after all), are even more definitive. According to Wikipedia, “A survey found 97% agreed that global temperatures have increased during the past 100 years; 84% say they personally believe human-induced warming is occurring, and 74% agree that ‘currently available scientific evidence’ substantiates its occurrence.”

No one likes to be a member of an ever-shrinking group, but hey, you are entitled to your opinion. And opinions don’t have to have anything at all to do with facts. For example, I am of the opinion that cranberries are torture devices that get trotted out every Thanksgiving. You don’t have to agree with me.

Even so, I’m sure we can find some common ground. For example, most of us should be able to agree that we need to take care of the planet on which we live, for ourselves and for future generations. It’s the only planet we’ve got, right? We can all agree that our actions have consequences, even if we don’t agree about what those consequences will be.

So it’s official. I will no longer judge you harshly for being of an opinion that flies in the face of science. I will no longer ridicule you for having a belief that is so foreign to my own. Don’t you feel better already? I do. What a load off our minds. Group hug!

But in exchange, I’m going to double down on you if you neglect or abuse the planet. Just as I would be wrong to go out and destroy all the cranberry bogs, so you would be wrong to negatively impact the earth. Fair’s fair.

If you aren’t willing to stand on that common ground, then I can only conclude that your agenda is far more nefarious, and you might want to take a hard look at your level of selfishness, laziness, and greed. In that case, you’d feel a whole lot better if you simply come clean and admit that it isn’t that you don’t believe in global warming. It’s actually that you don’t give a shit.

But I’d like to have more faith in you than that. I think you can believe what you will and still do what you must. Your actions mean much more to me than your thoughts. Especially if you’re choosing to be thoughtless.

the_planet_earth_by_technoking

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The Little Things

On my drive to work today I got tears in my eyes; tears of gratitude. I came around a curve and saw a tree with flaming red leaves. You don’t see too many trees whose leaves change in the fall in this Emerald City of Seattle, but you see enough. Enough to make you appreciate them even all the more. I am back in a place where leaves change color! I can’t explain how much that means to someone who hasn’t seen it in 30 years.

There are so many other things here that bring me back to the climate of my childhood. Moss. Rocks. The smell of rich, dark earth. Soft grass. Water that actually tastes good. It’s all so precious to me. Priceless, because it took so much for me to get to this place of abundance. So forgive me for being maudlin, but tears are bound to flow.

Here are a few more pictures of little things that have made my heart squeeze.

IMG_0374

Plants that I’ve never seen before.

IMG_0385

Sunlight sparkling through crystal clear rippling water onto smooth stones.

IMG_0370

A large snail in a city lake.

Abundance is mine!

Riding the Planet

Today is my birthday, and yesterday, my grandnephew Carter was born. Naturally, this has given me ample opportunity to compare our two situations.

Having spent almost half a century on this planet, you might think I know a thing or two, and I suppose I do. I can pat my head and rub my stomach at the same time. I have memories of my travels, and of friends both present and past. I’ve had regrets, I’ve learned from at least half of my mistakes and I’m proud of my achievements.

Carter, on the other hand, after just one day of life, is simply riding the planet. That’s what I call it when you just trust that gravity will hold you to earth’s surface, and you let the planet hurtle through space without making any effort to steer. You’re not there to stress out over anything, you’re not trying to solve anything. You’re just entrusting your fate to the universe, and you’re along for the ride. I try to do this when I meditate, with mixed results. But when I achieve a full state of planet riding, I’m content. Everything seems so much easier. Carter was born with the ability to do this. He trusts that he’ll be fed and cared for. He has faith that things will work out for him. So who is wiser? Nobody’s feeding me, giving over their entire existence to make sure I’m safe, or rocking me when I cry. Lucky kid.

Unlike Carter at the moment, I seem to be in a constant state of surprise. For example, just yesterday I discovered that this creature exists:

Pink Fairy Armadillo

That’s a Pink Fairy Armadillo and it lives in central Argentina. Granted, I haven’t spent copious amounts of time wandering around the heartland of Argentina, but still, I cannot believe that I’ve shared the planet with this animal and have never known about its existence up to now.

And a few years ago, they found an entirely new Indian tribe in Brazil that has never had any contact with the outside world. The only reason they discovered it at all was that an airplane flew over their longhouse. Here was a whole group of people living their daily lives, being born, laughing, loving and dying, and yet we didn’t even know about them. How freaky is that? http://news.discovery.com/human/newly-identified-tribe-in-the-amazon.html

I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that you’ll never stop learning, so Carter, even though you’re just starting out, even though I might seem comparatively wise, in the overall scheme of things, we’re really in the same boat, and we’re both just at the starting line of life.

So keep dreaming your newborn dreams, dear Carter, and let the world take care of itself. At least, for now.

Carter