Peter Brannen Is Kind Of An Amazing Man

Date: December 1st, 2017

Other Title: My Interview With The Amazing Peter Brannen

Look how adorable he is!

Book cover: 

Peter Brannen is kind of an amazing man. Tis true, tis true. He is the author of The Ends Of The World, a book you must read now if you haven’t already. Here’s a link to buy it: https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062364807/the-ends-of-the-world

The Ends Of The World is about the five major extinctions our planet has endured. It is highly scientific, but for me at least, it reads like a novel – rightly emotional, fun, sweet, dark at times, and uplifting in the end. I loved the book so much that I annotated it. For fun. I got a pen and sat wherever I was reading it at any given time and expressed my feelings about the book, in the book. No teacher told me to. Peter sure didn’t.

The man’s Twitter feed is miraculous (some are missing their pictures or context, click each for full tweet):

I had the great honor of interviewing him, and here it is for your reading pleasure:

1. On Twitter, in reposting this post (https://twitter.com/Paleocreations/status/928695855439376384), you said “Earth has been many different planets over its lifetime.” This is sort of a two parter…Of all the “planets” Earth has been, which one is your favorite? And where is your favorite place to be on Current Earth?

 This is a very difficult question for me to answer, because it tends to change based on which period I’m researching at that moment. Some worlds, like the Cambrian world (illustrated in that link), I just love because of how alien they are. It’s difficult to believe that that world and our own both shared this same little plot of real estate in the solar system, even if we are separated by hundreds of millions of years. Of the periods I highlight in the book, there is the same sort of alien appeal for me in the Ordovician: the continents were nearly as desolate as Mars, but underwater, in places like tropical Ohio, it was just this explosion of sea life, and almost all of it was invertebrate–bug, squid, starfish-like etc.—and our ancestors, the fish, we’re all but irrelevant. It’s just a totally bizarre planet. And although it’s more recent, the Permian-Triassic planet is similarly alien to me. I’m fascinated by this version of planet earth in a sort of macabre way. It just gets so unbelievably hot and desolate. In fact, in these huge lifeless expanses of Pangaea there’s evidence that at one point earlier in the Permian it got as hot as 163 degrees Fahrenheit!

My favorite place to be on earth today is in front of any new rock outcrop with a geologist who can tell me what I’m looking at, and there’s good rocks everywhere. Geology has made the whole world more interesting to me.

2. What is your favorite fictional kingdom? 

I was struggling with this question, when I suddenly remembered a series of books I had when I was younger called Dinotopia. I just google image searched it and the illustrations are as incredible as I remembered. That is a fictional kingdom I would like to visit.

3. Who was the kindest scientist you met on your journey of writing The Ends Of The World? And who was the most eccentric? (I think I might be able to guess your answer for most eccentric, but I’m gonna let you say it.) 

All of the scientists were exceptionally kind in letting me barge into their offices and accompany them on trips to the field, and for not rolling their eyes when I asked a dumb question, so I’m going to be diplomatic and not single anyone out. “Eccentric” might have a slightly negative connotation in this context so I’ll just say that Gerta Keller certainly has the most interesting back story. As you know from the book, she basically ran away from home as a child, traveled the world, was later shot in a bank robbery, and today is easily the most divisive figure in the mass extinction community because of her iconoclastic interpretation of what killed all the non-bird dinosaurs 66 million years ago (not an asteroid, she says). As a group of people who spend their lives traveling to extremely locations to piece together answers to the big questions about the history of the planet, geologists and paleontologists are, as a rule, interesting people. But even among them Keller stands out.

4. What is your favorite element on the periodic table? Why?

I was tempted to say something crazy like astatine because of this xkcd piece https://englishatlc.files.wordpress.com/2016/03/randall-munroe-periodic-wall-of-elements.pdf. But I will be less exciting and say carbon. We’ve all heard before that we’re carbon-based life forms, and that carbon dioxide is an important greenhouse gas, but I think we fail to appreciate just how central this element is to the whole crazy project of life on this strangely habitable planet. Through volcanoes it moves from the rocks to the air, from there it gets incorporated into our bodies, and, if we’re shell-building organisms, or we get turned into oil or something, it goes back into the rocks again. It keeps the planet warm enough to survive, and when it gets too warm it naturally subsides in the atmosphere. Only in extremely strange and rare episodes, like during the continental flood basalt eruptions associated with ancient mass extinctions, and in our own current effort to liberate as much of carbon from old rocks as possible by burning coal, oil and gas in power plants does it get wildly out of balance and threaten the stability of our biosphere.

5. What (who?) is your favorite prehistoric animal? 

Another impossible question. But I think I tend to gravitate towards either creatures that are underratedly terrifying, like Dunkleosteus which, as you know from the book, is this heavily-armored sea monster with a guillotine for a mouth, or animals that are truly bizarre. In this second category the Tully Monster comes to mind. I invite you to google it—the artists’ impressions of it are too strange to even describe. Others in the extremely strange camp that I love (to name just a few) are: Anomalocaris, one of the bewildering creatures that shows up at the dawn of animal life, and Tanystropheus, a marine reptile with a neck so incredibly long that it seems like the reconstructions must be wrong (they’re not). And like most people who enjoy visiting natural history museums I’m also drawn towards the extreme outliers in size, whether it’s Indricotherium, a hornless rhinoceros that was several stories tall, Leedsicthys, just this impossibly large, dumb-looking fish that lived in the Jurassic, or Quetzacoatlus, a pterosaur the size of a giraffe with a wingspan that rivals some small aircraft. Sorry to be so long-winded with these answers, there’s just too much from earth history to choose from.

6. During the researching and writing of the book, did you learn about something that particularly excited or scared you?

