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In Vino Veritas

"In wine lies the truth," although not in exactly in the way that the ancient Romans meant it. If birds and insects are "sentinel" species for climate change*, than a grape vine is the canary in the coal mine of the plant world. The telling details are documented by the wine critic of the New York Times in a recent article that every wine-lover should read.


Because of warming temperatures and changing weather patterns, winemakers are now cultivating grapes in places once considered inhospitable to the production of fine wine, such as "champagne" in England and Riesling in Norway.

Similarly, vintners in Portugal and Australia are relocating vineyards to higher altitudes and more northerly facing slopes in order to cut down on the excessive heat that makes wine dull and flabby, with little character.


But what about the fate of the grande cuvées and eminent châteaux of France? Ironically, climate change can have a beneficial effect on winemaking, at least in the short term. Despite devastating hailstorms and late frosts in Burgundy, vignerons in France are generally enjoying an unprecedented run of excellent vintages because they are no longer faced with the threat of cool weather that prevents grapes from fully ripening.


Nonetheless, in hidebound Bordeaux, winemakers are experimenting with grapes not currently permitted by law in the appellation, in anticipation of a time when cabernet sauvignon and merlot may not be the best grapes to produce the structured and cellar-worthy wines that made the region famous. But even if they succeed, will these nouveaux vins have the same bouquet and body or age as long?


So if you can't find enough bandwidth to worry about Atlantis-like inundations or Cuisinart tornadoes or any of the other weird-weather disasters coming our way, at least think of a dreary world of fine dining without fine wine**. Climate change preppers might want to stash a few bottle of their favorite vin extraordinaire in their cellar. And do it before the twenty-five percent tariff on imported European wines imposed by the connoisseur of cheeseburgers and First Teetotaler in the White House is felt at the retail level, probably by the start of the New Year!


*See last week's post   **More than likely sans meat, as well!

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The New Canary in the Coal Mine?

The Common Loon

The State Bird of Minnesota (and Washington, DC)


Credit:Robert Scholl/Alamy in the New York Times

During much of the 20th century, miners carried caged canaries into coal mines to serve as an early warning system for the presence of toxic gas, such as colorless and odorless carbon monoxide. Birds need immense amounts of oxygen to enable them to fly, so their anatomy has evolved to give them a double dose, once when they inhale and once when they exhale. If it's not oxygen but CO2 in the air, these "sentinel animals" feel the effects far faster than humans, giving the miners time to evacuate.


 Honeybees, whose populations have declined significantly in recent years, are considered a sentinel animal for pesticide use because they depend on agricultural crops for sustenance. Insects in general are sentinel animals for habitat loss, pollution, and invasive species. A synthesis by Australian scientists of 73 studies conclude s that 40 percent of insect species are threatened with extinction, and each year another percent is added to the total.


Climate change is also considered a factor in the loss of honeybees and other insects, although the relative impact versus other factors is difficult to quantify. Now, new research released by the National Audubon Society concludes that 389 bird species in North America, two-thirds of all our birds, are at increasing risk of extinction. And the scientists point the finger squarely at warming temperatures and other knock-on effects of climate change.


As birds change their ranges because of a changing climate, at least eight states will see their official  "state birds" largely or entirely disappear. These include the brown thrasher in Georgia, the purple finch in New Hampshire, the goldfinch in Iowa and New Jersey, and the loon in Minnesota.And rising sea levels will do significant damage to birds who build their nests in sandy areas along the coast, such as the piping plover.


Benjamin Zuckerberg, an ecology professor at the University of Wisconsin warns, "there is a real concern that the rate of climate change is going to be beyond the ability of many species to adapt."


So does it matter? Well, not if you don't mind a new, updated edition of Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring." Or, as hotter temperatures creep northward, waking up to the shrill squawks of parrots and mynah birds.


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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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