True Reform?

I just did a Google search to see when fire season is in California. What I learned from this website is that it is easier to say when fire season isn’t. The answer to that is May. The rest of the year is pretty much the danger zone. That’s rather sobering.

Fire seasons have gotten longer and longer and and have become progressively more devastating over the years, due to global warming. With increasing droughts, increasing heat, and increasing winds, we’ve got a recipe going on that makes for a heaping helping of flame and destruction. Not good.

And fighting fires isn’t for sissies. Anyone who does so is putting his or her life at risk. It’s a heroic sacrifice.

Sadly, there seem to be fewer and fewer heroes in this world. Because of this, we’ve had to rely on a population that already tends to be stuck with the dirty jobs: inmates. But according to this article, there are fewer inmates to draw upon because there has been a reduction in low-level offenders being housed in the prisons. And now, due to the pandemic, a lot of prisoners have been released early, reducing the pool of potential firefighters even further.

So Gavin Newsom, the Governor of California, recently signed California bill AB2147. Basically, it gives some prison firefighters the opportunity to have their records expunged after they’ve served their sentences. This means, for the first time, they’ll be able to apply for any of 200 jobs that require a state license, including, of course, firefighters. And they’ll certainly be able to say they have experience.

This bill won’t apply to people who commit murder, kidnapping, rape, arson or any felony that’s punishable by life imprisonment or death. That makes sense to me. But I have mixed emotions about this entire endeavor.

On the one hand, it seems as though, for the first time, someone has created a pathway to actual reform for prisoners. We all know that once you’re convicted, it’s nearly impossible to get a decent job. In my opinion, that leaves no other opportunity for survival than crime. Now there will be opportunities. I think this is fantastic.

On the other hand, let’s face it. California isn’t doing this out of the goodness of its heart. They’re desperate for firefighters. And their desperation is only bound to get worse. So, plain and simple, they need these guys to want to put their lives at risk. And they’ll do it. And many will die in the attempt.

But I honesty don’t see any other options. I just hope they don’t start arresting more people for petty b.s., simply to feed them into that firefighting meat grinder. That would be really bad.

Bad, but conceivable. So, yeah, I’m worried that this bill could backfire. (Sorry. Had to.)

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Once Upon a Time, Not Long Ago…

I know you’re still young, and can’t remember a world that wasn’t like the one that we have today. That’s entirely the fault of human beings, and I’m really sorry for what you’re missing out on. I hope someday you grow up to make the kind of differences that we adults have failed to make for you.

Once upon a time, we could breathe the air without a filter.

Once upon a time, the sun was so bright that you couldn’t look directly at it.

Once upon a time, you got to see the full face of everyone you encountered, and that made it a lot easier to know how they were feeling.

Once upon a time, there were things called concerts.

Once upon a time, you could see the stars.

Once upon a time, kids your age enjoyed riding bikes and playing little league.

Once upon a time, you could travel to other countries.

Once upon a time, people could hug one another.

Once upon a time, people actually went outside on purpose, for pleasure. (You’d have loved camping.)

Once upon a time, there was a thing called democracy.

Once upon a time, the rivers weren’t choked with algae.

Once upon a time, we didn’t fight over water.

Once upon a time, people got together in large groups for school and just for fun.

Once upon a time, the world was a lot more populated, and maybe that’s where everything started going wrong.

I’m so sorry. We have no excuse for what we’ve done. I wish you had had the chance to know the world the way I remember it. You deserve so much better.

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Water Light and Dark

As I write this, I’m in the midst of an epic downpour here in Seattle. Six inches in a 48-hour period. Now I completely understand why the least favorite word in the English language is moist.

This has me thinking about the love/hate relationship we all have with water. We can’t live without it. It’s refreshing on a hot day. It’s fun to swim and surf in. It is vital for food growth and production. And since the world revolves around me, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that my job as a bridgetender depends on its existence.

