Environment

Earth Day 2015

I haven’t posted in some time, but couldn’t let a RNWMV tradition pass without comment. Every year since I began this blog in 2006, I have marked Earth Day by posting this cartoon, the creation of one of America’s greatest philosophers, Walt Kelly, artist and writer of the comic strip, Pogo. Since the first Earth Day in 1971, the phrase, “We have met the enemy and he is us” has become part of the American lexicon.

Forty four years after the first Earth Day, it is hard to be terribly optimistic about the idealistic goals of the Earth Day movement. The “Green” movement has grown steadily, but faces a situation where change might be “too little, too late”. See, for example, this article from the current issue of Scientific American, Have We Passed the Point of No Return on Climate Change?

Although, over the years, the enemy has coalesced into the climate deniers, politically, the “Green” movement has it’s supporters, including President Obama and the Democratic party, who have become increasingly willing to call out Republicans who remain vocal climate change deniers.

Politics aside, perhaps the most hopeful sign for Earth Day, 2015, is that investors are now making money by going green. Forbes has a list of solar and clean energy exchanges that are easily beating the S&P 500.

The Earth Day Network is still alive and well. It would be worth your time to visit their site and see how you could contribute while there is still time.

Update: President Obama uses Earth Day to talk about climate change.

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Earth, The Wakened Giant

Rachel-Carson Today is the 107th birthday of Rachel Carson. Carson was the American marine biologist and conservationist whose book Silent Spring was largely responsible for starting the global environmental movement. By observing the damage to humans and nature caused by factories and industrial agriculture, Carson presented nature as highly vulnerable to destruction by the power of synthetic chemicals. 

The idea that the earth is fragile,  easily disrupted and unable to repair itself led to an environmental movement focused on repairing a damaged planet.

This idea has had various metaphorical expressions, including “Mother Earth” as a nurturing, feminine and easily damaged entity. The notion of living harmoniously with nature took hold, inspired by images of pre-industrial peoples living close to the natural world.

Underlying these conceptions is a view that, while humans can cause a great deal of damage, nature is passive and always our victim. That vision has changed dramatically thanks to the science of climate change. Today we see that the planet has been disturbed from its resting state, jolted out of the providential era of climatic stability characteristic of the last 10,000 years, and is now on a new and largely uncontrollable path that is creating conditions dangerous for human life.

Clive Hamilton has written a piece for The Conversation entitled, Forget “saving the Earth”- it’s an angry beast we’ve awoken, that analyses this new perspective.

a growing chorus of senior scientists refer to the Earth with metaphors such as “the wakened giant” and “the ornery beast”, a planet that is “fighting back” and seeking “revenge”, and a new era of “angry summers” and “death spirals”.

Whether you consider yourself to be an environmentalist or not, the warnings from Earth system science have far-reaching implications for us all.

According to Hamilton, Earth System Science is responsible for this more holistic view.

The rise of Earth system science – which has brought together many different fields of science so that we can better understand how the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, land and other systems work together – has changed the way we see the world.

Now, the Earth is understood as a dynamic system with strong feedback effects, which can suddenly shift it to a new state when critical points are crossed.

So profound has been the influence of humans that scientists have proposed that the Earth has entered a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene or the Age of Humans, defined by the fact that the “human imprint on the global environment has now become so large and active that it rivals some of the great forces of Nature in its impact on the functioning of the Earth system”.

As Earth scientist James Syvitski writes:

At some point, we graduated from adapting to our environment to making it adapt to us … But now we regularly decelerate and accelerate natural processes, focus energy in extraordinary ways and alter, destroy or create ecosystems.

That means we must no longer see the Earth as the submissive repository for supplying our resources or taking our wastes, nor as the docile victim of our rapacity or carelessness.

This newer understanding of the Earth has been vividly expressed by palaeoclimatologist Wally Broecker:

The palaeoclimate record shouts out to us that, far from being self-stabilizing, the Earth’s climate system is an ornery beast which overreacts even to small nudges.

When the Earth is understood this way, the task of environmentalism can no longer be to “save” or preserve the planet, for the planet we wanted to save has already become something else. Our task now is to do what we can to pacify, or at least not aggravate further, something vastly more powerful than we are.

If we have wakened the slumbering beast by poking and prodding it, the prudent course is firstly to stop. But we cannot put it back to sleep.

There is no return to the peaceful conditions of the Holocene, at least not for thousands of years; but to provoke it further, as we still are, is foolishness on an epic scale.