 I’m both excited and scared, in this perfect mix, by the vastness of deep time. I don’t think I fully appreciated it before. I think astronomy gets a lot of credit for being mind-blowing but I think geology does the trick just as well. For instance, I’m on the east coast (in Maine at the moment) and if I went for a walk with each step representing a century, I would be done with the history of human civilization by the end of the driveway. But I could walk across the entire country to Los Angeles without even getting back to the Cambrian period 500 million years ago. And even then I would have covered less than 10% of earth’s history! Now that I’ve fallen in love with geology I am constantly having that same mind-blowing experience every time I look at a rock.

7. In The Ends Of The World, on page 130, you say: “Though climate science was long an esoteric field, today a familiarity with the basics should constitute a core part of any responsible civic education for citizens of planet Earth.” Yes. Absolutely. Who or what inspired you to become so interested in climate science and extinctions? 

I’ve always been interested in the natural world, and I think my interest in climate science grew out of that. Like a lot of people my age I read Jurassic Park as a kid and was obsessed with dinosaurs. And then when I grew up I was a reporter writing about the ocean and all the modern changes we’re seeing to its temperature and chemistry. When I found out there was this deep connection between the subjects of earth history and climate change, that our experiment today with the climate has analogs throughout the history of life that we can look to for a glimpse of our possible future, it felt like a subject tailor-made to my interests.

8. In your opinion, is the problem with humans and global warming that we are capable of stopping it but generally apathetic, or that we are not capable of stopping it at all? 

I think we are physically capable of stopping human-caused climate change but I have strong doubts about the political will to do so. The most realistic path to reaching the Paris Agreement goal of limiting ourselves to 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming by 2100 requires the entire planet to completely stop using fossil fuels well before 2050, and then to somehow start sucking an incredible amount of CO2 out of the air every year after that with technology that (for all practical purposes) doesn’t exist yet. That is quite the tall order. At this point I think it’s a question of what degree of climate change we are willing to live with. At the lesser extreme we could get our act together and live in a slightly warmer world that—though it certainly will have more extreme storms, and droughts, and heat waves, and things like that—might be manageable for us to adapt to as a civilization (though there will still be losers, especially in tropical, poorer countries). And at the other extreme is the unthinkable: that we just keep burning carbon buried by ancient life, like coal and oil, and catapult ourselves into an alien greenhouse climate from tens of millions of years ago.

I don’t have the words to describe how catastrophic the second option would be, but I don’t think there’s any reason we would ever have to get to that point. It would require another century or two of burning everything we can find in the ground, and even in the current toxic political environment there are reasons to be encouraged, especially by younger people, that voters are beginning to take the need to transform our energy system seriously. That said, in the very long run, over thousands of years, even the small changes we make to the climate will have dramatic effects. A recent study showed that the entire ice sheet of Greenland could melt with as little as 0.8 degrees of warming. We’ve already warmed the planet 0.8 degrees and will likely warm it by much more. The good thing is that to completely melt the whole thing takes thousands to tens of thousands of years (the bad thing is you don’t have to melt all of Greenland to raise sea level a lot). As for ocean acidification (what happens when CO2 reacts with seawater) it will take something like 150,000 years for nature to restore the changes we’re causing to ocean chemistry today.

9. Do you think we, citizens of the U.S, will ever have a “scientist President”? Or even a “historian President?” Someone who understands and is interested in science and history and enjoys learning? Someone who is kind but who also tries to be somewhat logical? (If you think you could ever run for President, you would definitely have my vote.) 

Haha, that’s very kind of you. I sincerely hope we have a scientist president, and soon. So many of the problems we face today, and in the decades to come, will be scientific ones. And given the polling on questions like “How old is the earth?”, and an obvious dearth of critical thinking skills in the country in the age of “fake news”, it’s obvious that we’re massively underinvested in education. If I were president I would invest (probably to a slightly psychotic degree) on education and basic research. The National Science Foundation and NASA would do quite well in my administration. That said–and this is something of a digression–not all policy questions can be decided by science. There will always be a role for philosophy and ethics to play, along with a whole bunch of other subjects that I think too many scientists are too quick to sneer at as squishy.

For instance, Neil DeGrasse Tyson recently proposed a utopian society where every policy question is decided by data and scientific research alone https://www.facebook.com/notes/neil-degrasse-tyson/reflections-on-rationalia/10154399608556613/. I think there’s a lot to recommend this vision of society, especially when you compare it to our current scientifically illiterate one. But there would be major limitations to it as well, some of which would quickly become ghastly. Take Tyson’s example on how we should decide whether to have the death penalty, which he says should depend on the data on whether it’s effective at deterring crime. But this data is useless without some prior system of ethics. For instance, there would likely be a strong deterrent effect on the crime of shoplifting if we made it punishable by death, but I don’t think that this would inform us whatsoever on whether it’s the wise or just path for a society to take. There will always be these moral questions for us to decide.

10. In your opinion, what was the worst mass extinction so far? 

The End-Permian mass extinction is the worst mass extinction in the history of life and there’s not really a close second. Enough lava erupted in Siberia 252 million years ago to cover the lower 48 United States a kilometer deep, and the volcanoes injected so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere it caused temperatures to spike something like 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Up to 96% of life in the oceans died. Trees all but disappear in the fossil record for 10 million years after the mass extinction. Coral reefs are replaced with piles of bacterial slime. The planet basically had to reboot after the catastrophe, and it took millions of painful years to do so. It was the worst moment in the history of the earth. And yet, the earth recovered. And it did more than just recover. From the ashes of the End-Permian mass extinction blossomed the age of dinosaurs and, after that, the age of mammals, and everything we see living in our world today. Life is incredibly resilient and even after the worst disaster in its history the earth enjoyed its greatest flourishing. I think there are some lessons we can learn from our wonderful planet.

. . .