On the other hand, as global climate change plagues us all, the sea levels are rising, and areas that used to put up with mere nuisance floods are now inundated. In other parts of the world, severe droughts are destroying crops and causing fires the likes of which the world has never seen. People the world over are being forced to relocate. Thanks to our meddling, nature seems to be struggling to find that balance between too much water and not enough. At either extreme, the results can be deadly.

In this current downpour, as I descend the hill from my house, I’ve witnessed water jetting up to three feet out of the storm drains, either because of a blockage down below, or because they simply cannot handle the volume. This has caused the street in the valley below to be closed. Landslides are happening in the region, and more than a few large Pacific Northwest trees are toppling because of the waterlogged soil.

If I were Queen of the world, I’d send some of this water down to California, where it’s desperately needed. But as it stands, I can barely convince Quagmire, my fastidious dachshund, to go outside to potty, so that tells you how powerful I am in the face of this storm. Water can be quite humbling that way.

Singin in the Rain Adam Cooper

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Fire Drill Fridays

I think the first time it really dawned on me that otherwise perfectly reasonable (to my mind) people had extremely different worldviews than I did was when I was 22 and working at a video rental store.

A customer asked me if we had the movie Electric Horseman. I had to ask my boss. She said, with tight lips, that they didn’t carry any Jane Fonda movies. I thought, “Why not? I love her movies.”

I had no idea about her visit to Hanoi, or even what that meant, really, because I was 10 years old when Saigon fell. The Vietnam war was a very confusing, very distant blip on my radar as a child, so one woman’s visit there, and the controversy it stirred up, was something I only learned about later in life.

I’d like to think, though, that if I had been an adult at the time, I’d have been protesting the war, too. Would I have gone about it the way she did? No. Even she admits she has regrets about that now. But I genuinely believe that her intentions were good, and that the mostly debunked rumors surrounding her actions have gotten things so twisted that the truth will never be known.

Love her or hate her, you have to admit that Jane Fonda has lived her beliefs her whole life. She has been an anti-war, pro-feminist, environmental activist, and worked tirelessly for those causes for as long as I have drawn breath.

I really can’t understand people who are against these causes, but I’d at least respect their integrity if they were as devoted and outspoken as Fonda has been. Anyone who puts their convictions into action, and tries so hard to do what they feel is right, is pretty darned impressive. More power to them.

As you read this, Jane Fonda is most likely getting arrested for the 5th Friday in a row as part of her Fire Drill Friday protests for environmental change. She intends to do this every single Friday through January, and actually moved to Washington DC to do these protests on Capitol Hill, to raise awareness in our politicians about the climate emergency we are now in.

As polarizing as she may be, I stand with Jane Fonda in her efforts, and hope you will as well. The health of this planet and all its inhabitants are at stake. There should be no controversy in that.

First Fire Drill Friday in Washington DC

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The Hard Truth about Coal

There are few things that I find more annoying than being forced to listen to someone who is misinformed. I hate being spoon fed false information, and I hate it even more when it’s obviously biased and unresearched. For example, when someone spouts ignorance about the Koran, I automatically say, “Have you ever even READ the Koran? No? Then get back to me when you have.”

So imagine how much it rankled when I was stuck listening to a tour guide on a train, with no way out, when she said (twice!) that she didn’t know why the Alaska coal export industry collapsed, leaving thousands unemployed, but “it happened during the Obama administration.” Wink, wink.

By the way, this woman also said that global warming is “cyclical”, despite every single solitary graph that shows that what’s happening now is extreme and unnatural. So let’s face it, the woman was a fool. And I was stuck on the train with her, there was no escaping that fact, and I knew there was no point in attempting to lead her out of ignorance. It would have just gotten awkward. So I gritted my teeth.

But all this irritation has to go somewhere, dear reader, so brace yourself. I’m about to purge myself. You’re going to be vented upon.

I decided to do a little bit of research about the coal industry in general, and Alaska’s in particular. I learned a lot of interesting things. (And it provided the delightful side benefit of reinforcing my belief that that tour guide was a dunce. So, yay.)

First of all, it’s true that Usibelli Coal Mine, currently the only operational coal mine in Alaska, is no longer exporting coal to foreign countries. It used to export to South Korea, Chile, Japan, and other pacific rim countries, but no more. It now has only about 115 employees, and their focus is on Alaska power plants.

