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Cut Down Trees to Save the Planet? Why not, if it works?


Have a look at this eight-story condo. If you think it's just another ordinary apartment building, you'd be grossly mistaken. It's the Carbon12 tower in Portland, Oregon, the tallest wooden structure in the country. And it's a midget compared to the Mjosa tower in Norway, the tallest wooden building in the world. At 280 feet, that pride of Norway is only twenty-five feet shorter than the Statue of Liberty.


The secret? CLT, or cross-laminated timber—plywood on steroids—that allows architects to build tall, fire-safe, and earthquake-resistant buildings, and make them attractive to boot.


What about the trees? Trees are one of our great allies in combating climate change. The remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in their wood. In a world that is distraught about the burning of the Amazon rain forest and the wildfires in California, how can we countenance building new structures from wood?


The answer, according to three experts in an op-ed column in the New York Times, is that wooden buildings are more climate-friendly than concrete and steel construction. One study found that building a five-story office building with wood had less than a third of the global warming impact than a conventional building of the same size. And eco-friendly Scandinavia is not investing in wooden buildings to accelerate the demise of the planet.


Plus, if wooden construction became the norm, the profit potential would incentivize better, renewable forest management and halt the conversion of woodlands to other uses, such as more housing sub-divs and shopping centers in a nation which is already residentially and commercially overbuilt. Another study estimates that with state-of-the-art management, the forests in northern New England alone could remove as much carbon from the atmosphere over twenty years as would be released by seven million cars.


So perhaps "Woodman, spare that tree!" is too simplistic. Worth thinking about, for sure, in an age sorely in need of new initiatives and solutions to combat the insidious advance of climate change.

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The Trumposphere Strikes Back

The same week that the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change sounded the alarm that the world's oceans are in grave danger, the Trumposphere was still fulminating about the speech delivered by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg at the UN's Climate Action Summit, denouncing the business-as-usual attitude of most politicians and business leaders.


The whimsically named Liberty Nation website thundered that Greta is the poster child for the way climate hysteria is damaging children, who should "sleep soundly… there are no climate monsters under the bed." To bolster its position that there is no scientific basis for climate change, the website cites two incidences of snowfall in the Sahara desert in recent years, and the modest increase in the population of polar bears in the Arctic (after stringent protective measures were put in place to preserve the species, but let's not mention that.) And lest we worry further, should climate change "turn out to be a problem, Bill Gates and others have invested in technologies that could render the whole world carbon neutral overnight, either with nuclear power or carbon capture." Go Bill!


Another Trumpohone, zero, goes so far as to imply that Greta is nothing but a copycat. They correctly point out that in 1992, another young girl, Severn Cullis-Suzuki, then the 12-year-old daughter of a Canadian environmentalist, addressed the UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. In her speech, she described being "afraid to breathe the air" and warned of mass extinctions. And look how well that turned out!


Author's Note: Severn is still a prominent environmental speaker and activist and vocal supporter of Greta.


And for good measure, Fox News's Laura Ingraham noted the resemblance of Greta with one of the youthful residents in a Stephen King movie, "Children of the Corn," cultists who murder anyone over the age of 18.


Moving on, for those of you who might be alarmed at the Panel's warnings about the impact of climate change on our oceans, here a couple of choice findings that you don't—or do—have to worry about…


…hotter ocean temperatures and rising sea levels are worsening storms like Hurricane Harvey, which devastated Houston two years ago


…the frequency of marine heat waves has doubled since the 1980s, devastating commercial fishing e.g. cod catches in the Gulf of Alaska had to be reduced 80 percent to rebuild the fishery after the latest heat wave


…pathogens are proliferating in warmer water, including bacteria that already sicken 80,000 Americans each year who eat raw or undercooked shellfish and other seafood.


Just saying, the hundreds of scientists who contributed to the report might be on to something. Sushi anyone?

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"And a little child shall lead them"—Isaiah 11:6

Greta Thunberg at the United Nations

courtesy New York TImes

Lost in the uproar about whether President Trump used the power of his office to bully the president of the Ukraine to dig up dirt on his political opponent, Joe Biden, was the disappointing outcome of the United Nations Climate Action Summit this past Monday. The Summit was meant to highlight the renewed commitment of world leaders to the Paris Agreement to reduce the use of fossil fuels and stave off the worst effects of global climate change. It was almost as lost in the shuffle as the global climate march the previous Friday, when millions of protestors in more than a hundred countries called for action.


What happened at the Summit? Many political and business leaders blathered without effect, President Trump and his silent sidekick, Mike Pence, dropped in for a cup of coffee (in case you don't know, Trump has committed the US to withdraw from the Paris Agreement at the end of the year), and a teenager from Sweden, put them all to shame.