Peter Brannen is a huge nerd and a problem solver (and he referenced two of my other favorite people, Randall and Neil!). Like he says on page 130, I believe it is important to see the planet not as your world or my world, but as a planet. Operating on geological time, functioning as a whole. Seems obvious. Isn’t. I guess I love Peter so much because he is rare. He sees the planet as the whole that it is. He is both kind and smart, something you don’t often see. He recognizes the importance of the ocean, penis worms, and you and I.

And this is to remind you what he looks like.

 I ended up searching Dinotopia on Google Images. My favorite fictional kingdom is Britain as it appears in the Harry Potter series, but Dinotopia looks very cool. I might like to visit there if I could.

 

Mini Blog Post: Godlike

This is a reactionary opinion piece. The only reason I’m posting this is because it’s too long for an Instagram caption.

Date: July 27th, 2017

This is the thing I’m reacting to: “Scientists are pushing wild climate hacking scenarios to save the planet” via ScienceAlert

They call it climate hacking, I call it owning up to the godlike power we have. Humans are pretty cool. We’ve built deep into this planet with our sewers and our mines and our pipelines, learned how to fly and refrigerate food and drink, and mapped planets we haven’t set our own feet on. These are things we take for granted, of course. But those who say – and I paraphrase many a famous quote here – that humans are an atom’s way of studying atoms are correct. We’ve been somehow blessed to be able to learn. And the more we know, the more we can manipulate. REMINDERS ABOUT “CLIMATE HACKING”: ⚔️ 1. This is not a one time thing. Gods have to work hard, especially if it turns out they’re actually human and “unforeseen consequences” are a thing. The more we manipulate, the more good – or bad – we can do for ourselves and for the planet. But the more we do…certain things will create domino effects. Once we take responsibility for the earth as the superpowered parasites-turned-engineers we are, we can’t ever “take a break.” You will have to deal with a problem, and then you will have to deal with a problem caused by your solution. Which is not to say all we will ever cause is problems. But we need to communicate and accept in preparation for this huge undertaking. God may be dead, but if he ever lived, he never stopped being God. ? 2. Humans are animals. We are apart of nature. We happen to be the part of nature that can “detach” from it for most of our lifetimes, but we all must return sometimes. (I choose nature documentaries and traveling a lot as some sort of salve.) In taking responsibility for this planet, we must realize that the rest of the animals (and plants and stuff) are just as important as we are. I’m not even talking going vegetarian. (Shmeat is a thing meat lovers can turn to in a few years. It’ll take a while to go commercial. And don’t diss shmeat. It ain’t plant-based, and it ain’t fake. It’s the same thing. Just way less cruel. Look it up.) Right now, animals’ intelligences are compared to ours, and most animals are judged by how well they respond to our cues and directions. We must learn, one day we will (hopefully), that all animals are equal. We must learn that animals are worth more than the money we spend trying to keep them out of our cities. When we become gods, it’s the animals who will guide us. ❄️ 3. If we are to do this, we have to do this right. We can manipulate without micromanaging. We can love without breeding dependence.

I Am With You, France, No Matter Where I Choose To Live

Date: June 5th, 2017

Emmanuel Macron put this on his Facebook four days ago:

In pulling the U.S out of the Paris Accord, Trump quickly went from douchebag to dangerous. This is not a series of jokes. This is a series of hard blows against our integrity, safety, and capacity for compassion. And this is a big deal. A big, scary deal. Let yourself get scared by this. You are afraid because you are aware, and because you aware, you have the power to fix these problems, however daunting they are.

But the funny thing is, the worse it gets, the better my outlook is.

These are just the first few results I got from Googling “companies and mayors paris agreement:”

1. Bucking Trump, These Cities, States and Companies Commit to Paris Accord

2. PressTV-US cities, states, companies commit to Paris accord

3. US states and businesses will still meet Paris targets | Environment | The Guardian

4. Which Cities Have Pledged To Follow The Paris Agreement? Over 150 Mayors Have Agreed

(Please actually look at these links. I try to write about some good stuff, but I don’t know everything, so I cite people who know more than little old me. It’s educational, guys.)

This is happening, guys, gals, and non-binary pals.

Trump screwed up, and now, maybe because it falls on us no matter whether we accept it or not, we are taking charge. And then there’s my man Macron. He knows that the current President of the United States only represents a small but loud group whose headquarters lies in Trump’s hairy, wrinkly, orange armpit. He knows most U.S citizens share something powerful with most French citizens…and most Indian citizens, and most Chinese citizens, and most Japanese citizens, and most German citizens. There are going to be bad, sucky, horrendous people everywhere. No country is perfect. Not even Sweden. (However, Sweden is willing to admit it.) But there are also going to be good and great, innovative, kind people everywhere. Macron’s favorite type of person. Everywhere. Regardless of age, race, culture, sex and sexual orientation. It is all fine and nice to be patriotic, and it is wonderful to let the borders dissolve when we need to. Countries can be countries. We don’t have to try and build a world government (that would be disastrous). But countries and nations can and should work together without spite, because it is not the government or reputation that matters, it is the people. Every country holds people worthy of love within it. Not one country is better than another, not in that way.

The French spirit is the Brazilian spirit and the Morrocan spirit and the American spirit and the Bulgarian spirit and the Kenyan spirit and the British spirit. Because the best people share it no matter where they are. We are not our worst: The KKK, ISIL, Boko Haram, the Nazis – nope. And we are not our dictators. Saudi Arabia, the U.S, Russia…we pride ourselves on our best because we are forced to. We are not who is in charge.

Which brings me to Macron’s offer.

He asks the scientists, engineers, and designers of the U.S, the innovators fighting climate change in a sea of bullshit and hate, to come to work and live in France.

My point isn’t that I am not going to go to France ever. My point is that I am probably not going to France anytime soon.

