Monday, April 30, 2012

Artifacts from the Exxon Valdez oil spill

Ray Troll EVOS T-shirt
Many years ago, 23 of them to be exact, Exxon Shipping gave an oil spill in Prince William Sound that dumped 11 million gallons of North Slope crude oil into and onto Prince William Sound and its inhabitants.

It just happened that I was living in Valdez, Alaska at the time, teaching photography and video at Prince William Sound Community College. From the moment I woke at 6 AM to hear the announcer on KCHU say, "The Exxon Valdez is on the rocks and leaking oil," my life changed forever.

William Spear pin

That was a long time ago. Much has changed. Much is the same. There could be another, even more devastating oil spill in Prince William Sound at any time, and there's nothing anyone can do to forestall it, as long as crude oil is shipped in fragile vessels through these delicate waters.

My ADEC ID badge

I worked eighteen hours a day, seven days a week, from March 24 to September 25, 1989, documenting the effects of the oil spill on the animals, people and environment of Prince William Sound. I continued this work until the fall of 1991, completing a video documentary of the spill that was distributed world-wide by the United Nations.

You can read more accounts of the spill in my books, Écritage and The Environmeddlers.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Global Warming (and cooling) is Cosmic!

Henrik Svensmark, not to be outdone, even by himself, has done it again! 

Attentive Global Warming followers will recall that Svensmark is the author of major studies of the effects of our star's variable magnetic field on the rate of cosmic ray penetration of the Earth's atmosphere. Cosmic rays affect climate in that they serve as the impetus for cloud formation. During periods of low solar magnetic activity, more cosmic rays penetrate the atmosphere, creating more clouds, thus lowering global temperatures.

In a new paper, Svensmark has expanded this thesis beyond the solar system to the cosmic mechanics of our galaxy and beyond. He has demonstrated strong correlations among the variable rate of supernova formation in nearby star clusters over the past 510 million years, with patterns of climate variation on Earth, especially with periodic ice ages, based on fossil evidence of variation in overall biodiversity. Svenmark's paper is available here. (NOTE: this is a highly technical paper, requiring advanced math and statistics. Caveat emptor.)

This paper echos evidence available that global warming (and cooling) is not restricted to our planet Earth alone. The same patterns of climate variability appear on Mars, for one, and other planets, which are exhibiting Global Warming, if that's what it is, right now. So either Svensmark is on to something, or we have somehow, transmitted the virus of Global Warming to Mars on our various and sundry probes of the Ancient Red Planet.

One could argue, I suppose, that humans, being made of star stuff, are somehow responsible for supernova explosions in far off star clusters, or at least co-conspirators, just as much as we are responsible for emitting a tiny whiff of CO2 into our own atmosphere. 

Therein madness lies.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Is there an environmentalist in the house?

The Environmeddlers have arrived!

 Now available from Arana Gulch Press 

The Environmeddlers brings the world of environmental protest from monkey wrenching to the digital age. In this high-spirited adventure, Clovis, a reformed Sierra Club organizer, teams up with an animal rights advocate, an unrepentant defender of raw wilderness and a Taoist computer geek to make a difference in an uncaring world where industrial growth, pollution, and habitat destruction continue unchecked. 

Following a twisting path across the landscapes of the West, the tiny band encounters high-tech surveillance, an unexpected member of the security establishment, the overwhelming forces of Nature, and ultimately, their own individual passions and ideals.

"We need a new story, something that’ll capture the attention of people all over the country, people tired of the lies and petty drivel on TeeVee, tired of corrupt politicians, tired of dead end jobs and piles of bills for more and more things with less and less meaning.” -- The One-Eyed Cowboy

Michael A. Lewis Writes!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

When Dogs Run Free

In the past few weeks there has been much discussion in Live Oak about allowing dogs to run off leash on the beach between Corcoran and Moran Lagoons. 

Although Santa Cruz County has strict leash laws that apply to the beaches as well as inland, some dog owners have gotten used to letting their dogs run off-leash on the beaches, as budget restrictions have resulted in intermittent leash law enforcement by County Animal Services. Recent patrols by Animal Services officers have raised awareness of restrictions on off-leash dogs and have prompted some dog owners to lobby Animal Services and County government to grant exemptions to the leash law at the three County beaches.