Greta Thunberg is leading a one-person holy mission to put world leaders on alert that business as usual about the climate will no longer suffice. Some choice quotes:


"You'll come to us young people for hope, how dare you? You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words."


"We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and the imperative of economic growth, how dare you?"


"You're failing us. Young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. If you choose to fail us, I say we will never forgive you."


To get the full impact of Greta's holy anger, you can see a one-minute video clip here:


She made me proud to be a squarehead. (I'm a first-generation Swede, myself, and we use that term as a mark of affection.)


As for the media, it was all over the Trump Ukraine story, so coverage was limited. But being lectured to by a child brought out the worst in the climate change deniers. Dinesh D'Souza likened her Aryan (square) face and braids to Nazi imagery. A Fox News commentator called her on the air "a mentally ill Swedish child." (Greta is 16 and does have Asperger's syndrome.)


Although it's as unlikely that "the wolf shall dwell with the lamb" as these fools and the rest of the Republicans suddenly discovering climate change is real, let's hope that Isaiah got one thing right — "And a little child shall lead them."


This is my first post after a very busy and productive summer. I have finally secured agency representation for The Eleventh Grieve, my novel about the redemption of a climate change denier. I'm happy to report that the manuscript is now being read by several publishers. I've also decided that I was biting off more than I could chew with raging at all the madness in the White House and the country and the world. So going forward, I will be concentrating on what I see as the greatest threat to our future. You guessed it. Arts4actionsake will be transitioning to Squareheads need to stick together!

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Is Paris Burning?

The Trocadero Fountain — from the NY Times

This is not a joke about Notre Dame or the rage of Adolph Hitler in the dying days of the Second World War. In case you missed it, the temperature in Paris neared 110 degrees yesterday, the highest in recorded history. And Paris was five degrees cooler than Gallargues-le-Montueux in the south of France, where the temperature reached 115 degrees, the hottest ever in the country. Similar scorching temperatures were recorded in Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands during the current European heat wave. Residential air-conditioning is generally below 5 percent throughout the region.


And there's worse to come. According to a new study, by 2050, the average high daily temperature in the warmest month in Madrid will be 101, the capital city of Slovenia, 97, and London, a balmy 85. Delhi will set the record at 110 while the USA get off lightly, New York at 93 and rainy Seattle at 88. To be very clear, those are the high temperatures every day averaged over 30 or 31 days.


The World Meteorological Organization claims, "It is premature to attribute the heat wave to climate change, but this is consistent with climate scenarios which predict more frequent, drawn out and intense heat events as greenhouse gas concentrations lead to a rise in global temperatures."


Does anybody else see a walking, talking duck? And I don't mean Aflac.

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Trump is the New Groucho

No, it's not his permanent scowl that earns him that comparison. It's his unpresidential gall.


On the same day that the New York Times reports that "11 Straight Days of Tornadoes Have U.S. Approaching Uncharted Territory," the newspaper's lead story is headlined, "In Climate Fight, Trump Will Put Science on Trial."


No one has ever confused the Midwest with Tornado Alley in Oklahoma, but that might soon change. The latest bout of storms cut a swath of death and destruction from Iowa to Ohio, with stops in Illinois and Indiana. Memorial Day marked the eleventh straight day with eight or more tornados according to the National Weather Storm Prediction Center.


Ask yourself? When is the last time you turned on the TV or picked up a newspaper or checked yours news feed and NOT found a story about yet one more destructive weather event? Does it make you think something might be up with the climate?


Not according to President Trump. After rolling back numerous climate regulations, pulling out of the Paris accords, Twitterly mocking climate change, and appointing a Secretary of State who believes that the warming of the Arctic makes it a land of "opportunity and abundance," he's preparing to take off the gloves and attack the underlying science. Key to his anti-climate change initiative is a proposed, new climate review panel that will challenge, and hopefully undercut, years of climate change research.


The panel proposal, backed by the president's national security advisor, John Bolton, will be headed up by William Happer, a 79-year-old former Princeton University physics professor, who despite his seemingly impeccable credentials, is on record as saying, "The demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler."


Tastelessness aside, who are you gonna believe, him and the other Trump stooges or your lying eyes?

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The Climate Change Follies — Act One

 Mitch McConnell, Principal Choreographer of The Climate Change Follies

There are times when the level of public discourse about an important issue becomes so depressing that the only logical response is to laugh through the tears. This may be one of those times in regard to climate change. Here are a few of the recent developments...


