Saturday, December 30, 2017

A weird Christmas.

I'm writing this on the evening of the 29th, in a hotel in Lubbock, after a very thought-provoking, warm and fuzzy, capitalistic-encouraging Christmas.

I can honestly say I sort of changed this Christmas. 2017 was a rough year, and not just because it's an odd, pointy number (I'm greatly looking forward to delving into the smooth curves of 2018, but I'll get into that in another post). With the year ALMOST behind me (us), and my 30th birthday looming ahead, I granted myself an opportunity to take the 10 hour drive by myself to my next-door state and visit 40 of my family members and friends in one central location. The only kicker is that I have to endure the quintessential Capitalistic+religious love-baby that is Christmas. 
Don't get me wrong-- for all the things I can't stand about Christmas- the strong implication that it is necessary to buy things people don't need to show that you care about them, the growing tension as the holiday approaches, the inability to get through a shopping line under 10 minutes, and the intolerable commercials, there are the wonderments of cinnamon candles, making cookies, seeing relatives, singing songs together, and the sparkle of a decorated tree emanating it's fragrance in the front room. 

One thing that changed me was the words of encouragement from friends and family who read my blog. Although you (and Russia, apparently) are the only ones who read my blog, it showed that it's certainly not for nothin'. Although it does cause hesitation when the characters of my world that I'm depicting here are also my only readers. I appreciate you all for following along, and I have some exciting things planed for the coming year.

Because the greatest memories and revelations from my one week home came from vastly different sources, I can think of no better way to present them than....bullet points.

  • The sweetest, smartest, most-gentle-man in the world (who happens to be my grandpa) told me not to worry too much about rising climate change, and increasing stupidity (my words) because we're going to get nuked. #affirmation
    • As a side note-- I listened to the Nature Backchat podcast from November 2016, with world scientists coming to grips with Trump's election win and speculating what that might mean for science...and I felt okay-- like there are champions of science working to spread information and educate people. Then I went to Wal-Mart, and felt like maybe getting nuked wouldn't be so bad. Really though-- so many people seemed to be suffering, smoking, shuddering, stooping. If going to Wal-Mart is their greatest hope in life, maybe a bomb wouldn't be so bad. #judging #sympathizing
  • My other amazing grandfather said "I hope to see you again" when he hugged me g'bye.
    But there's NO WAY I won't see him again cause he's a peppy 93 years old and we've got lots of life to live together. 
  • Internal monologue while watching presents unwrapped, "So much packaging. Wait that's recyclable! (watches as it's thrown in trash). Dammit. People use these? Can't we just read books anymore? What's that? How does it work? Put your phone down!"
  • Comparing my 5 humble Christmas celebrations to my boyfriend's one simple present opening. 
  • Reading my favorite Christmas story to my family with the help of my English-expert brother for some of O'Henry's harder words. 
  • Taking 5 trips to pack up all the wonderful gifts I received-- that I don't need, some I wanted, others, such as the fuzziest blanket I've ever had, will certainly come in handy, wondering how it's fair that I get so much love, warmth, food and presents while others get so little. 
I guess the bottom line is that I'm sensitive. I'm sensitive to people wasting resources, and I'm sensitive to people who fill their bodies with cool whip and fast food and sneer at kale salads and doing squats and stretches in public. I can honestly say that I've been touched with the Christmas spirit this year. As I'm sitting in my gnome pajamas from my grandma, in a hotel my dad booked for me so I could take a rest from the road, eating a chocolate covered strawberry that my brother made himself I am literally surrounded by love and warmth. This Christmas was overwhelming if you count what I ate or spent or saw thrown away... but it reminded me of how blessed I am to have family and presents and live in a place without blizzards, or fires or hurricanes (currently). And I am motivated more than ever to spread the love and warm fuzzies. 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Things I don't Understand

I haven’t written in a Long time. It’s certainly not because I have nothing to say. It might have something to do with the insane hours I put in at my job. But it’s mostly because I’ve been listening. There are a lot of voices speaking up for the first time, or that have been speaking up for a long time and are finally being heard. So I’m listening.