Why is this? First of all, according to this article, in 2011 Usibelli exported 1.3 million tons of coal, but in 2012 this number fell to 877,000 tons, and by 2014 was only 513,000 tons.  In 2015, no shipments were made to South Korea or Chile and a mere 150,000 tons were exported to Japan.

This drop in demand has made it unfeasible to export coal to Asia. The high production costs, the remote locations, and the shipping expenses make this coal uncompetitive. Also, according to this article, China, the largest consumer of coal on the planet by a country mile, has drastically reduced its imports. In fact, its consumption “appears to have peaked in 2014.”

According to this article, China has closed over 1,000 of its own mines, due to lack of need, so it’s certainly not going to prioritize imports. And the price of coal is dropping globally, with no end in sight.

South Korea and Chile’s markets were a mere drop in the bucket compared to China’s. By that I mean they constitute about 1 percent of global consumption. India takes up about 10 percent of the world’s coal consumption, but even their consumption is dropping annually. That means exporters around the globe are hurting. It’s not just us. Australia’s coal mining industry is in poor shape as well.

So, yeah, if you’re looking to make money from coal, you’re wasting your time. As more and more countries turn to green energy sources, they’re turning away from coal. As more and more countries realize they should invest in service industries rather than factories, they’re turning away from coal. Investing in coal is tantamount to investing in the Model A Ford.

Coal is dying. And it should. It’s long overdue.

Do I feel sorry for the people who have lost jobs? Of course. But it’s unreasonable to expect the world to prop up an industry that has no demand or use because of that. Some realities are harsh, but they’re still inevitable.

If you’re too short-sighted to realize that the world is outgrowing coal, and you’re looking for someone to blame, don’t blame Obama. Don’t be that simplistic. Realize that the times are changing, and you’d be well advised to change with them.

And, um, don’t spread your ignorance to a captive audience. This train is moving down the track, honey. With or without you. Just sayin’.

Coal Miners

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Glacier Bay

Sometimes I have no idea how I get so lucky. Taking a Cruise from Seward, Alaska to Vancouver, British Columbia was one of those times. I had this thought, in particular, while sitting on the balcony of my stateroom on Holland America’s Noordam, while gazing at the many glaciers of Glacier Bay National Park. This is the life.

Glacier Bay can only be reached by plane or boat, so I really appreciated seeing the park rangers come alongside the cruise ship to do what they call a “controlled crash” and climb up the rope ladder with everything they needed to set up their visitor center on the ship.

We saw at least 8 glaciers, the most spectacular of which were Johns Hopkins Glacier and my personal favorite, Margerie Glacier, with its spectacular, vivid blue, craggy face. The pictures below don’t do them justice. The experience will be stamped permanently on my brain. For that, I’m extremely grateful.

Yes, the glaciers have been receding at an unprecedented, extreme rate. They were calving into the water even as we watched. 95 percent of all scientists in the world agree that this is caused by global climate change which has been brought upon the planet by human activity. Anyone who thinks otherwise is not using science-based logic.

As I took in these glaciers, with the seals cavorting at their feet, I tried not to dwell on the sadness I felt that future generations would not have this view. Rather, I vowed to do what I can to reduce my impact, and I tried to focus on the fact that right here, right now, I was lucky enough to have this view myself. What a gift.

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A Blanket Apology to Everyone on Earth

This post is for all of you who read my blog outside of the U.S. I am an American. I can’t speak for all Americans. No one can. Or at least no one should. But I can certainly speak for myself.

It breaks my heart that my country as a whole is being judged by the rest of the world based on what they see in the news. Most of us are not like the insane people who grab the headlines these days. Many of us are as appalled by what we read as you are. I don’t know if that will be a source of comfort or of increased anxiety for you, but there you have it: for many of us, that feeling of disgust does not stop outside our borders.