…In cased you didn't get the word, President Trump and Mitch McConnell, leader of the moral invertebrates in the Republican Party, are for the Green New Deal, Nancy Pelosi is against it. Trump and McConnell want to brand the Democrats socialists, Trump on the campaign trail, McConnell in Congress. The outcome is preordained, but by bringing the bill to a vote, McConnell hopes to embarrass Democrats who vote No, and tar those with the S-word who vote Yes. Pelosi, who is on record dismissing the bill as "The green dream or whatever they call it," is wise to the Republican ploy, and simply wants to crawl to a hole and hide. But by playing politics, both sides are putting self-interest ahead of an informed discussion about what's right for the good of the nation and the future of the planet.


…Sebastian Gorka, Fox News commentator and would-be Deputy Assistant to the President (he failed the security clearance and wasn't important enough for Trump to overrule the intelligence community) is someone who clearly didn't get the word. He railed before CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, about the Green New Deal, "They want to take your pickup truck! They want to rebuild your home! They want to take away your hamburgers! This is what Stalin dreamt about but never achieved!"


The threat of the gulag must be Mitch McConnell's latest Republican talking point. In a bitingly satiric, must-read column in the New York Times, David Bentley Hart describes conservative economist's Ben Stein's appearance on Fox News as "like some grim heathen god, exuding all the effervescent charm of a despondent tree sloth, glumly wobbling his jowls and opining that Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez espouses a political philosophy that in the past led to the rise of Hitler and Stalin." Full disclosure: Ben was my college fraternity brother. As I recall, he aspired to be a stand-up comic, one career among many that he pursued with some degree of success before turning to wrong-headed economic punditry.


BTW, I wasn't kidding when I said you must read this column! More follies next time...



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March Madness

When I wrote The Piketty Problem, subtitled The Robots Are Coming, The Robots Are Coming, my intention was to tell an entertaining story about the depressing outlook for low-income wage earners in an increasingly AI world. I and everybody else thought that robots would replace workers with minimal skill sets doing highly repetitive tasks, such as flipping burgers at McDonald's. And I still believe that to be the case, even if reality is starting to look like it can outstrip art.


No, the basketball player in the picture is not Stephen Curry or the latest one-and-done Duke star, but a robot named Cue 3 developed by Toyota, of all companies. The six-ten robot made five of eight three-pointers in a demonstration in Tokyo last Monday. True, no player was defending him, so arguably, they were nothing more than long-range foul shots. And the cable that tethers him to what appears to be his brain, would surely be an impediment on the court.


Nonetheless, Cue 3 demonstrates the potential for a highly-skilled machine capable of performing constantly changing tasks.  According to a Toyota spokesman, he/it has a good visual acuity and an understanding of the math that can predict the ball's path and the propulsive force necessary to get it through the hoop. This is way beyond flipping burgers. Perhaps Cue 3 is merely Toyota's solution for a driver for autonomous vehicles, or a prototype of a next-generation military recruit. But if robotics can come this far this fast, one has to ask, how far can they ultimately go?


If you're wondering, yes, Monday was April 1, but I'm not sure how the International Date Line affects the calendar, or if the Japanese have adopted April Fool's. But the demonstration was covered by many reputable/Fake news agencies and I am inclined to believe what was reported and my own eyes. Here's the video!

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Weird Weather Will Save Us!

Our Weatherman in Chief recently tweeted, "In the beautiful Midwest, windchill temperatures are reaching minus 60 degrees, the coldest ever recorded… What the hell is going on with Global Warming? Please come back fast, we need you!" Of sourse, he needed to look no further than sunny Australia, where an 80-year old record was recently broken in Adelaide, with temperatures topping out at 114 Fahrenheit.


The Twittersphere and Fake Media erupted with outrage that the Chief Executive didn't know the difference between weather, the short-term changes in the atmosphere, and climate, what the weather is like over an extended period of time. Although this is a distinction that truly is a difference, I have come to conclude that we should soft-pedal it. I'm of the opinion that the best way to convince people that climate change is real, and make them want to do something about it, is to bombard them with images and stories about catastrophic weather events, or "weird weather" as the climate-change denier in my novel, The Eleventh Grieve, prefers to refer to it.  


The evidence comes from a recent national poll from Yale and George Mason University that showed that 73 percent of Americans believe that global warming is real, a jump of 10 percentage points since 2015. While there are undoubtedly many factors contributing to this increase, the one that got my attention was that two-thirds of survey respondents felt that global warming was affecting our weather, and about half said that climate change made last year's hurricanes and wildfires in the West worse than normal.


So to those highly ethical scientists who can't bring themselves to say that there is a definite linkage between climate change and the latest assault of weird weather, I say "Shut up!" And to our president, who is puzzled why the Midwest is frozen at the same time the globe is heating up, I commend to him the wisdom of that old-West gunslinger and one of my favorite philosophers, Bat Masterson, cited above.


Incidentally, Masterson's advice for success was "Shoot first and never miss."