The shortest summary I can give for my stance as an environmentalist, is that we’ve failed. Maybe it occurred when Trump got elected. Maybe it was that seemingly insignificant day when the atmosphere exceeded 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide? It is quite possible that it has been a different day for every different person, and clearly, that day hasn’t come for some, yet. But as I increasingly allow myself to understand what it means that we have failed, I am comforted as friends and colleagues join me.

I’m talking about an utter loss of hope. A paradigm shift. The start of the apocalypse—to be dramatic.

A year ago I still felt that I was making a difference. That I could bike to work, explain to others what could be recycled, and inspire environmental literacy in our youth. Today, every time I hear a low-flying plane, I imagine it’s a nuclear bomb. Beautiful women harmonizing on the radio sing of “when the soft rains come” after the people have wiped ourselves out. Environmentalists I use to work for also make plans about where they should move to avoid rising sea-waters, increased hurricane activity, extended droughts and unforeseen things like blackouts and a breakdown of our necessary systems like food transit.

In short, I strongly believe that we’re going downhill, fast. But I’m not here to talk about that (yet).
Since I’m still listening, I want You, whoever you are reading this besides my mom and maybe my uncle, to explain these things to me. Things I really don’t understand.

I am not a professional scientist. But I spent a lot of my undergrad studying science, and I seek to continually learn about how our world works. I know that our climate is something we’re still trying to figure out, and that it runs in cycles that overlap on cycles that repeat with other cycles. Like most of our world, nature is beautifully complicated. I know that trees and plants can communicate within their communities through energy, and some sort of pheromones. I know that there are MILLIONS  of species that we aren’t even aware of, but we act like we’re the only ones who share this planet.

But there are a number of things I can’t, for the life of me, understand.

1)      Babies. I clearly missed the procreation gene, or something. I just really don’t understand how, with all the social, environmental and population issues plaguing our planet, why anyone would want to make a smaller version of themselves to have to feed and teach and grow into a decent human. In my experience, most people having babies forget that last part.

2)     Lack of systematics and mistrust for science. How many of you reading this have a degree in science? I recognize that a lot of science is funded by interest groups that can make scientists unreliable, (see below) which should prompt us to be skeptical and search for citations…not mistrust science. When someone who spends 60 hours a week studying something that interests them for a nominal wage is arguing against someone who has billions of dollars to lose and will say or do anything to not lose money… why wouldn’t you apply that skepticism to the latter.

3)      Capitalism. I understand the idea of capitalism around material things, to an extent. I don’t understand how greed can manipulate basic human services like education and healthcare.

4)      Economics. I took a couple classes on economics. One drove me to environmentalism. I really don’t understand environmental economics. Maybe economics outside of capitalism makes more sense.

5)      Apathy. In a world with SO MUCH going on, how can anyone not be bothered to care, about something, at least.

6)      Human nature. This one might be unpopular. But as an animal species-- albeit a sentient, empathetic one—there are things that are inherent to our nature that we seem to suddenly be asking everyone to ignore. Not that all people born with female genitalia have the nurturing gene, or that all men are aggressive fighters… but many of us are. I’m not opposed to the non-binary trends and appeal for an increase in sensitivity, but I wonder how it’s going to work on us apathetic animals.

These are the things I don’t expect to understand, no matter how much I’m listening.
Most days, I wake up and go through the motions because it’s what I’ve practiced doing for so long. Recycling, taking short showers, up-keeping my bike, and buying food from the local farmers market. But when I hear those low-flying planes and imagine what the blast would feel like… I feel sort of calm. That all these increasingly complicated layers of our society that don’t make any sense, might just disappear.  

Monday, February 20, 2017

If you're not angry, disgusted, outraged, and inspired... you're not paying attention.