So, the metaphor of “Mother Earth” is being replaced by something akin to William Butler Yeats‘ rough beast slouching towards Bethlehem.

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Earth Day 2014

Pogo Here we are again- Earth Day. I have posted this cartoon every Earth Day since I began the blog in 2006. It is, of course, by one of America’s greatest philosophers, Walt Kelly, creator of the comic strip, Pogo. Since the first Earth Day in 1971, the phrase, “We have met the enemy and he is us” becomes more and more profound. The climate change deniers,the Koch brothers and their lackeys who fight solar and wind power and all other alternative sources that cut into their oil and coal profits, have become more powerful and, because of their money, more influential.

A clear eyed appraisal of the current situation would say that we are beyond the point of no return. The enemy has won and we can only watch the carnage we have brought upon the “forest primeval”.

Nevertheless, foolish optimists continue to believe it is possible to reverse course. Given the alternative, foolish optimism does seem to be the only option left. If you are interested in fighting the good fight, even if the realistic position is that the war has been lost- click here 

Idaho and Wolf Mismanagement

grey-wolf_565_600x450 Since the wolf was reintroduced into Idaho in 1995, there have been on-going disputes over their management. State officials complained about what they believed to be the federal government’s intrusion through wolf protection mandates. Idaho politicians claimed that the state could manage wolves more effectively than could the outsider “Feds”. So, in 2011, Congress handed wolf management over to Idaho. This transfer was based on Idaho’s pledge to manage wolves like other valued species and the state’s wolf population management plan that called for maintaining 518-732 wolves. However, almost immediately after federal protection was lifted, the state abandoned its wolf management plan and began instituting a series of lethal anti-wolf control measures. Suddenly, we were back to the old policies of treating wolves like vermin. Since 2011, with the strong support of Idaho politicians, led by Governor Clement “Butch” Otter, hunters and trappers have killed more than 1,000 wolves, reducing the population to around 600. Not satisfied, the 2014 legislature established Governor Otter’s Wolf Control Board — which proposes to aggressively kill wolves in Idaho. The intent of the Wolf Control Board is to kill all but 150 wolves, the bare minimum number required by the federal wolf delisting plan. The rationale for the slaughter is to protect livestock. Yet officially, wolves killed an average of only one calf and seven sheep per county in Idaho last year, and many of these losses may have been avoidable. Ken Cole in The Wildlife News reports on the Wolf Control bill:

On the last day of the Idaho Legislature, HB470, the Wolf Control Board bill, jumped its final hurdle before going to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law. The board will be funded with $400,000 from the general fund and $110,000 from the livestock industry and $110,000 from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game for a total of $640,000 annually. It is very likely that the governor will sign the bill considering it was one of the three priorities outlined in his January State of the State address. Ostensibly, the money is to replace a federal funding shortfall for USDA Wildlife Services for control of depredating wolves but several statements by its proponents in the legislature, during testimony and the to the press, indicate that the intent of the board is to reduce the Idaho wolf population to the minimum of 150 wolves and 15 breeding pairs.

As reported by Susanne Stone of the Defenders of Wildlife,

Concurrently, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game announced a new proposal to kill 60 percent of the wolves in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, the largest forested wilderness in the lower 48 states. Fish and Game’s plan calls for an intensive program of wolf killing through state-paid hunters and trappers in hopes of boosting the elk population for sport hunters. However, elk numbers statewide today top 100,000 and hunter harvest rates remain high among western states. Irrationally, these cumulative efforts to control wolves by sole reliance on lethal management will result in higher management costs, continued livestock losses, and unnecessary, random killing of wolves. Acknowledging that wolves are here to stay, a few stakeholders have worked collaboratively to develop better strategies to resolve conflicts by learning how to live with wolves. Nonlethal control methods — livestock carcass removal, range riders, electric fencing and guard dogs — are far more effective and cheaper options for keeping wolves away from livestock. And these nonlethal methods are already working in Idaho where they are being applied. The Wood River Wolf Project in Blaine County has successfully protected between 10,000 and 27,000 sheep annually on the Sawtooth National Forest, losing less than 25 sheep (0.04 percent) over the last six years — without having to kill a single wolf in the project area to protect livestock. Despite being one of the highest concentrations of wolves and livestock statewide, the project area has the lowest loss rate of livestock in wolf range statewide.

As could be expected, other wilderness advocates has reacted with outrage. For example, see here  and here. EarthJustice has been particularly active in attempting to halt the wolf slaughter proposed in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness and currently has a lawsuit challenging the plan.