I am a writer and designer, and I hope to own a bed-and-breakfast when I am older, so I may write and design when I want to as opposed to on a deadline. With that in mind, I can be relocated nearly anywhere, as long its pretty enough to support a cutesy bed-and-breakfast. And it is not as though I do not like France. I have never been there, but I have learned about the country from my French language class and – *sighs* – Google. It is very aesthetically pleasing, the schools are – generally – better, and they are prepared to deal with global warming. “As in the UK, France has adopted a series of carbon budgets with the first three running 2015-2018, 2019-2023 and 2024-2028. To meet its 2050 target the country needs to cut 9-10 megatonnes of carbon dioxide every year says the report, and cut energy emissions 96% by mid century.” From France delivers 2050 climate plan to UN.

But even though I can easily be picked up and plopped down somewhere else, there are still things I cannot control that keep me here. My parents need to be in Los Angeles for their work. Not only that. My school is here. And while the French education system might be better, this particular school I go to is one I’d miss. It is not traditional, very open, relaxed, and filled to the brim with use and value. How do you take a school with you on a plane? One of my favorite teachers just retired, but there are the students too, and my remaining wonderful teachers. My best friend moved away to Napa, and the other’s always busy – but Napa’s easier to visit than France! (Unless I kidnapped her and took her with me.) Then there’s my other friends, slowly becoming besties. I can’t make anybody move just because I want to. I suppose this is decision making, weighing the things in your life to help you decide what to do. But the decision isn’t only mine. As I may have mentioned, I have two parents I can’t get rid of until at least college. Each with their own lives, friends they won’t want to move away from, careers. Not too mention – we like our house. My house is a good one.

And then there’s the whole guilt/anger factor to moving away to “escape Trump.” Read: Movers And Shakers.

There is much to think about.

But if you do move, France is a great place to move to!

Maybe my family and I will move to France in a year. Two and a half years. Four years, after Trump is out of office anyways. Maybe we’ll move to Singapore, or Barcelona, or a part of Croatia. Maybe we’ll stay in the U.S.

But wherever we are, we will stand with France.

It is not one President we are fighting. It is a lack of progress. So whether you fight in the U.S or overseas, you are fighting with peace and love, and that is what matters.

I will stand with you, France. Stand with me?

#makeourplanetgreatagain

#vivelarevolutionforearth

Good luck, everybody.

It’s Not My Fault That I’m Optimistic About The Future!

Date: May 28th, 2017

The difference between daydreams and visions is that with one, you’re hallucinating.

There’s a lot going on right now. As John Oliver (whom I simultaneously think of as both the father I never had and the son I want) constantly stresses, each Trump headliner hides something even more sinister underneath its fifteen-second fame. This is not normal. And as I and many others have mentioned before, it is not just Trump – Trump is simply the amplifier. This is what we have to remember, getting rid of him will not magically solve all of our problems, but it will confuse and damage the ego of those currently being amplified, which will certainly make room for progress.

However, there’s an insane amount of obstacles in our way, the very least of which is a man who never ever gets in trouble no matter what he does or says. There is always some justification given to us. Between Trump and all the other problems we face, it’s hard to imagine that there could ever be a sunny day.

Yet even now, I have very specific, very positive daydreams about what the future will hold. And I don’t even try. They just are there for me to look at and hope for. Right now, I shall tell all of you about each daydream and how it could correspond to realistic progress:

1. The Frozen Yogurt Stop

The daydream always begins in a medium-size courtyard. Look forward, you see small trees – palm trees and Japanese maple – and benches everywhere. Look up and around, you see we are on a hillside, crowded with natural vegetation. Blue sky. The plants are relatively lush, but present a lighter green than most plants thought of as “lush,” such as the ones on the sides of freeways in New York, Washington, and Wisconsin. Look to the right, and you see a train stop. Fairly modern architecture. Open to the air. A basic white, block-like design with stripes and polka-dots added on in just the right size and amount for color. There’s only enough space for two trains right next to each other. One train is waiting. It is white, with blue and pink stripes flowing front to back. One of the wider blue stripes has the name of the train system on it: Dragons Of The Midwest. There is owl and eyeball art on the wall defining the barriers of the stop. Look to the left, and across the platform, you see an ice cream/frozen yogurt shop. It is narrow but wide, with its own seating area. The colors are blue and pink, again, but pastel this time. Flavors include vanilla, chocolate, and raspberry.

Correspondence: I have to talk about California, it’s where I live. And California actually gives us a good example of regional transport – there is a project coming up to spread high-speed rail throughout the state. The project “will eventually encompass over 800 miles of rail, with up to 24 stations. Because the project is so large, and will run through areas of the state with extremely different geographical, environmental and economic issues, the project has been broken into ten separate sections.” (From http://www.hsr.ca.gov.) Each section has to go through ecological “footprint” testing before construction can begin. The total project goes from Sacramento, and the Transbay Transit Center on a separate train line, down to San Diego. Impressive. But I said the Dragons operated in the Midwest. Turns out, there is an equivalent – actually, two: the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative and the Midwest High Speed Rail Association. Both are Midwestern train organizations set up to become major players in the U.S transport game, even as it evolves. Trains are thought to be the most environmentally conscious transportation option, and environmental consciousness is still rare in many states. The latter of the two is aptly tag-lined “Reinventing Travel. Reinventing The Midwest.” So guys – it’s your move! – get some fro-yo up in there.

2. The Spreadcity

The daydream starts up high, in an invisible helicopter (that is totally not realistic). We are slowly panning over one of those four-leaf-clover highway loops. The highway is an interstate highway, and right now, we are between northern Nevada, Idaho, and Utah – in Idaho, exactly. The highway has made minimal negative impact on the plain it lays over due to the way it was designed. The flowing golden grass gives the whole thing a shimmery effect. The city is essentially a rural county, but everything is modern and connected by bike paths and sleek, small roads. There should be at least one mile of natural space for every building. The only buildings right next to the highway are hospitals, malls, and one huge school that looks like a university except it functions for all grades.

