A Gathering of Birds

From John J. Audubon’s Birds of America

Dad loved to birdwatch. He was an armchair ornithologist observing from his cozy chair near a picture window in his condo in Florida.

He kept binoculars and a bird guide on a stack of crossword dictionaries near his post as well as tobacco for his pipe.

Regular as a clock, I could keep time by the sound of that first pipe being lit, the front door opened if warm, and bright warbles and shrills from a cardinal pair on his feeders, or the chitter chatter of chickadees.

Because Dad kept the feeders and his vigil for more than two decades in the same location, his observation post would have been very useful had he taken the time to record his observations. But alas, he did not.

Scientists and conservationists missed an important record of changes over time from a citizen scientist. Well, Dad simply watched for the esthetics not the science. But my generation and those coming behind me are critical participants in helping ornithologists track bird movements all over the world – for the first time.

Today is the Big Day 2018  See video below. Then go to the link and establish an account. Download the mobile app on Google Play or Apple Store. Start recording!

LITERATURE CONNECTION

Read from John J. Audubon’s Birds of America printed in 1834 and presented online: you can explore and read by species and you can download a high quality print image of many of Audubon’s matchless paintings.

GLOBAL BIG DAY VIDEO

Healers of the Land

One of the best activities of my mature life has been an association with the Aldo Leopold Foundation and the Land Ethic Leaders. In 2012 I traveled to Baraboo, Wisconsin to attend a training to become a Land Ethic Leader in my community.

Leopold’s now famous essay on The Land Ethic is excellent guidance for our time.

The Land Ethic_A Sand County Almanac

I’ve continued to learn from leaders and staff at the Foundation but mostly from my fellow Land Ethic Leaders. John Matel is one who is blogging about the restoration of the Long Leaf Pine Ecosystem on his land. He is doing the careful, long term work of bringing fire back to the land to awaken long dormant seeds for the sedges and grasses on the land, grooming the understory and the pines themselves.

Read his latest blog and explore others to appreciate that there is a man, and many others like him, who are working on the long term solutions to our environmental crises. For example, read about the Panhandle Watershed Alliance and the Bream Fisherman’s Association led by an intrepid water ecologist and friend, Barbara Albrecht in Pensacola, Florida.

So, take heart that there are these menders and planters, stewards of land and the human spirit OUT THERE working against the tide of destruction.

Into the vacuum: China

NX_whitehouseClimate change is real, advancing, and draining the world’s resources country by country–and causing tragic migrations of families across the earth in search of places where people will take them in. This is just the beginning of woes should the world’s leaders not act decisively to stem carbon dioxide emissions.

The spectacle of our times is awesome and terrifying. Anticipating the ascension of a world leader who denigrates science and promises to focus America’s interests inward, world leaders at the latest global summit to implement the Paris Climate Change Accord have already moved on without us. China quickly stepped in to realize the benefits of leading other countries toward a fossil free world community.

P.S. America: the green economy is leading in economic sectors as our new leadership prepares to dig more coal and suck more oil out of the ground.

Have we entered into a new paradigm of Selective Science? We believe in science when it comes to curing disease, or making weapons, or making us money. But, selectively we denigrate the agencies charged with studying and protecting the earth–the planet from which our lifeblood flows. Does that make sense, I ask you?

How would Americans feel if the world’s leading countries imposed trade restrictions on us for our irresponsible behavior? Tables turned? How would it feel to be the cause of suffering across the planet due to our lack of participation in reducing emissions? I hear a refrain, from another misled politician: Burn Baby, Burn. That will come back to haunt the source and us if we do not realize our responsibility to greater humanity and to our children and generations to come.

Americans must be vigilant like in no other time before in our history. We must oppose any policies that destroy the democracy and tear asunder our fragile international relations. We must recognize our responsibility to continue to be an integral member of the international community–especially now.

VITAL SIGNS OF THE PLANET

 

 

 

What is GRACE?

In my new novel, Threshold, Dr. Carla Conner is a climate scientist who is part of the GRACE team.

GRACE consists of two identical spacecraft that fly about 220 kilometers (137 miles) apart in a polar orbit 500 kilometers (310 miles) above Earth. GRACE maps Earth’s gravity field by making accurate measurements of the distance between the two satellites, using GPS and a microwave ranging system. It is providing scientists from all over the world with an efficient and cost-effective way to map Earth’s gravity field with unprecedented accuracy. The results from this mission are yielding crucial information about the distribution and flow of mass within Earth and its surroundings.

The gravity variations studied by GRACE include: changes due to surface and deep currents in the ocean; runoff and ground water storage on land masses; exchanges between ice sheets or glaciers and the ocean; and variations of mass within Earth.

Dr. Connor is also a member of the Colorado River Research Group.

In these two capacities she is aware of the shrinking reservoirs for Colorado River water which supplies 40% of Tucson’s water supply. She is very concerned that the “powers that be” react sufficiently to avoid a water crisis.