As an Idaho native, I am usually frustrated by the level of rhetoric and the framing of the arguments on both sides of the wolf issue. Ranchers and far right “anti-government” extremists don’t speak for me. But, on the other hand, I sometimes think Wilderness advocates who do not live here, are not hunters, and, quite probably, have never even set foot in Idaho, tend to romanticize wolves and wilderness in general. Consequently, I was pleased to receive the following letter Bill Chisholm of Buhl, Idaho, wrote to the Idaho Fish and Game. It sums up my own feelings quite well.

I believe that Idaho Fish and Game is not qualified to manage wolves in Idaho. The mindset of the agency is that the wolf is somehow an alien and enemy force, when in fact like humans it is a part of Nature. The wolf should be respected for its part in Nature and in the food chain. If on occasion it might be necessary to kill a wolf that is doing harm, it should be done with regret, not the macho bullshit that is part of the wolf haters credo. Perhaps wolves should be re-listed as they are obviously in danger from the current Idaho Fish and Game policy. I am an Idaho native and a long time Idaho activist. Sadly the State of Idaho has seldom shown itself to be the competent managers of air, land or water, because the politicos seem more concerned about the profits of the rippers, rapers and polluters than the long term viability of Idaho’s precious natural resources.

The ranchers in the middle of the state cry “Wolf” and the ranchers in the southern part of the state cry “Elk”, it seems that someone within Fish and Game would realize that the wolf is an essential part of the states landscape. No Wolves, No Wild, No Wildlife, No Wilderness, No Wild Wild West in honor of the wild.

Attuned, ethical hunters know that if the prey has lost its wild edge, then hunters too have lost their wild edge and the meat they get has lost its wild edge. Without their natural predators the survival instincts which give prey, like elk and deer, their edge diminishes… they become semi-domestic. Scientific studies have shown that the landscape suffers; grazing patterns change as do migration patterns. See http://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/library/keystone-species-15786127  also see Trophic cascading in Yellowstone: the first 15 years after wolf reintroduction by William J. Ripple and Robert L. Beschta, Oregon State University

The Idaho Fish and Game charter claims as “property” wildlife within Idaho’s borders. Wolfhaters have said…”Wolves are killing our wildlife.” How can something that is wild be classified as either ‘property” or “ours”? Isn’t the nature of Wild to be free of ownership? Idaho’s Governor and the Idaho Fish and Game Commission are pandering to the wishes, of those that want the easy kill without the work or the skill seek, to exterminate the wolf. The governor proposes to spend $2 million of the taxpayers’ dollars to achieve his goal. The Idaho Fish and Game Commission in cooperation with the US Forest Service is trying to eliminate two wolf packs within the Frank Church Wilderness… which certainly qualifies their action as a sacrilege.

There is a mystique of the modern macho mountain man of the West which many of the wild haters like to think of themselves. It is a farce… hunters don’t’ want the “competition” and the ranchers want to avoid the “risk”….Competition and Risk are two of the holy grails of the Wild West Priesthood.

No Wolves, No Wild, No Wildlife, No Wilderness, No Wild Wild West

 

Ups and Downs and Ups

The economy gained 236,000 jobs in February, well above what had been expected, while the unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent, its lowest level since December 2008.

Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 236,000 in February, with  job gains in professional and business services, construction, and health care.

Professional and business services added 73,000 jobs in February; employment in the industry had changed little (+16,000) in January. In February, employment in administrative and support services, which includes employment services and services to buildings, rose by 44,000. Accounting and bookkeeping services added 11,000 jobs, and growth continued in computer systems design and in management and technical consulting services.

In February, employment in construction increased by 48,000. Since September, construction employment has risen by 151,000. In February, job growth occurred in specialty trade contractors, with this gain about equally split between residential (+17,000) and nonresidential specialty trade contractors (+15,000). Nonresidential building construction also added jobs (+6,000).

The health care industry continued to add jobs in February (+32,000). Within health care, there was a job gain of 14,000 in ambulatory health care services, which includes doctors’ offices and outpatient care centers. Employment also increased over the month in nursing and residential care facilities (+9,000) and hospitals (+9,000).

Employment in the information industry increased over the month (+20,000), lifted by a large job gain in the motion picture and sound recording industry. Employment continued to trend up in retail trade in February (+24,000). Retail trade has added 252,000 jobs over the past 12 months. Employment also continued to trend up over the month in food services and drinking places and in wholesale trade. Employment in other major industries showed little change over the month.