Correspondence: Most of Idaho is already open country, so if one wanted to found a spreadcity, all they would need to do is connect a soon-to-be-not-county – anywhere, really – and create a system by which transportation is quick and efficient, and the governmental buildings and larger parks and service-buildings form a spreadcity center.

3. Sittyhils

Sittyhils are an original idea of mine – a particular type of arcology. The etymology of the word is “city + hill + fun way of spelling = sittyhil.” Sittyhils are basically huge cities, compacted and opened at different areas so they form a mountain-like structure. The idea was formed because I was thinking about Barcelona as it is described in this article: Built-Out Barcelona Makes Space for an Urban Forest. I was delighted, and began to wonder – what if some cities were made with this attitude in mind? What if cities no longer displaced wildlife, what if they just lifted it up? Bushes in the windows and on apartment decks, flowers on the outer walls. Cities are as tall as hills at their core, why not become hills? So dense, but so ecologically stable and positive, that it literally becomes Figure 1 – big, green, and gnarly.

Figure 1: Is this a bad drawing? Yes, yes it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Correspondence: Barcelona is already doing a very good job of minimizing its negative environmental impact and encouraging biodiversity, as I mentioned. So is Singapore, with its National Biodiversity Centre, and Gardens By The Bay, and then there’s this: “We have recorded a total of 392 species of birds and at least 2,100 native vascular plants, of which more than 1,500 species are classified as extant in Singapore. Find out more about our Wildlife in Singapore and learn about the different Ecosystems that exist in Singapore.” (From https://www.nparks.gov.sg/biodiversity.) And just 1 day ago from the time of writing, the Straight Times reported that “NParks announced that over 500 species were discovered or rediscovered over the last five years in joint surveys with nature groups. The agency has also put the afterburners on its Species Recovery Programme, increasing the number of species to 94, up from 46 last year.” Cooooooool. Coincidentally (or not), Singapore and Barcelona are now my two favorite cities. I want to clone myself and send one of me to each city.

Everyone has dreams about what the future will be like. They hope, and hope is good, but they hope, thinking that it is hoping that will make the thing happen. We need more.

Here’s how I like to think of this type of situation.

You are standing in an empty plot of land. There is rope in front of you, going up into nowhere. You reach out and touch the rope, and suddenly you see visions of your dream house, the one to be built on that plot of land. Instead of standing there touching the rope, letting the visions cloud your senses, pull the rope down. It is taking a huge risk, something that is confirmed when you hear a huge crash as dimensions collide and your house becomes what is there. Instead of it floating up there in a cloud, you brought it down into the grit and crust and mantle. But it is worth it, for the house is just as wonderful as you knew it would be, and you were not inactive. You pulled down your rope.

Find your daydreams of the future.

Pull down your rope.

Make it happen.

Public Parks, On Private Land!

Date: May 9th, 2017

There are those who say that if we, as the species of engineers we are, do not strip something from the land, whether it be an animal for food, or a tree for a lumber, or a mineral for mining, then we are missing out on valuable resources. But public lands, lands that exist for the people and other species that roam this Earth rather than for companies or development, are some of the most valuable resources we have. There is a quote by Theodore Roethke: “Deep in their roots all flowers keep the light.” Famous, slightly vague quotes can have a slightly different meaning for everybody. I won’t tell you my understanding, I’ll just let his words sink in. Ever since humans started thinking, we’ve found joy and peace in nature. Using it as a remedy for depression isn’t a waste of your time. Obviously, medicine created to combat depression works directly and chemically. But this doesn’t disprove that there is an inherent “light” in nature. Speaking from my own experience, I use nature as a solvent for negativity. In the future (hopefully this behavior will start sometime soon), nature will be looked at as a necessity, not just for recreation, within and outside of all our cities. It is just as much of a needed thing as electricity, copper, or a citrus farm is.

The fact that there is an entire branch of federal government devoted to our emotional wealth is a fact that I love to think about. The federal government has a lot of problems – but this is one of the upsides to having a nagging mother, always present, that is obsessed with red tape.

There’s just one problem.

What if mother goes back on her promise to uphold one of the only purely good things she does for us?

Normally, when a particularly rich person owns a swath of land, it is for them and them alone. There is a gate around the entire thing, with a sign at the entrance reading “Private” or some variation of that word. But what if the sign said “Part of the Private Lands Conservation group. Please park around corner after entering through gate. Two dollars for parking. Enjoy”? (The Private Lands Conservation group is real thing, I’m positively ecstatic to admit that this is not my original idea: https://www.nature.org/about-us/private-lands-conservation/index.htm – I’m just writing about it!)

What if mother doesn’t want to hurt us, but is being forced into going back on her promise by a giant orange crayon?

As Elizabeth Warren reminded me when I went to see her speak, the government is not evil. You are not immediately mean and sour if you work for the government, and you are not weak if you rely on the government. The government does indeed have many dangerous flaws, but ones we can fix over time if we work together and diversify. Examples? Elizabeth Warren, Nancy Yates, the Obamas, Hillary Clinton (she ain’t perfect but she works hard and tries to be there for us, which we need right now), Bernie Sanders, and the thousands of relatively – sadly – unknown people working to undo damage and prop us up. Most of them are just in the wrong positions (Elizabeth Warren for President!)…or maybe the exactly right positions. Most things can take time.

Global warming and conservation can’t. Which is why I say we rip our “valuable resources” out of the orange crayon’s hands as soon and as painfully as possible. And no, it’s not just the orange crayon! It’s just that people like me have to keep mentioning him when something comes up because he’s the Big Loud Orange Megaphone for everyone we’d mention if he wasn’t sitting right smack dab in the middle of the Oval Office! Where was I? Ah yes. Hit him where it hurts and save the world at the same time.