So let me tell you a little about who I am, so you can see that not all of us fit that stereotype that has been created by Washington D.C., our nation’s capitol, where you can’t sling a dead cat without hitting someone who is morally bankrupt, unforgivably selfish, and rotting from the inside by the sheer weight of his or her greed. Such blatant abuse of power is unconscionable.

First of all, I am horrified at my government’s total disdain for the environment. We are one of the most environmentally selfish nations on earth, and the least likely to do anything to turn this global warming situation around before it destroys us all. I’m so sorry for that. I wish I felt like I could do something about it. I mean, I vote. I speak out. I do the best I can to reduce my carbon footprint. But I feel like I’m not making an impact, and I know this negatively impacts you as well.

I also happen to think that my country’s stance on guns is absurd and dangerous. We have more mass shootings than anywhere else, and we can’t even agree that the average citizen has no legitimate need for semi-automatic weapons. It makes no sense.

And this damned border wall that Trump is so in love with? I don’t want it. No one I know really wants it. All this political maneuvering is an embarrassment. Honestly, how do these people even look themselves in the mirror?

I don’t think immigrants are a threat. In fact, I’m a second generation American myself. This country would be lost without immigrants. I’m not so greedy that I’m not willing to share the wealth. I actually like you unless you give me some personal reason to feel otherwise. I don’t believe in kidnapping your children at the border. I think the day we stop granting asylum to people in danger is the day when we lose the most vital part of what makes us decent human beings. Jesus wouldn’t turn you away, so how can a country that considers itself mainly Christian do so? I don’t understand this attitude of xenophobia. It makes me sick.

I am also profoundly sorry that we don’t step in to help nearly as often as we butt in to serve our own best interests. We have no right to do this. Clearly, we struggle to get ourselves right, so it’s the height of arrogance to think we can fix anyone else.

And we imprison people to a much higher degree than any other country. I can’t blame you if you think twice about visiting us. I’d be afraid to, if I were you. But I genuinely believe that we need you to come visit. We need our horizons expanded. It’s hard to think of someone as an enemy once we’ve broken bread with that person. Please, come break bread with us.

I guess I do sit squarely in one stereotype. I tend to forget the world doesn’t revolve around us. Perhaps you could care less about what my country says or does. Perhaps you have more important things on your mind than my pompous country. That’s a legitimate response, too, and I can hardly blame you for it.

I just wanted you to know that I’m sorry about all the destruction we cause. I just wanted you to know that somewhere here, in this unbelievable circus of a country, sits a woman in a bridge tower who is every bit as outraged as many of you are. And I know for a fact that I’m not alone. So, please forgive us, individually, even if you cannot bring yourselves to forgive us collectively.

American Flag

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Exploring Washington State–Mount Rainier National Park

As we came around the curve, a bald eagle landed in the road right in front of us; an opossum clutched in its talons. Upon seeing us, the grand bird flew away, leaving its prey behind. Its wingspan was wider than the lane in which we were driving. It all seemed to happen in slow motion, and yet there was no time for pictures. I didn’t want to look away, even for a second, as its strong wings elevated it ever skyward. The white triangle of its tail spread wide. This was an angle I’d never seen before. It was so unexpected, and so, so close. This was nature at its most beautiful. I felt as though I had been given a special gift.

And here’s the thing: we hadn’t even arrived at the park yet. So this adventure was beginning on a high note, as if the universe wanted to make sure I was in the proper state of awe for the experience to come.

Mount Rainier looms large in the Pacific Northwest. On sunny days, I get to gaze upon it from one of the bridges where I work. I quite often get a glimpse on my commute home as well. I’d always wanted a closer look, but sensed that it would be too incredible to see alone. Some things, the most amazing things, should be shared.

According to the National Park Service, Mount Rainier is “the tallest volcano in the Cascade Mountain Range and the most glaciated peak in the continental United States.” We weren’t going to make it to the 14,410 foot apex. Many of the roads were still closed for the season, and neither of us are climbing fit. But we made it up to the visitor center in Paradise, which is at 5400 feet. More than a mile above sea level. Higher than Denver.