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The World is Going to the D...I Mean Robots!

Marty At Work

After two delightful weeks in Hong Kong and Taiwan to start the New Year, I can't bear to kick off 2019 with how I'm feeling about the perilous state of the union or the future of our planet. So to bring you up to date on the theme of The Piketty Problem, and with minimal snark, here's a light-hearted bulletin on the latest in robotics.


Meet Marty! No, you're not seeing things. Marty is your friendly grocery store robot who along with 500 of his cloned friends, may well be coming to your local Giant or Stop & Shop in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, or West Virginia in the next few months. This high-tech floorwalker is designed to roam the aisles to detect issues such as out-of-stock, product spills, and incorrect shelving. That seems like a great deal of investment for such mundane tasks. My bet is with those big eyes and high-resolution 3D cameras he'll be on the lookout for shoplifters as well. I wonder if he was named after Ernest Borgnine's character in that great movie, "Marty."


Who says Jeff Bezos isn't paying attention to his business? His latest innovation is giving "Amazon Scout" a trial run in Snohomish County, Washington. A fleet of these robots that look like bright-blue coolers on wheels, will be rolling along the sidewalks at a walking pace to deliver Amazon packages right to the customer's door. Drones anyone?


Then there are the Lovots, furry, robotic plush-toys, about eighteen inches high, that are designed to do nothing except be loved. This Japanese lovie recognizes sounds and identifies individual humans. It has wheels to motor around, flippers to show surprise or affection, and a smaller version of Marty's eyes to interact with users while it makes wordless chirping noises. It also laughs when tickled, and will fall asleep if you cradle it in your lap. Unfortunately, its "minimal motor function" means it can't fetch you a beer. Sorry, Judge.


The ways things are going, that may be it for light-hearted this year. Sorry, readers.

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Happy New Year to All! — Climate Change News from the Dead Zone

Credit: Johnny Milano for The New York Times

No, the Dead Zone is not Earth, not yet anyway. It's not even Florida after a hurricane, although that's closer to the truth, as you can see in the picture.


Holiday time, particularly the days between Christmas and New Year's, is a journalistic Dead Zone. Any news media reports from that period are sure to receive far less attention than normal. A favorite tactic of sleazy politicos is to try to slip one by during that period to avoid criticism or outrage by concerned citizens. Case in point is the release on December 28 of yet another Trump administration proposal to defang an environmental protection rule. This one would allow greater emissions of poisonous mercury into the air, and ups the Trump Termite's scorecard of weakened or repealed environmental restrictions to nearly a dozen.


Almost as troubling, and far less understandable, was the mystifying decision by the New York Times to release a special twelve-page report on December 26 about the consequences of Trump's environmental retreat on the health and safety of Americans, while on the same day, headlining the editorial, "Trump Imperils the Planet." These issues demand greater exposure and publicity than they can ever receive in the media Dead Zone.


The report goes into considerable detail about the personal stories of ordinary citizens who have been affected by the loosening of regulations, like the farm worker in California disabled by Chlorpyrifos, a nerve agent and broad spectrum pesticide, and the North Dakotans who are afraid to breathe the air, and the West Virginians who are afraid to drink the water. It's a long read, and a heart-wrenching one. At least skim it if you can.


Another shorter, must-read lost in the Dead Zone, is David Leonhardt's New York Times' column of December 30, where he makes the argument that the best hope for raising awareness and concern about climate change is the weather. Pundits and scientists always warn us not to confuse extreme weather events with a changing climate, but Leonhardt makes the obvious point that weather is what people can see, feel, hear, and touch, and thus it's going to have a far greater impact than all the academic studies or governments reports put together. I have particular sympathy for this argument, because the novel that I'm currently trying to sell into the Dead Zone of the lit biz, The Eleventh Grieve, is all about how the recognition that "weird weather" is really climate change can win over even the most bullheaded denier.


Leonhardt says he "wanted to write my last column of 2018 about the climate as a kind of plea: Amid everything else going on, don't lose sight of the most important story of the year." That's all well and good, but as we used to say in my former profession, the ad biz, "It's not what you say, it's what they hear." So wise up, Dave! There aren't that many people listening on December 30!


As a postscript, check out today's New York Times' article, post–Dead Zone, on a childhood cancer cluster in Indiana that can be traced to contamination of groundwater by trichloroethylene, or TCE, a colorless fluid with a subtle, sweet odor used by as many as four-fifths of the nation's 65,000 dry cleaners, as well as about 2,200 factories and other facilities. At the urging of industry groups, the Trump administration has indefinitely postponed an Obama-era regulation to restrict its use.


I've lost count but I think this could make it an even dozen for Trump's Termites. As I said, Happy New Year to all.

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