As some of you may know, I plan to own and operate a bed-and-breakfast (small hotel) as my base career to earn enough money to write and design when I want as opposed to on a deadline.

The bed-and-breakfast will be in an area populated enough that I earn money from it, but secluded enough that I can make the area around the bed-and-breakfast a giant public garden, roughly the size of the smaller state parks.

Ambitious? Hell yes. A bit daunting? Maybe. But for those looking out for me, this is a good investment: Conservation should not only be in the hands of the government, a thing which noticeably changes every four years, even after Mr. Orange Crayon leaves office. If we truly want to save this world from environmental catastrophe, the right type – a philanthropic, environmentally sound type – of private ownership should be more common.

This “privablic” land would be private in the sense that there is a person, family, or even corporation who owns it, but public in the sense that anyone can come and enjoy it. How do we further incentivize this already existing approach? Larger tax deductions for private owners who donate their land for public use would be helpful. Also, some cities require that for large developments, per a certain amount of private space developed, a portion of it must be allotted to public access. All cities and states should require the same.

I enjoy being hospitable and taking care of people (as well as meeting strange folks from across the country and world), and I’ve also started a financial plan earlier than most people my age (emphasis on most), concentrated on saving money and remaining stable throughout my adult life. I have a strong belief that the bed-and-breakfast will work out for me, that way I can do odd jobs when I want without losing money.

I do not doubt that the public garden will work just as well, but just in case I can’t pay for it with the money I make, I hope the Nature Conservancy will have my back.

#goprivablic

This Is How We Fight

Everyone talks about going green.

But what about going blue?

“Going blue” already has a widely accepted meaning. It means, slang-wise, “being cold.”

Which is kind of a lovely coincidence.

What is the one thing on Earth, in the universe (multiverse?), that could scientifically be considered to have the power and reach of a god or goddess?

It’s water.

Water is the most valuable material we have. Water is a solvent, capable of cleaning plates and leveling cities. It is responsible for nearly every helpful feedback loop keeping Earth in check.

And we can use water even further than we have, but for good. Not for our own enjoyment – to help the planet.

Here are two ideas of mine:

1. Introducing A New Feedback Loop, Or Multiple

Movement cools.

Unless the air, or water, is just too hot, turbulence will always cool it down. Why? Forced convection sucks heat out of things.

Wave machines would do this with water, producing a cooling effect where it is most needed, and since waves affect movement of the air, this a very basic way to cool the earth. It would require a lot of sustainable, non-harmful engineering, and it certainly wouldn’t be enough, but it would be what we require – a start.

2. Building Better Dams

I had this idea in the bathtub.

Don’t worry, I am going to describe the idea, not my time in the bathtub.

I was doing a little rub-a-dub here, rub-a-dub there, when I realized – whenever I made a teeny weeny wave, the part of the wave going in between my legs grew higher than the part of the wave outside. My knees were bent, and so formed a near triangle with a path in the middle of two halves for the water to go through.

Hydroelectric dams rely on the kinetic energy of falling water to spin a turbine that powers the generator it is connected to. There are two types of dams, gravity dams and run-of-river dams. Gravity dams are the ones you’ve heard about. (Cool video on dams! Check it out, I’m probably not the best to teach you.)

My bent knees provided a slight ascent for the water, and the thin path increased pressure for the wave. My thighs are also rounded – because I’m not, y’know, a rectangular alien – and that provided the finishing touch. The water wasn’t hindered by the taller “structure” that gave it jumping power, because it was smooth, and it was able to glide along it for a short time, instead of stopping short.

My “dam” doesn’t block any river, doesn’t need any reservoir, and is a relatively simple, small engineering project. This means it won’t be a problem for wildlife.

In honor of how it was invented, I name the idea the Jumping Knee Dam. Pretty funny image there too. This is my original idea, if you want to build one, please talk to me.

Go blue.

Water still has secrets. If we can uncover them without hurting the planet, we have a chance of saving it.

 

Thank You To Everyone Involved In #YouthvGov Climate Lawsuit

Date: December 6th, 2016

The hashtag is #YouthvGov.

“The youth had filed their constitutional climate lawsuit against the federal government in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon in 2015. Also acting as a plaintiff is world-renowned climate scientist Dr. James E. Hansen, serving as guardian for future generations and his granddaughter. Their complaint asserts that, through the governments affirmative actions in causing climate change, it has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, property, as well as failed to protect essential public trust resources.” – Landmark U.S Federal Climate Lawsuit, Our Children’s Trust.

21 young plantiffs, ages 8-20, sued the federal government for not doing enough about global warming. (Embedded below is their petition on MoveOn.org, and here is the link to their petition on Care2 Petitions – the website won’t let me embed it – http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/797/652/222/)

My first reaction to this was a simple thought, “So people do care!”

And then I realized the magnitude of this and screamed for joy.

THANK YOU SO MUCH.

THIS IS HUGE. This is ACTION. This is a MANDATE. This is LOVE. This is CARE. This is MEANINGFUL.