Book Sales and Readings in Tucson

Tomorrow I will be a Bookman’s on Wilmot and Speedway from Noon to 2 pm for their Authors’ Fair. Hope you can drop by and chat and take a look at Threshold.

If you have a church group or book club that might wish to read a story about Tucson, with familiar settings and characters, give me a call at: 520-400-4117 or email me at susanleefeathers@gmail.com

Threshold makes an enormous contribution to contemporary literature by teaching readers—in engaging and utterly consumable terms—about the physics of “the planet’s human induced fever.” Susan Feathers stages the need to know as part of the narrative dynamic. Key characters —academics, school teachers, museum biologists—understand only too well the processes by which the earth is growing hotter, while others don’t. The latter are in some cases too young or inexperienced to know; in other cases they’re complacent or too far in denial to face them. Those who know teach those who don’t. Through lively dialogues concerning, for example, how sunlight gets converted to electricity; or how oceans absorb solar energy; or how neighborhoods can set up electrical generating systems, we learn along with the characters. We’re invited to go through the same processes of recognition and assimilation that the various students in the story experience. READ A REVIEW     ~ Mary Lawlor, Muhlenberg College

 

Stories of Climate Change

The Guardian brings readers stories of climate change around the world. The average increase in temperature globally is now 1.3 C. [ A 5 degree increase in Celsius temperature corresponds to a 9 degree increase in Fahrenheit.] When you think of the immensity of our planet, this is a huge heat input to raise the average high that much across its surface. The oceans absorb much of that heat. Fifty-percent of the Great Barrier Reef’s corals are now dead, in part from increased warming, and in part from the increase in CO2 concentration in the atmosphere which turns the ocean slightly more acid.

2016 is likely to be the hottest year on record adding to three previous years’ record heat. Most people are feeling it but some are all readying suffering extreme impacts.

In Threshold, people living in Tucson experience the heat in an event that shocks the city and the whole of the Southwest. Characters much find ways to adapt to the new normal. Read here.

Climate change deniers ignore the physics and chemistry of the earth – selectively. We accept these principles in everything we do from weather reporting, to heating our coffee, to warming or cooling our homes. But climate change caused by us is the contentious issue. What’s the evidence that the current rapid increase is human caused?

See NASA’s Vital Signs of the Planet to explore the evidence upon which the majority of scientists now agree.

Threshold – Readings Scheduled in Tucson

Starting in November, I will be reading from Threshold, my new novel published by Fireship Press. I hope to schedule many kinds of readings from bookstores, to organizations, to private book clubs in Tucson, Phoenix, and the region. I am also happy to talk with nonprofit groups working toward similar goals who may wish to fund raise with the boo–a portion of the book sales to go to your mission.

November 12 I will read and discuss the book at the Annual Membership Meeting of the Tucson Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, PSA Chapter Arizona, to be held at the Amity Foundation.

PSR Arizona works toward a sustainable society, mitigating climate change through clean energy production, resiliency building among neighborhoods, and a nuclear weapon-free world.  PSR developed Climate Smart Southwest, a training program for neighborhood leaders and associations to begin to build relationships and knowledge in their residents for combat climate change and also to work toward more sustaining ways of living. Clean energy, local food production, and emergency procedures are all part of the training. The hope is that Tucson and the region will  respond to climate change with a blend of old and new technologies that will protect people’s health while building a sustainable future in the Southwest.

In Threshold characters are dealing with impending water shortage while managing frequent power failures in the Southwest during increasingly hot temperatures. Hyperthermia and heat stroke are common, and without specific knowledge and action on the part of citizens, an increase in fatalities shocks the community. As the story progresses characters make decisions, allowing readers to consider what they might do in similar conditions, or how their own community can plan to mitigate climate change in their own region.

Other Scheduled Readings:

November – Reading at Private Home with Neighbors and Book Club

November 12 – Annual Meeting of the Physicians for Social Responsibility, Tucson Chapter, at the Amity Foundation

November 19, 12- 2 pm, Bookman’s, Tucson at Speedway and Wilmot

November 26 – COAS Bookstore, Las Cruces, Book Signing

December 19 – National Writers Union, Tucson Chapter at Bookman’s

March – Date TBA – Mission Garden, Tucson’s Birthplace

 

A Brand New Kind of West

In 1878, John Wesley Powell submitted A Report on Arid Lands to the U.S. Congress. In it he proposed that land grants to settlers in the arid lands of the country be determined by the geology and physiology of the land. That may seem perfectly logical to modern readers, but in that time, myths about the productivity of the land dominated over reality. Manifest Destiny was a locomotive roaring across the lands of the west.

Powell’s ideas were based on science, as Wallace Stegner, in his brilliant biography of Powell’s service to the U.S., Beyond the 100th Meridian, dramatically illustrates.