There are currently 25 glaciers on Mount Rainier, which is pretty impressive. But if you look at the timeline here, you can see that they’ve been steadily shrinking. This could be a very effective teaching tool about global warming, but unfortunately the entire National Park System is under a gag order thanks to our current resident in the White House, who is of the minority, self-serving opinion that climate change doesn’t exist, or at least isn’t our fault. Oh no. Can’t be. Then we might have to do something. Sigh.

So I looked at these amazing glaciers, and the accompanying waterfalls, and the gigantic old-growth trees, and realized that they would probably never again be as grand as they were at that very minute. It was a privilege to bear witness.

Thank goodness, at least, for elevation. Before entering the park, it was a sunny 77 degrees. At the visitor center, it was 44 degrees and hailing. Hail. In late May. And at the same time, steam still rises off the mountain’s crest, to remind us all that it’s still an active volcano.

Nature is the most amazing thing we have. Why are we so hellbent on destroying it? I’ll never understand.

Homeward bound, we drove back along the stretch of road where we encountered the majestic eagle, and I was pleased to see that he’d long since come back to retrieve his meal. The circle of life continues. At least for now.

I’ll leave you with these photos, which do not do the place justice, but will at least give you some idea of why I’m so in love with our national parks.

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Let’s Talk About the Weather, Shall We?

I’m looking forward to a rare day of sunshine here in the Pacific Northwest, and the temperature is expected to rise to a delightful 65 degrees. Spring! Happy dance!

Meanwhile, a dear friend in Kansas had to hunker down the other day in anticipation of 2 to 4 inches of snow. In April. This is not normal. The world has gone mad.

It used to be that the weather was considered to be the safest of all possible topics. We are all told to avoid politics and religion over Thanksgiving dinner, but the weather… we could all agree on that, couldn’t we?

Not anymore. The weather has become political. At a time when California is burning to the ground, islands are sinking beneath the ocean waves, there is severe flooding, drought, dust storms engulfing entire cities, super storms of all kinds, and unprecedented ice cap melting, we are expected to avoid the meteorological elephant in the room. Even governmental websites are deleting any references to global climate change.

I never thought I’d see the day when liberals would be considered the most conservative people on earth, but we are the ones that are wanting to take precautions to safeguard the planet. Even if you don’t believe in the overwhelming science of climate change, even if you refuse to look at the evidence before your very eyes, how can you justify not wanting to take steps, just in case? If this really does turn out to be our last chance to save ourselves, don’t you want to be aboard that ark?

What is wrong with reducing our dependence on fossil fuels? Why not recycle? Would it kill you to plant a tree? Is it really so hard to be a little bit smarter about your water usage? Why is expecting our corporations not to pour their toxic waste into our rivers and streams so controversial?

Seriously. Explain it to me. Because I don’t get it.

global-warming
Surely we can all agree that this isn’t the best idea we’ve ever had.

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On Doing Diddly-Squat

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of dystopian novels. Given the current state of this country, I figure it can’t hurt to be prepared for the end of the world. Every author has his or her own idea of what is going to take out the bulk of the human race, but it always seems to start off with one common theme: powerful people seeing it coming, and doing nothing to prevent it. (Which seems to be our current stance on Global Warming.)

So when I read the following in the novel I’m currently reading (and highly recommend), it really struck a chord in me:

“It requires a certain kind of bravery, I suppose, to choose the status quo. There’s a certain boldness in inaction.”

                -The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker

That’s so true. Whenever I see someone burying his or her head in the sand, I always think, “Wow, that must take effort. And it’s going to cause a backache eventually.”

Unfortunately, the people in power who do the majority of the head-burying are not the ones who will suffer the bulk of the pain. Rich people can afford to ride stuff out. They can kick the problem down the road to the next generation, and their lifestyle won’t change very much. They’ll just have to bolt their doors come the zombie apocalypse, in whatever form it chooses to take.

We have got to stop putting people in office who are willing to say, “Not my problem.” They’re supposed to be representing us, after all, and trust me, it will most definitely become our problem. I’ve read enough dystopian novels to know that.

DiddlySquats

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