One of the arguments put forward by dog owners in favor of off-leash hours on the beach, is that responsible dog owners obey the laws, pick up after their dogs and help keep the beaches clean. To see how well this works, I took a tour of two beaches in the City limits of Santa Cruz. 

Mitchell's Cove beach has off-leash dog hours from sunrise to 10 am and 4 PM to sunset, the same hours proposed for the three County Beaches, and well posted with signage at the stairs leading down to the beach. I was there at 11 AM on April 17 and watched three "responsible" dog owners letting their dogs run free on the beach, an hour past the 10 AM restriction.

Lighthouse Field State Park Beach is owned and regulated by California State Parks and is prominently posted "Dogs On Leash Only." Nevertheless, at 11:30 AM, the beach was overrun by 20 or more dogs running off-leash, and their "responsible" owners. Since State Parks has little money for enforcement, irresponsible dog owners know that this is a place where they can bring their dogs to run free with impunity.

While it is true that there are many responsible local dog owners who do not flaunt local, county, state and federal laws, there are also many irresponsible dog owners who ignore the laws by letting their dogs run free in prohibited areas. This is why we have strict leash laws in the County and City and why its is essential that special exemptions to the law not be made for specific beaches.

There are thirteen specified inland "Off-Leash" dog parks in Santa Cruz City and County, where dog owners can take their dogs for exercise, socialization and fun for their dogs and for themselves. Dogs running free on beaches harass and drive off wildlife, including the endangered Western Snowy Plover. 

Let's all be responsible dog owners and non-dog owners and preserve the beaches for animals who have no other place to go.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Michael and Jean's Further AMTRAK Adventures

In Michael and Jean's Further AMTRAK Adventures, we find our heroes traveling north out of LA on the Coast Starlight, heading for home at the end of a week-long AMTRAK trip to Norman (expletive deleted), Oklahoma and back.

We boarded the train with weary relief, after having traversed the desert wastes of Arizona, New Mexico and west Texas, twice, all the while dodging increasing numbers of freight trains, forcing us to cool our wheels on anonymous sidings. We did manage to pass through Marfa, Texas without incident this time.

We made our way past the accustomed sights, the looming high rise jail in downtown LA, the Bob Hope airport where the final scene in Casablanca wasn't filmed, the cell phone towers disguised as palm trees, and the splendiferous Mission-style terminal in Santa Barbara. Life was grand.

Then, somewhere along the coast after Goleta, the train stopped... and stayed. The conductor came on the intercom and informed the 127 passengers aboard that the engine had broken and mechanics were being sent out from Goleta to fix it. "Sorry for the inconvenience."

We admired the scenery outside our roomette window, the undulating surf, the sea birds and pelicans wafting by inches above the water, a pod of porpoises surfacing amidst a passing raft of kayakers. Who could complain about such a well-arranged delay in our travels. After all, we were on the train, with everything we needed.

We did have a concern about our final destination in San José, where we were to connect with the Highway 17 express bus to Santa Cruz, but it seemed doable and a discussion with our car attendant reassured us that we should make it home pretty much on schedule.

Soon enough, the engine started up again, and the lovely scenery outside began to creep slowly backwards. We were on our way again!

All was well for a while, until the train stopped once again, and stayed... again, just outside of Oceano, south of San Luis Obispo.

"Uh-oh," we said to each other, "there goes our connection in San José."

Sure enough, the engine had broken again, the same way (something to do with the brakes), and we sat for an hour or more athwart a crossing at the edge of town. When nothing continued to happen for a significant time period, we entered into deep and meaningful discussion with the conductor about our fate should we ever make it to San José. He called ahead and verified that indeed there would be a taxi waiting for us at the station, courtesy of AMTRAK, and a station agent would be there as well to make sure we made it home as promised.

The train crew got creative and magically switched the two engines around, somehow, so we had enough power to pull into the San Luis Obispo station. We made up our beds and snoozed fitfully until finally, some time deep in the night, we pulled out again, fully powered and with functioning brakes (we assumed), on our way again, singing across the rails.

Sure enough, when we decanted from the train in San José at 3 AM, six and a half hours late, Karen, the station agent was on the job, had called for the taxi and made sure the driver knew where to take us. In less than an hour, we were home in bed, exhausted, and embraced in the arms of Morpheus.