NPR’s 2003 Program on The Vision of John Wesley Powell

Powell proposed that tracks of land for raising cattle or sheep be 2, 250 square acres, and irrigable land for farming be only 80 acres with water rights. Both of these proposals were based on the aridity and productivity of landscapes in the west which, for grazing, required much more than the 160 acres provided in the Homestead Act to find enough water sources for animals to thrive. He also demonstrated that the productivity of desert soils with the addition of water required only 80 acres–all one farmer and his family could reasonably manage.

Had government agencies deeding land to settlers west of the 100th meridian used scientific reasoning, we would have a different west today. As we did not, most of the settlers who obtained 160 acre allotments soon failed. Their land was not returned to the U.S. lands in public trust but rather it went to the banks who financed farmers production. Powell points out that the Homestead Act resulted in millions of acres of public lands going to corporations. Again, using scientific research Powell busted another popular American myth.

Powell further proposed that the government require land owners planning to use a given water source, such as a river, be required to form an irrigation district made up of nine potential land owners, to demonstrate they could successfully share the water over a three year period before obtaining title and water rights.  He based his recommendation on successful models of the Mormons in Utah and Spanish land owners of New Mexico Territory with their ejidos resource commons.

Science was the basis of Powell’ prescience regarding the development of the western lands of the U.S.  Today, science must help major Southwestern cities and regions rethink how to manage water among themselves. We will not be able to return to zero, but we can try to develop policies today that fit the landscape.

For the entire history of water development in the west, science has not dominated decision making but rather economics. Millions of Americans now live in cities where a reliable source of water is threatened, and millions of acres of agricultural lands, supporting American households and the world are on the brink of collapse due to long term drought conditions projected to last hundreds of years.

What kind of thinking and planning will be required to move us in the direction of a sustaining system for water usage in the West? How will our economic models need to change to run concurrent with the physical realities of the land and resources we wish to use?

Shhh: my book is about . . .

head in sandAs a new writer, taking on the task of a first novel with climate change as the protagonist is tantamount to declaring failure before lifting your pen.

Many dystopias have been written about climate change, and numerous Armageddon-style films produced which draw large audiences. Their stories are so outrageous that we count them as impossible. It may be an entertaining read or box office hit but these forms obfuscate the real threat we face.

When I first conceived the idea for writing Threshold, it followed on a years of reading climate science, talking to local scientists about changes they were seeing in local and regional environments, and reading the latest popular books written for the public’s understanding. The Weather Makers is one that comes to mind. The author, Tim Flannery, is an imminent zoologist who has continued to write about world-wide environmental issues related to climate change.

Yet, a great percentage of people still do not accept that climate change exists. Are we hard-wired to not accept climate change? What is it that defies logic, what we know, to respond instead to what we believe? Does it strike at our deep seated need to protect home and family, to disbelieve something as uncertain as uncertainty?

George Marshall devotes his professional life to studying these questions. In his recent book, “Don’t Even Talk About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change”, Marshall presents the results of interviews and research that make a credible case that our natural inborn defenses and beliefs keep us from responding. But, Marshall is hopeful because what we share in common is so much greater than what separates people about climate change. That fact may be key to bringing about a consensus to act in time.

Planning the book I had to consider who I was writing it for, who would be my readers. How could I write a popular story that gains the attention of people who normally would not read about climate change, may even vociferously deny it (like Ed Flanagan in Threshold). How could I invite everyone into a discussion about it, and what would I learn in doing so? These questions have occupied my mind over a decade, as I drafted, edited, put aside, and finally returned to finish the story.

TO BE CONTINUED

 

 

Pensacola Says Yes to a Climate Change Task Force

cropped-244.jpgLast night the City Council passed a resolution to establish a Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Task Force.

This has been over a year in the making. Introduced by Councilwoman Sherri Myers, and spearheaded by 350 Pensacola, the resolution was unanimously adopted as council members observe the impacts of a changing climate on our land and waters.

This is a huge victory for Pensacola. Experts agree that cities are the centers of climate change mitigation, having the most control over how their city handles its emissions, energy efficiency, and citizen participation in reducing its emissions footprint while innovating to improve quality of life. These strategies include green building, slowing traffic, improving public transportation, walking and biking lanes, and supporting local business. Making sure we protect water quality, build environments that reduce heat, embellish the natural environment, and enable all citizens to participate will be the concerns of this task force.

All these initiatives create jobs, save money, and set up the city to receive funding from foundations, state and federal agencies that are pouring more money into climate mitigation programs.

Challenges are: 1) the Mayor has not shown interest in the Task Force; 2) the State of Florida lacks leadership from the Governor and legislature to enact the policies and support to truly help cities make the energy and infrastructure changes that are necessary to become truly climate adapted. Citizen participation is crucial to bring leaders and experts to the task.  Check the City Council site to get to meetings and to contact council members to express your ideas. Write Mayor Aston Hayward to express your desire that he become an active participant with the Task Force.