I would like to preface this by the fact that I have learned more about politics in the last month than in my previous 28 years. I have heard a lot of radio stories from both sides, done a lot of reading, and listened to worries and hopes of people from diverse backgrounds in Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Texas, New Mexico, New York, and Massachusetts, in addition to countless other opinions I've read on my Facebook feed. 
In the past month I have cried for future generations, and for students in New Mexico who have so many hurdles to gain a general education. I have strengthened my stance that education affects everything, and seen and heard the dramatic actions and beliefs caused by people who have lacked access to a holistic education. 
In the past month, I have come to some conclusions about our current political climate

  • I am a part of a growing minority. 
  • The things I care the most about, environment and education face irreparable damage for the sake of wealth. 

I have thought a lot about what I can do. Protest? Cry? Yell at people? Practice my aim? Argue on Facebook? Alas, although it seems futile, my main objective in this life is to perpetuate knowledge. So here goes.

It seems our nation is easily distracted by media cycles on Russia and Sweden, and Muslims. While some may brush this off as something happening "somewhere else," and other's feel the connectedness of these and other countries to our global economy, there is historically little media coverage on the climate anomalies and catastrophes across the United States. Weather is usually confined to local news, causing people to miss the opportunity to connect the dots. 

In the past two weeks, here's a brief look at what has happened to our Environment.

In California, atmospheric rivers are helping relieve drought and cause flooding. To me this is an awesome example of the highly complex systems that aid in our Goldilocks planet. There are dozens of systems that impact the climate of our Earth, and people that spend their life studying them. Unless you have a degree in atmospheric science, please keep your global warming attributions or denials to yourself until you consult a professional. 

In Australia, thousands of bats literally dropped out of the sky after searching for shade and fanning themselves. As a native Texan I initially scoffed at complaints of how hot it's been in Australia for their summer, but this is a valuable reminder that we are not the only beings on this planet. However we are the only beings capable of telling ourselves that this isn't our fault, and turning away from the responsibility.

In the House of Representatives, 225 members of the house voted to overturn a federal rule (crafted over years by wildlife managers at the US Fish and Wildlife Service) to stop denning of wolf pups, killing of hibernating bears, and targeting grizzlies from aircraft and shooting them after landing, among other cruel practices. "Some members favoring the Young resolution cloaked their vote behind the mantle of states’ rights." While I'm still trying to learn the benefits of this stance, it doesn't apply to the National Wildlife Refuge referred to in this bill. 

In the Southwest Power Pool region, (a large swath from North Dakota to Montana and New Mexico to Lousiana) wind power constituted over half the energy least for a few minutes. After hearing a report about Trump's promises on the future of Coal industry, I'm reminded of the power of our dollar. We can vote every day by making informed decisions and choosing consciously what we pay for. 

In Colorado, and all across the US, insect populations are slaughtering forests. This is directly related to our rising climate because cold weather used to provide trees with an opportunity to build defense and communicate-- yes, communicate with one another to warn of attacks. Now the lack of a long winter season means that trees are not only fighting non-stop, but tree-boring insects are having two breeding cycles within a year, causing twice the damage. I hope I don't have to explain the importance of diverse forests to our country and world.

In the northern alps, a glacier that has been retreating for decades is revealing gruesome artifacts, including corpses, from a WWI battle. Perhaps this is a silver lining? Until you think further on the effects of retreating glaciers...

Perhaps the most disheartening thing I've learned from the articles I've read and radio segments I've heard, is realizing that American's care less about environmental protection. I think this is partially attributed to our education, where students in an economics class are prompted to consider only the cost and the personal gratification of a decision, not the effects to others and the environment. I also think this is a product of our success at managing Environmental dangers. Since the Clean Water and Clean Air act passed in the 70's, rivers that catch on fire and unrestricted pollution pouring out of smokestacks in industrial areas have curbed. But the battle is far from over. I have read a lot of about the environmental injustices of our decisions. Mostly poor communities are shouldering the health problems and eyesores that people with greater income are able to ignore.