The numbers would have been even better if not for the continuing cuts in public sector jobs.

Public-sector employment continued to shrink, however, as the number of government employees nationwide fell by 10,000.

Unfortunately, something else has gone up at an unprecedented rate, average global temperature. Unlike it’s obsession with business numbers, the main stream media doesn’t seem to be overly concerned with this much scarier statistic.

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According to Tim McDonnell, the real concern is not just that the average global temperature is higher than any time in the last 11,300 years; it is the amazing current rate of change.

Back in 1999, Penn State University climate scientist Michael Mann released the climate change movement’s most potent symbol: The “hockey stick,” a line graph of global temperature over the last 1,500 years that shows an unmistakable, massive uptick in the 20th century, when humans began to dump large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It’s among the most compelling bits of proof out there that human beings are behind global warming, and as such has become a target on Mann’s back for climate denialists looking to draw a bead on scientists.

Today, it’s getting a makeover: A study published in Science reconstructs global temperatures further back than ever before—a full 11,300 years. The new analysis finds that the only problem with Mann’s hockey stick was that its handle was about 9,000 years too short. The rate of warming over the last 100 years hasn’t been seen for as far back as the advent of agriculture.

“Under all plausible greenhouse gas emission scenarios,” the world is on track to surpass temperatures not seen since the dawn of civilization, according to the study. In 100 years, we’ve gone from the cold end of the spectrum to the warm end of the spectrum,” said climatologist Shaun Marcott, lead author of the study. “We’ve never seen something this rapid. Even in the ice age the global temperature never changed this quickly.”

Marcott said that current “global temperatures are warmer than about 75 percent of anything we’ve seen over the last 11,000 years or so.” By 2100, he said, global temperatures will be “well above anything we’ve ever seen in the last 11,000 years.”

Cosmic Coincidence

In a cosmic coincidence, the Russian meteorite that has reportedly injured more than 1,000 people is completely unrelated to the DA14 asteroid, which NASA says will pass close to the Earth later today.

A decade ago, we would have known about the Russian meteorite only by the results of the impact. Today, there are few places on earth without a witness with a video camera. Below is a video showing the flight of the meteorite from a number of different locations just before it smashed into the Ural Mountains.

Rethinking the Secretary of the Interior

47I have been a member of REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc.) since the 1980s. REI began in Seattle during the depression as a cooperative for outdoor enthusiasts. Since then, it has grown to become the nation’s largest consumer co-op, and continues to return the majority of profits to members through annual member refunds based on their purchases.

I bring this up because President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, is CEO of REI. Timothy Egan has an interesting opinion piece in the New York Times arguing that Jewell represents the majority of Americans who are impacted by Interior Department decisions about public land use.

The emperor of the American outdoors usually wears a cowboy hat, for the lashing dust and searing sun in the domain of the Interior Department, one-fifth of the United States. James Watt, the most small-minded head of that agency in modern times, wore one. So did Ken Salazar, the outgoing secretary.

Don’t expect to see Sally Jewell, who is President Obama’s nominee for Interior secretary, in a showy Stetson. Running shoes, yes. Climbing helmet, of course. Cycling tights, no doubt. If confirmed, Jewell would be one of the few directors of that vast department to actually share the passions of the majority of people who use the 500 million acres of public land under Interior’s control.

It’s not just that Jewell has climbed Mount Rainier, kayaked innumerable frothy waterways, skied and snowboarded double-diamond runs. Nor that, as chief executive of the nation’s largest consumer cooperative — Recreational Equipment Inc., the retailer known as REI — she knows that Americans spend more money on outdoor equipment than they do on pharmaceuticals or gasoline.

But Jewell — a city-dweller, educated, articulate about the importance of nature in a modern life — is a prototypical citizen of the 21st century American West, still the geography of hope, in Wallace Stegner’s timeless phrase.

Egan sees Jewell as giving a voice to that 21st Century citizen of the American West.

For all the ranchers and wildcatters, the loggers and right-wing county commissioners who clamor for control of the nation’s public lands, the dominant user is an urbanite, who bikes, skis, rafts, climbs, hunts, fishes, watches birds, waits for sunsets with a camera or finds an antidote for “nature deficit disorder” in a weekend on a high plateau.

Every time gas prices go up, some demagogue will say it’s because we aren’t sucking enough oil out of our shared setting, when in fact there is no connection between the global price of oil and annual output from government leases. But Obama has been afraid to rally the larger conservation and recreational-user coalition because he fears the wrath of the fossil-fuel crowd.