When I say “Thank you,” I mean it from the very bottom of my heart. When I say “Thank you,” I don’t feel like I’m just being polite, saying two words that mean absolutely nothing. My “Thank you” means “Thank you for saving me.” It is arguable that I am not brave. I’m not an activist, I want to save the world as much as you do, but I sit at home and write. One of the biggest goals in my life is to own a bed-and-breakfast. I’ll always be a vocal writer, I’ll always want to save the world, but alongside all that saving-the-world, I will be a mixologist, and a baker, and quite possibly an architect or designer. Saving the world in the big ways, like you are, isn’t for everyone. Which is why I’m so grateful. You’ve done something that most of the human population considers uncomfortable/impossible. You, all 21 of you, might just be the last thing standing in between “us” and “the end of the world as we know it.” You have done something that, as of November 10th, 2016, cannot be dismissed or waved off. I am an agnostic, and I feel this is an appropriate time to thank God. Adjectives, human language, like “amazing” or “incredible” cannot begin to do this justice. But I know what I am feeling. I feel strained and sad and desperate and loud knowing there is so much more work to be done, but I feel safe and protected and hopeful and alive and thriving knowing some work, good work, has been done. I feel like all cultures are uniting to solve these problems, and in this community of Homo sapiens sapiens without borders or labels, I feel…good. And I know this is due to what has been done by the 21. So THANK YOU.

BTW: No, I was definitely not one of the 21 (although I would’ve liked to be), but since music is a beautiful way to express, I’ve tried capturing the ideology and passion in playlist form: https://open.spotify.com/user/lionesseye/playlist/4ow28PGK2L5CGvXKyWIAfl

Clean Energy In Relation To Global Warming AKA I’m Tired Of Waiting

Date: October 8th, 2016

Clean energy will save us from many oncoming threats – I don’t mean to sound macabre, but we are slowly destroying our planet in a multitude of ways – and we are being given a second chance by Mother Nature. The point isn’t that humanity doesn’t have its virtues, don’t feel offended when I say we’re slowly destroying our planet, the point is that none of our other virtues will do us any good if we don’t fix this.

We should be grateful for this second chance. According to the good people at the “climate change” department at Nasa (http://climate.nasa.gov/effects/), the effects of continued climate change will be too overwhelming for us. Sea levels will rise by 1-4 feet by 2100. “Sea level rise will not stop in 2100 because the oceans take a very long time to respond to warmer conditions at the Earth’s surface. Ocean waters will therefore continue to warm and sea level will continue to rise for many centuries at rates equal to or higher than that of the current century.” Coastal cities in the Southwest United States will experience flooding and erosion. Species are already dying off. From National Geographic, “The Bramble Cay melomys (Melomys rubicola) seems to have disappeared from its home in the eastern Torres Strait of the Great Barrier Reef, the scientists say. The animal was last seen by a fisherman in 2009, but failed attempts to trap any in late 2014 have prompted scientists to say it is likely extinct.” (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/06/first-mammal-extinct-climate-change-bramble-cay-melomys/) Lee Hannah, a senior climate change biology scientist for Conservation International, says, “This species could have been saved.” And yet…more are on their way out, including, quite sad, the world’s smallest penguin. Let me make something clear. We are running out of time. No amount of “hope” will change our fate, but action will. You can be hopeful. Hope keeps us sane, but please, be hopeful because you know you’ve done all you can do and are encouraging others to do the same.

This is what you can do with the second chance you’ve been given: use it. It’s not necessarily easy, but it is simpler than they make it sound. This is all: stop negative emissions, such as excess carbon dioxide or methane. That’s it. It seems so overwhelming because there are so many ways to do it, so many ways you can do your part. It’s a broad category, I’ll give you that. So many ways to fix the problem that it seems like you need to do ‘em all. But just because a lot needs to be done doesn’t mean we can’t do it. You know what? I’m gonna be helpful: I’m gonna give you a big list, right here, right now, of what you can to be part of the biggest solutions:

Plain Old Energy Efficiency: When you turn things off, really turn them off. Standby mode can use up to 40% of an appliances power, and leeches like TVs still use power even when you’re not using them. Unplug your TVs power when you want to turn it off. And this a “Well, of course” one – switch your current lights to hyper-efficient LED, CFL, or “halogen incandescent” lights, turn the lights off when you’re not using them, and only use them when the sunlight cannot reach your particular workspace or library – in other words, only turn lights on when you need to. Use the sun. In addition, there are many other energy efficient products and appliances you can buy if you’re looking for that sort of thing – which you should be. Just go to your preferred search engine and type in “energy efficient _____” and something will come up. Or – go to http://energy.gov – that might be easier.

Solar Power: It’s so obvious, you could guess – go solar. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of companies willing to take your money – which is a given – and do something good with it – which is sadly rare. And these companies charge you slightly more in the beginning, more than average, but after that, you’re not paying – you don’t have to. In many ways, solar is cheaper than no solar. “Ah,” you might say, “but what if I don’t own my house?” (You can’t go solar without asking your landlord if you don’t own your house, because if you don’t own your house, you can’t make any exterior/invasive changes to your house by yourself.) You might consider finding a method to have a completely external set of solar panels, capable of powering your house, sitting somewhere in your backyard, connected by a set of wires and tubes and such, that way you don’t have to make any changes to your actual building.

Wind Power: Turns out you can actually install a wind turbine on your property. It depends on where you live of course, but according to the Wind Energy Foundation (http://windenergyfoundation.org), the steps for installing are: “1. Determine whether the wind resource in your area makes a small wind system economical. 2. Determine your household electricity needs by checking your monthly or yearly electricity usage. 3. Find out whether local zoning ordinances allow wind turbine installations. 4. Purchase and install a wind turbine sized to the needs of your household. The Small Wind Certification Council maintains a list of certified small wind turbines.” – at least, those are the basic steps, to get you started on your path. (You might want to take a look at the entire page: http://windenergyfoundation.org/wind-at-work/wind-consumers/wind-power-your-home/)

Take On The City: Let’s think of Los Angeles, for instance. Did you know that LADWP gets 52% of its electricity from coal-fired plants in Utah, Arizona, and Nevada? It receives power from other types of power plants including nuclear and gas-fired generating stations, but the whole of “clean energy” makes up for just 5% of LADWP’s capacity! (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Los_Angeles_Department_of_Water_and_Power and https://thinkprogress.org/los-angeles-aims-to-be-coal-free-in-12-years-12b611e530b4#.ivuk5n6ju at https://thinkprogress.org) An alternative to getting off the grid, by installing your own system for your own house, would be to change the source of energy coming from the grid, so you don’t have to disconnect. Wherever you live, you can “edit” where your power comes from, by taking the fight to the city’s/state’s Big Cheese – you could write a petition (I might, in fact, I will, and I’ll tell you about it when I do), email them or call their office, or talk to them in person. I’ll warn you, if you want them to change anything, you can’t tell them “I wish” – you have to have an effective plan in mind, and you should share it with them, that will let whoever is concerned know this is a good thing.