Tonight, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse explained the power of Corporate lobbying. Outspoken environment-hero Bob Inglis, a South Carolina Senator who lost reelection to a Tea Party candidate likely because of his anti-fossil fuel stance is an example of our trending trade-off for increased money to futile industries at the cost of our natural resources.

You can read all of these articles with skepticism. You can, and should, research the funders of scientific reports that come out (as scientists are often targets of corruption as much as politicians). But to me it comes down to this. What do people have to WIN by denying climate change and approving legislation that destroy our environment? More wealth in their pocket, decreased regulations, money money money. What do people have to gain by protecting our environment*? A lot of uphill battles, hard work, and spending. But the rewards are emotional, and mental, not economical. I will always side with the people making decisions with their heart over those making decisions with their wallet.

Knowledge 'n Action Equal Power
*Apparently their are environmentalists that stand to make some money of fear-mongering, etc. I've read that Michael Crighton book. But the majority of the people suffering climate change have no voice, and nothing to gain from our warming earth, save a few shorter winters before we all cook in Earth's oven.

I'm trying to hear many points of view on this. If you've read this far, you likely are too. I would love to hear your thoughts, challenges, and articles.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Groundhog forsees many warmer, darker winters ahead

I have been... fortunate... enough to have a week off from work, so I can wallow in the dread of Trump's presented policies and executive orders and estimate when the first nuclear bomb will hit, and where. 

In solidarity with friends everywhere, especially back home where there have been marches and protests I couldn't be a part of... I do feel like I'm drowning. I feel like I'm in a fog in a nightmare where I can see what's happening and can't reach through the fog and affect anything. A thought that keeps plaguing me is wondering if this feeling will be dismissed by many as a typical reaction to a president with opposing political views

Yesterday I happened to be at the Texas State Capitol with two out-of-state friends. We saw a huge group of Muslim visitors for Muslim Day at the Capitol. There was a fury of energy because the session is In. There was a man with a big beard and a shirt that had Texas outlined and exaggerated within the US and the words "I'm with Stupid" in Texas pointing to the rest of the country. Inside, we admired the architecture and the buzz, and found ourselves looking longingly at a photo of George Bush Jr. "Gosh, I almost wish he was president again," we all agreed. 

Because even though I Don't agree with a lot of the things George Bush did or believes in, I was able to exercise my right as an American. I signed petitions, wrote letters, and listened to news. What's happening right now is not only a threat to my rights as an American, but my right as a steward of the Earth. And it is through that vein that I will be focusing my energies and efforts henceforth. 

I was proud of the protests for the "Muslim-ban" and the people that stood up to it. But I couldn't help but see it, and the extensive news coverage of it, as a distraction from some equally tragic promises that Trump has signed in. 

So here's a look at what I've seen, just in the last two days. 

1) EPA pick Scott Pruitt is a nail in the coffin, not just for the environment but the future of our Nation. I strongly recommend Bill Moyer's commentary for a full picture. 

2) Congress is looking to overturn the Stream Protection Rule that Obama set in place that urges mining companies to restore stream habitats to the way they were once they were done. The way it's written, there's plenty of potential for polluters to find loopholes, unfortunately. So why bother eliminating it. HOW DO PEOPLE NOT SEE THE VALUE OF STREAMS? 

3) And perhaps the biggest horror is the legislation Utah Representative Jason Chaffetz proposing the US sell of 3.3 million acres of public land (read- public land, meaning they don't OWN it, WE do, we ALL do). 

To me, this is life or death. This is greedy leaders in the Present pulling physical and aesthetic resources away from the Future. I can't even believe this is legal, much less accepted. 