In part, this is because those who value the prairies, canyons, mountains and grasslands of Interior for something other than extraction have been largely missing from the debate. They let buffoonish politicians from rural Western areas drone on about the need to put even more public lands under control of the oil industry. They allow corporate interests who are more at home on a Saudi golf course than in a slick-rock canyon in southern Utah to speak for the West.

Just recently, that has started to change. The outdoor recreational industry directly supports three times more jobs than the oil and gas sector. People who play in the American outdoors spend $646 billion a year, responsible for 6.1 million jobs.

While Obama seems to be aware of the need for a different type of stewardship for public lands, the same cannot be said for members of the Idaho Legislature. They rejected Governor Otter’s nominee for Fish and Game Director, Joan Hurlock.

For the first time since 1974, the Idaho Senate has rejected the governor’s nominee for a slot on the Idaho Fish and Game Commission, voting 19-16 against confirming Joan Hurlock, only the second woman ever to serve on the panel.

“This lady is not qualified,” Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, told the Senate. He said she lacked the necessary “passion” for hunting and fishing.

Hurlock, of Buhl, held Idaho hunting and fishing licenses several times, but not every year, and didn’t hold one for a nine-year stretch prior to last year. She’s an advocate of youth access to hunting and fishing and an active volunteer.

After the Senate vote, she told the Associated Press, “I have fished throughout my life. … I didn’t know I needed to keep an attendance record.”

Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, who led the opposition to the appointment, told the Senate, “If you haven’t shared the experiences, I don’t think you can make the correct decisions.”

Dan Popkey of the Idaho Statesman had an interesting piece about the Hurlock rejection that reinforces Egan’s claim about a shift in thinking about public lands.

It’s no surprise that the rejection of Joan Hurlock, Republican Gov. Butch Otter’s nominee to the Idaho Fish & Game Commission, included a hint of the urban-rural divisions that have long defined Idaho politics.

Of the nine Senate Republicans who supported Hurlock in a losing 19-16 vote Monday, seven represent significant urban constituencies: Dan Johnson of Lewiston, Shawn Keough of Sandpoint, Todd Lakey of Nampa, Patti Anne Lodge of Huston, Fred Martin of Boise, Jim Patrick of Twin Falls and Jim Rice of Caldwell. Keough represents a largely rural district, but Sandpoint is a fashionable resort and retirement town.

They backed the leader of their party’s appointee, despite her casual relationship with hunting and fishing. Nineteen Republicans opposed Hurlock. All seven Democrats, who represent city-dominated districts, voted for her.

The two Republicans who supported Hurlock and represent largely rural districts were her floor manager, Bert Brackett of Rogerson, who ranches in Southern Idaho and Nevada, and John Tippets of Montpelier.

Popkey uses Sen. Patty Lodge as an case study of how things may be changing in Idaho.

The Hurlock nomination became a proxy for a cultural shift that can seem threatening to rural interests that have long held sway.

“They’re not a hunting family,” said Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, capsulizing the us-vs.-them sentiment on Hurlock, who moved to Buhl a decade ago from California, where her father was a game warden.

Though Hurlock lost, Otter’s decision to fight for her nomination is yet another sign of change in a state where cities are growing far faster than rural precincts and folks born outside Idaho outnumber the native-born.

Perhaps the best example in the Senate is Lodge, a seven-term lawmaker who moved to Idaho at age 4 from Pennsylvania, when her father won a football scholarship at the College of Idaho.

Lodge is deeply connected to the GOP establishment. Her husband, Edward, also played at C of I and was a state court judge for 26 years. In 1989, President George H. W. Bush nominated him as a federal judge, a post he continues to hold. Their son, Ed, is a lobbyist for CenturyLink.

Sen. Lodge grew up in one of those hunting families. “There was a shotgun in every corner,” she said during debate. “My brother had a gun in his hands from the time he could just barely walk.”

But Lodge then made what might seem a dangerous admission: She’s given up hunting. She likes to see deer, quail, pheasants, ducks and geese roaming her land on Sunny-slope near the Snake River – without wanting to shoot them.

Lodge’s brother, former Liquor Dispensary Director Dyke Nally, chaired Otter’s eight-member committee that interviewed seven commissioner candidates. The panel ranked Hurlock in a tie for first. Nally, Lodge said, raised 150 chukar chicks last year, releasing them in an orchard owned by the siblings.

