Follow the Trees?

From Mt. Lemmon Homeowners Guide: http://mtlemmonhoa.org/plant-information.html
From Mt. Lemmon Homeowners Guide: http://mtlemmonhoa.org/plant-information.html

If we were really paying attention, we’d notice that trees are on their way up the mountains. With increasing drought and heat, soils evaporate more moisture. Trees are gradually found in greater abundance at higher elevations. Lower ranges where trees forested the landscape are turning to grass and woody shrubs.

In Tucson, where my novel, Threshold, takes place, a long term study dramatically revealed this “march up the mountains”.

Richard Brusca and a team of scientists found the lower ranges of mountain conifers and trees had advanced up the mountain over a 60-year period. During that time they also documented a decrease in average precipitation and a 10 degree increase in average temperatures on Mt. Lemon in the Santa Catalina Mountains near Tucson.

A study conducted in the ’60s established the baseline data for a companion study using the exact same transects and protocol to count the numbers of species in the study area. This allowed scientists to compare and document  changes over time.

The message? Forest communities are undergoing ecosystem change on a large scale and in a relatively short time.

 

 

Why My Characters’ Zip Code Matters

Teenager_Boy_clip_art_mediumEnrique, a youth living in Tucson’s poorest neighborhood, begins his life with “the cards” stacked against realization of his dreams. Caught in a web of drug traffickers who recruit disadvantaged youth in his barrio, he navigates each day as one in a war zone with the goal to survive between sun up and sun down. Yet like each of us, he has innate potential that, under supporting circumstances, can change his life.

On the back stoop in the alleyway, he lit a cigarette, drawing deeply, breathing out a cloud, letting the afternoon sun warm his chest and arms. His thoughts turned to friends who had joined Bloods Southwest. He decided to talk to Pepe tomorrow at school. Then he went back inside to do his math homework. At least he could work numbers with no problem. He liked that math was governed by rules that never changed, and when he sought answers, he could always work them out.                                                ~ Threshold (2016), Fireship Press, Tucson, AZ

Research shows that a person’s zip code predicts how healthy they will be, how long they may live, what degree they may earn in school, and the size of their pay check. Your zip code can predict your chance of being obese, asthmatic, a drug addict or alcoholic, whether your baby is likely to be born prematurely or with a disability — and even how likely it is that you will live past age 5.

Where you live is a powerful determinant of your life outcomes. What’s more, your zip code may determine how resilient you can be as climate change advances.

How can we end this terrible injustice? Read Threshold to learn how characters find solutions.

 

GRID FAILURE: Are We Ready?

Living on the Gulf Coast I am painfully aware of what its like when the grid goes down. Moist, hot coastal air enveloped residents in Pensacola after Hurricane Ivan. In some areas of the seaside city, residents were without power for two weeks. Life came to a halt: no business could be conducted, no schools could function, only emergency services were available; finding  potable water and food became residents’ daily preoccupation.

But, what if the power grid in the U.S.A. went down? Security would be nonexistent, vulnerable people would perish from lack of cool or heat depending on the season. Markets would be down and silent. No trade could take place. The lifeblood of capitalism would be cut off.

How vulnerable is our grid? An article in the Wall Street Journal, How America Could Go Dark, reviews how substations on the grid are wide open to sabotage:

The U.S. electric system is in danger of widespread blackouts lasting days, weeks or longer through the destruction of sensitive, hard-to-replace equipment. Yet records are so spotty that no government agency can offer an accurate tally of substation attacks, whether for vandalism, theft or more nefarious purposes.

In my novel Threshold, a plot to disable the grid where hydropower is generated along the Colorado River system is discovered. It is designed to deliver a double whammy: loss of power and water. In the Southwest, that could be devastating.

The point is this: life percolates along in the face of climate change and other long-term security problems as long as citizens can turn on their lights and get water from a faucet. We are distracted by what is immediately before us : terrorism and violence and a failed political process that obfuscates the truth. Meantime, we are not paying attention to the trumpets sounding for our action.

Solutions will come at all levels of society. For example, the millions of dollars we need to secure our grid will require governments and business collaborations to make it happen. On the community level, citizens can bring pressure on officials for these reforms, and they can plan on municipal and neighborhood levels to protect people in the event of a grid failure or compromised water supply. See what Tucson is doing to promote neighborhood organizing for the latter.

Record Ice Melt in the Arctic: Albedo or Libido?

Suzanne Goldenberg reports for the Guardian July 7, 2016

January and February obliterated global temperature records, setting up conditions for the further retreat of the Arctic summer ice cover, scientists have warned.

Researchers did not go so far as to predict a new low for the entire 2016 season. But they said the ice pack over the Beaufort Sea was studded with newer, thinner ice, which is more vulnerable to melting. Ice cover along the Alaska coast was very thin, less than 0.5 meters (1.6 ft).

In my novel, Threshold, Carla Connor – a climate scientist who studies the mass of sea ice – is stunned when the summer ice cover in the Baltic Sea is reduced to open water on her monitors. Later she spars with Ed Flanagan, a conservative businessman about the reality of climate change:

Carla: “Temperatures on the planet are regulated in big systems that most people don’t completely grasp. The polar caps by virtue of the albedo factor reflect an enormous amount of solar energy.”

Ed: “First time I’ve heard the polar caps have a libido,” he quipped.

The loss of the reflective white ice cover in the polar regions exposes more of the absorptive dark ocean to solar heat, causing the water to warm up. This goes on to raise air temperatures, and melt more ice – reinforcing the warming trend.

Scientists have warned the extra heat is the equivalent of 20 years of carbon emissions.

Can a city make its own energy?

solar-farmThe novel Threshold explores possible outcomes in Tucson, Arizona as climate change continues to dry out and heat up the Southwest.

The National Climate Assessment targets heat, drought, and insect outbreaks among other impacts for the Southwest. Surface water supply is expected to decrease as snowpack and stream flow decrease.

Projected regional temperature increases, combined with the way cities amplify heat, will pose increased threats and costs to public health in southwestern cities, which are home to more than 90% of the region’s population. Disruptions to urban electricity and water supplies will exacerbate these health problems.

Threshold tells a story about characters caught in a spiraling heat emergency and black out that stuns the city. South Tucson, a city within the Tucson city limits, rises to become more self-reliant through a solar field and solar gardens.

Yesterday, Reuters published an interesting review about changes in solar industries, showing how big solar (large scale solar fields for example) are becoming cheaper and more efficient than roof-top solar.

Many trace the tipping point for utility-scale solar to a 2014 announcement by Austin Energy that it would buy power from a new 150 megawatt solar plant – enough to light and cool 30,000 homes – for 5 cents a kilowatt hour. At the time, it was a record low price for solar power. Since then, projects have brought the price below 4 cents a kWh.

In Tucson, the  Bright Solar program offers residents an opportunity to buy blocks of solar power from a solar field. When the grid goes down however, how can residents continue to generate power if they do not have their own home or neighborhood solar panels and battery storage?

It is important to think carefully about these new technologies and the opportunities they offer people for more democratic ownership of common resources. See the concept of Solar Commons.

As solar power becomes cheaper to generate, will everyone benefit? How can a city and utility work to make solar power available to everyone? As the solar industry develops, how can communities make sure their residents have access to new training and skills necessary for employment in the solar power industry?

In Threshold, South Tucson answers those questions and solves another challenge: the high rate of unemployed youth in their community.