What truly worries me is how little people understand about the Environment. I spent 2 years studying the systems and interworkings of the environment and BARELY scratched the surface. Our Earth will not HEAL itself from the mass of wounds we are digging into it. We must act as stewards. 
 What gives me hope, is that Veterans will continue standing for local tribes, for families and for the future of our water, our Earth, our favorite hiking places. 
What else can you do? Call your senators! Tell them to oppose Chaffetz's legislation. Do your best to keep your head above water and I will continue to collect what information I can about environmental policy. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

I'm speechless...

and yet, I have a lot to say.
My brain has been racing all day in attempt to express my heart's various emotions- news from Trump's latest Executive Orders, the nostalgia of traveling home, the mixed joy of being welcomed by 80 degree weather in January, more news, and the shock, anger and devastation that comes with it, curiosity for what our future generations will be left to contend with, hope, lack of hope, and inspiration in strange places.

I couldn't even pour through all the saved articles and responses from my affected friends, colleagues and professors without needed to write a response.

Mid-day I glimpse that Trump banned the EPA from using social media to talk about Climate Change. This is censorship and propaganda. I'm thankful for social media and live reporting and sensible people, and a college degree (in Environmental Studies) and having friends as scientists so that I can stay informed, but I realize not everyone has that, and many will be, or already have been, swept up in Trump's positive affirmations and "alternative facts". (An interesting report on EPA-related 'civil servants' and their resistance, here)

On the way home, driving through the traffic-saturated streets of Austin with my mom, who I hadn't seen in 8 months, I overheard that Trump halted EPA related funding. Before I make it home, I hear friends' worries about graduate school funding-- from current and prospective students. I wonder if I should apply to that school in Britain before it's too late...

We drive through an ever-changing Austin. An area I always called home, but hardly recognize. Where there were once acres of land with vast swaths of wildflowers, there are For-Sale signs promising future developments, or current shopping megaplexes and housing developments touting the names of the space they've destroyed.

Happy (and Hopeful) and Warm
At Home, with the news blaring reports of a segment, "Trump's First Days in Office," I'm thankful I don't have a television. Until I realize I have the privilege to sit down with my mom and watch a PBS special about Rachel Carson, the famed author who both my mom and I read about in our Environmental classes. Carson always knew she would be a writer, and couldn't remember a time she didn't love nature, all inspired from her mother. I wonder if my mother's spiritual connection to the Earth was a key to it's impact on me, if I have a weird connection to the world, or if everyone has an innate understanding of the Earth ingrained within them, however suppressed it may be. Perhaps it's all three, but I hope and believe that everyone can appreciate the aesthetics of our Umvelt.

I walk outside in a t-shirt, as the sun it setting. Several deer hear me and spring out into the juniper. Another snorts, stamps his hooves and runs the other way. I am touched to the soul by the sound of the crickets, a familiar chorus that reminds me of Summer and of Home. I inhale the wholesome, bitter smell of tannin, walking right up to the Live Oak until it's leaves are to my lips. I kiss it, hoping that the Greed and fury of Capitalism won't buy out every old Oak and prickly-pear patch.
I admire the slight squish in the ground, and the abundance of green popping through-- an early sign of Texas Bluebonnets... and I wonder if the children born today will every get to walk among wildflowers.

I am shocked, but not surprised, by the news I heard today. And although I'm speechless, I have a lot to say. Hopefully it will be organized, and argued with facts, and encourage discussion.
But for today, here's all I can do.
1) Take care of self- A lot of sickness/flu things are going around. As a doomsday pessimest, I'm always wondering if this is it-- the last great epidemic that wipes us out. At the very least, we should stay as healthy as possible. Know that every ounce you put into your body is your fuel, and if it's tainted with pesticides or chemicals, those things can add up (thanks Rachel Carson).

2) Stay informed (and/or get educated). I intend to spend more of my free time re-reading history, as it's never been my favorite subject, and staying up to date on Environmental research, and whatever they're calling Climate Change now that Trump has basically banned that phrase.

3) Stay hopeful. The Rachel Carson documentary was very appropriately timed. There were many parallels between the Government Propaganda of the 60's, and what Trump is trying to do now, particularly with the influence of industry on the Government.  At one point today, I lost hope. "Greed will prevail" I thought, trying to hold in tears watching Rachel Carson fight for environmental awareness. But then I saw all my friends fighting back, signing petitions and educating one another. So, I still have hope. I also have faith in many environmental organizations that I have contributed to in the past, that I'm about to fund more. Hopefully they can reach farther than I can.