Lodge had a reminder for those she called the “great white hunters”: Many citizens see critters as more than meat on the run.

“Remember, that wildlife belongs to all of Idaho,” she said.

Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, who led the opposition to Hurlock’s appointment, told the Senate, “If you haven’t shared the experiences, I don’t think you can make the correct decisions.” It would be nice if Heider took his own advice. He has had no experience in education, yet felt qualified to propose a bill that reflected his ignorance. Today, after hearing from many who know better about the “unintended consequences” of the legislation, he withdrew it.

Vision of Climate Change

mother-of-seven-library-congress
There are certain photographs that become iconic. They engender an immediate connection with an event, tragic or triumphant. They put the event in human terms, often showing a family, as in Dorothea Lang’s iconic photograph of Florence Owens Thompson and her children.  The photo became the most famous image of the Great Depression in the United States.  It has become an iconic image of resilience in the face of adversity.

See here for a list of 27 photos that also fit the description. Perhaps the most famous compilation is Life Magazine’s 100 photographs that changed the world.

I started thinking about other events or phenomena that might engender an iconic image for  future generations. Climate change is just such a phenomena. We appear to be at the point, finally, where it is generally understood that a scientific consensus has been reached identifying human activity as the major cause of climate change.

There is an overwhelming level of scientific consensus on human-caused climate change. Over 95% of actively publishing climate scientists agree that the earth is warming and that human activity is the cause. In spite of this agreement, only about 50% the general public think that scientists have reached a consensus on human-caused climate change. Two sources of the discrepancy are the unbalanced portrayal of the situation in the media, and the Manufactured Doubt Industry.

James Lawrence Powell did a meta-study of almost 14,000 peer reviewed scientific papers written from 1991 to November 2012. His pie-chart says it all.

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Of course, there are still morons like Henry Paine of National Review who, as part of the “manufactured doubt” industry, intentionally confuse climate with weather, but when, in his inaugural address, President Obama called for America to lead the world’s response to the threat of climate change, it became clear that it is time to find an iconic image worthy of Dorothea Lang.

We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.

Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But American cannot resist this transition. We must lead it.

I am sure there are hundreds of photographs that could serve, but, for me,  the first image that came to mind was of the Holmes family huddled in the water as the Tasmanian wildfire raged around them.

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I feel that this picture has that same emotional impact as Lange’s photograph. It depicts a family, in this case a grandmother and her grandchildren, clinging to each other- resilience in the face of adversity.

What I find most amazing is that, unlike the posed Lang photograph, this picture was taken by the children’s grandfather in real time.

Here is how the UK’s Guardian newspaper described the photo.

These stunning pictures of five young children and their grandmother huddled together under a jetty in the Tasmanian town of Dunalley were captured by their grandfather Tim Holmes. The family was forced to stay in the water for several hours as homes around them were razed to the ground. The pictures, taken on 4 January have just been released

Solar Panel Breakthrough

alta-solar-mat-smThe U.S. government has certified Alta Devices as having created the highest efficiency solar panel in existence yet. Friday the California startup announced its first product: A flexible, extremely lightweight and fully portable solar charging mat designed for the U.S. military, which also achieves the highest efficiency of any such solar portable charging device used by the armed forces.

Alta Devices’ new solar charging mats come in two sizes with differing energy outputs — 10-watt and 20-watt, both which offer world record energy efficiency of 24.1 percent, an increase even from when Alta was first certified by the U.S. government in February 2012.

The major technological advance behind Alta’s record-setting ultra-flexible solar panels is a material called gallium arsenide, a byproduct of aluminum smelting combined with arsenic, which turns out to be perfect for solar panels because it can withstand high temperatures and be sliced extremely thin — one micron thick — or about the thickness of a human hair in Alta’s case. Alta has filed 77 patents on its advances.

Alta’s new invention clearly fits in well with the U.S. military’s continued efforts to power more operations with clean energy, but the consumer electronic industry is extremely interested in what Alta has to offer for consumer mobile devices like tablets and smartphones, too.

Alta’s reference military charging mats are merely a vehicle for the company to pursue a much grander ambition: Pure solar-powered mobile energy for every major use case — consumer devices, autos, aircraft, anything that’s not fixed or stationary (although the company plans to expand to that market as well, once its already conquered the mobile charging market.)

AltaDevices’ Web Site describes the exciting directions the company is exploring. There is an interesting Idaho connection. The CEO of AltaDevices, Chris Norris, was born and raised in Howe, Idaho.