This Is A Weird One, But A Good One: Does “thorium” ring a bell? Thorium reactors deserve an entire essay of their own, but I’ll tell you this: There are many different types of thorium reactors (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorium-based_nuclear_power), but the most popular, LFTR (liquid fluoride thorium reactor), already has some fans. “With LFTR technology, 6,600 tons of thorium could provide the energy equivalent of the annual global consumption of 5 billion tons of coal, 31 billion barrels of oil, 3 trillion cubic meters of natural gas, and 65,000 tons of uranium.” (http://flibe-energy.com) There you have it. If you want clean energy on steroids, here it is. And it’s completely safe, too. “The key to efficient, safe and sustainable use of thorium is liquid fuel, particularly, including a combination of lithium fluoride (LiF) and beryllium fluoride (BeF2) salts often called “F-Li-Be.” Liquid FLiBe is ideal for nuclear reactor operation and chemical processing as it is unaffected by neutrons or radiation and is chemically stable. FLiBe salts have tremendous heat capacity with over 1000 degrees of liquid range to transfer large amounts of thermal energy at low pressures, enabling more efficient electricity generation with a more-compact and safer form of nuclear reactor.” – More from that Flibe website mentioned above. (And: “LFTR technology is scalable from small 10-50 megawatt reactors that could be used in remote locations up to utility-scale 250 megawatt reactors that could be arrayed for multi-gigawatt installations. With LFTR, the thorium fuel cycle can generate significantly less mining waste and many orders of magnitude less long-term byproduct waste than conventional solid-uranium-fueled energy generation.” You know what, just use the link – read the entire thing.) And yes – it is weird. The reason it hasn’t quite “caught on” yet is because, in simple words, “nuclear reactors are terrifying.” But that’s just rhetoric.

The economy will not be affected negatively by furthering the use of clean energy. Wind, solar, ocean, and geothermal power are extremely expensive, due to fact that they aren’t being used in bulk (a simple case of supply and demand), the fact that wind and solar power both require certain environmental factors, and the distance between the generators and the cities they power (transmission costs) (http://burnanenergyjournal.com/what-is-the-cheapest-source-of-energy/ at http://burnanenergyjournal.com). However a massive influx of clean energy use would create more jobs than not, and there are many things in this world that don’t even need half the money they receive for their cause (Ever thought about how much money we’d save if we didn’t put every single mild “marijuana offender” in jail?). On top of that, we wouldn’t ever run out of money for the most important things in life unless something drastic happened – money is being printed constantly. From The Fact Monster: “The Bureau of Engraving and Printing produces 38 million notes a day with a face value of approximately $541 million. That doesn’t mean there is $541 million more money circulating today than there was yesterday, though, because 95% of the notes printed each year are used to replace notes already in circulation.” (http://www.factmonster.com/ipka/A0774850.html at http://www.factmonster.com) All in all, if there’s something to spend money on, this is it, and it will hardly make a dent. Besides, I want to remind you – this is the cost of living. Global warming is a huge problem, and if we don’t fix it, there won’t be an economy to worry about, because we’ll all be dead.

You had better do your part, or else – for your own sake. Reading all these articles about the effects and the causes and the deaths and the extinctions and the Koch brothers and Donald Trump…one of the only reasons I don’t think we’re all doomed is because Neil DeGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist who dabbles in all kinds of science, who also happens to be one of the most logical and cynical people to ever live, is subtly optimistic. (“Cosmos” – episode 12 – “The World Set Free” – click here to watch episode via Dailymotion) I must insist that you understand the gravity of the situation. I also want you to understand – I’m not worried about “us” – I’m not worried about humanity. Even when we’re doomed, we’re not doomed. We’ve lived through things. Sure, we’ve never dealt with a slowly roasting planet before, but technology has progressed with us. I believe in human ingenuity. I’ll admit it. We could go live on the underground of Mars. Or the moon. Or we could just go live in a big spaceship (which would ironically cost more than switching to “clean”) with an artificial atmosphere. Maybe, just maybe, we could invent a huge machine to cool off our planet. I believe humanity will find a way out of this, even if just to save our own skins. So no, I’m not worried about us. I’m worried about what this says about us. When will we “magic” our way out of this? Once California really does run out of water? Once people start dying? Once all the ocean life goes extinct, and the ocean itself turns to acid? How far will we take this? How long will we wait? For instance, my family – we’re liberal, and we ride the Metro, and we have an electric car. All fantastic. But are we doing everything? The answer, sadly, is no. We don’t own our house. Every time I ask my dad about solar panels, he says he wants to have them, but we’d need to talk to the landlord. He wants to. Huh. But are we ever at the landlord’s doorstep, saying “Please, please, please” on bended knees? Are we trying our hardest? Are we? Are we doing everything necessary to solve this problem? No.

Actually, “How long will we wait?” is the wrong question. “How long will we wait?” invokes “Someone else will fix this, this is not my fight.” Will you continue to be complacently serene with thinking about doing things, but never doing them? Will you read this, think about how great of a writer I am (why, thank you) and then forget about it tomorrow? Will you make it a hashtag and say “There, I did my part!”? Will you take this seriously?

How long will you wait?

How many excuses do you have left?