In my recent travels through the Midwest, I listened to a lot of public radio... much of which didn't share my opinions. One radio host complained that the Right weren't fighting as hard as the Left. That was a bit surprising to me at first, but I think it comes down to this-- when you have nothing left to lose, you fight. When you're so broken, you're angry, you fight. At this point, I feel there's nothing to do but fight. Fight to keep public lands. To prevent oil spills. To have half an Earth left for future generations (I'm being hopeful there). That speaker's Republicans aren't weak. They just aren't (as) angry.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

2017: The Year Of... Data?

I have struggled with the Happy New Year sentiment this year. I'm not sure why I'm feeling like such a scrooge about it... I remained an optimist through even the tougher times in 2016.
For some reason, I'm always more excited about even years than odd, though that has nothing to do with the outcome of the year.
Perhaps my anxiety comes from not knowing what this year will bring. Although I have reveled in the transitions and impermanence of my life, career and activities for the last ten years... the curveballs this last year threw at me, has left me nervous for what could come. To be honest, I'm half expecting nuclear fallout, unfixable environmental destruction or complete societal shutdown if not all of the above, or worse.... but I'm going to quiet my apocalyptic fantasies for now, and focus on my theme of the year... data.

I'm sure it seems weird for a hippie tree-hugger to devote a year to data. What does that even mean?

I listened to an eye-opening podcast by Ted Radio Hour called Big Data Revolution on a recent drive from Detroit to NM. The podcast was packed with information about where our data is stored, how much data we're currently using in our every day lives...and what the future of data storage is going to be like. That part was particularly scary for me. If I had my way, I would live on an island away from electronics and fish and build and play in the sun. (Coming from someone who has never eaten caught fish...) But I have been forced to adapt to this world of ever-expanding technological "advances," in our rapidly growing population. It frightens me to think about. One concept of the talk was how much data is being collectes about our decisions by our devices, amd the very realistic advances in advertising, insurance, and career possibilities that will come of that. It's certainly worth a listen.

So "WHY is Data the theme of your year?" you might inquire.

Cause as much as I'm a luddite-- I love making lists, collecting and organizing data, and then illustrating it. The last part I'm just learning about myself. In the last few months of 2016, with the aid of my therapist, I've begun to illustrate the things I couldn't communicate. As a visual learner/processor, I typically translate everything I read or hear into images. Now I'm teaching myself to illustrate those images onto paper. It's more difficult than it may seem. An idea may seem so clear in my head, but when I try to translate it into 2 dimensions, I have to really concentrate on what goes on which axis, or what is designated by colors versus shapes.

Image result for left brain right brain
My brain is a healthy mix of data collecting/list-making left and abstract, color-rich right. Maybe 60/40. 

Two resources have helped inspire me to do this.
1) A book I got for Christmas (thanks mom) called The Best American Best Infographics of 2016. Full of beautifully represented data-- and from all areas of the world. From Super Bowl stats to Political progression to forest density decline-- these are some choice graphics that illustrate hard to understand concepts or ideas. While informative, they are a bit overwhelming, although this book pointed me to:
2) Dear-Data: a collection of post cards that two graphic designers illustrated every week for a year, on the back of a postcard they sent to each other. The result is amazing, accessible and inspiring.

So my hope for this year, is to work on the way I illustrate my brain, for my own understanding as well as my ability to teach other visual learners. But I'm also hoping to collect some DATA about myself-- from how often I wash my clothes to how long I can hold a handstand. It might seem a silly thing to do amidst what I perceive as political peril-- but I think that keeping track of the mundane little things may provide a comforting context for our ever changing world.

Stay tuned... AND-- if you have any advice for classes or resources to learn more about graphic design. I'm certainly not looking to become a graphic designer, but I have such an interest in data visualizations, especially non-electronic... if anyone has ideas.

Happy 2017?