Friday, April 24, 2015

End of A Recycling Era

In my previous post on this subject I described aspects of the changeover here in recycling systems in terms of a philosophical change: from "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" to "If in doubt/Throw it out."  But there's a little more to the local story.

The previous system I described--hauling our recycling to the Arcata Community Recycling Center at our own discretion--was otherwise without cost to us.  ACRC was a nonprofit enterprise.  Eventually they charged for certain kinds of electronic recycling, but they also paid cash for certain items.  Basically however, the price was in the effort to get it there, which wasn't much effort, and was often enjoyable.

Now our recycling is picked up weekly, and we pay for that service.  It is mandated by city government--a weekly recycling charge no matter what.  Part of a dubious trend of government forcing you to pay money to a profit-making business. You can have less than fits into the bins but not more.  This requires tearing cardboard into strips rather than simply flattened boxes.  So there's still work we do, but we also pay.  Arcata Garbage is a profit-making company.

Last week saw the official end of Arcata Community Recycling Center as an entity.  After they closed the local center shortly after Arcata Garbage started curbside, they maintain a sorting center nearby, and continued to bid for recycling from local communities.  After allegedly tricking them into revealing details of their operation, another profit-making company underbid them for a big contract.  They sued, and last week, facing more attorney fees and legal costs, they settled out of court for a piddling amount, and announced they were folding.

There is still some community-based nonprofit reycling going on--ACRC cites Zero Waste Humboldt as one.  Still, ACRC's demise seals the end of that era, with the reminder that we're paying for it--Arcata Garbage makes money not only on recycling but from us.  And lessens our involvement in the process, as well as personally my confidence that much of this stuff is actually being recycled.

Yet Another Reason to Avoid Adam Sandler Movies

I've had a fairly longstanding policy regarding Adam Sandler movies, which is that I would not only not ever pay to see one, I would have to be paid a substantial fee just to sit down for one long enough to eat a bag of popcorn.  He's one on my list that involves a sliding scale of fees, but he's definitely near the top of it.

His brand of humor has never struck me as funny, being of a kind that invites what has finally happened: twelve Native American actors have walked off the set of his latest film, protesting the utter racism of its humor.  Now I am on my guard about overdoing this sort of thing, but even without examples of the actual lines etc. I have no trouble believing they're right.  

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Apology to Tomorrow

This is not normally your first stop for currently viral video.  But this one is special.

That Which Must Be Named

That which must not be named in Florida was named in Florida, big time, as President Obama marked Earth Day with a speech in the Everglades about the climate crisis.

“This is not a problem for another generation. Not anymore,” he said. “This is a problem now."

One of many stories on Florida in the climate crisis. Here's another from National Geographic.  Here's the speech, which included these words:

"And here in the Everglades, you can see the effect of a changing climate. As sea levels rise, salty water from the ocean flows inward. And this harms freshwater wildlife, which endangers a fragile ecosystem. The saltwater flows into aquifers, which threatens the drinking water of more than 7 million Floridians. South Florida, you’re getting your drinking water from this area, and it depends on this. And in terms of economic impact, all of this poses risks to Florida’s $82 billion tourism industry on which so many good jobs and livelihoods depend."

"So climate change can no longer be denied. It can’t be edited out. It can’t be omitted from the conversation. And action can no longer be delayed. And that’s why I’ve committed the United States to lead the world in combatting this threat."


Here's an article on e-waste with an unsurprisingly theme: there's a lot of it, it's growing fast, especially in big countries that talk big about environmentalism.  But there are two interesting elements in this story: what constitutes e-waste, and what a waste it is.

Most of the e-waste in this model, in bulk at least, is made up of "fridges, washing machines and other domestic appliances at the end of their life."  In other words, large appliances that have some electronic components I guess.  60% by weight comes from these sources, and only 7% by computers, printers, cell phones etc.--stuff that we more readily think of as e-waste.  Weight and number are two ways of measuring it but neither quite gets at environmental impact.  But there's quite a bit with contaminating metals, compounds, chemicals and gases.

However, there's this: "Waste that could have been recovered and recycled was worth $52bn, including 300 tonnes of gold – equal to 11% of the world’s gold production in 2013."

Which suggests further problems with recycling and recycling industries.  It seems to me that after a much publicized start, government at all levels have dropped the ball on making recycling work, let alone the priority it must be.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Best of What's Still Around

I saw this for the first time in the full concert footage and didn't recognize the performer.  I heard a good voice and especially heard good diction--as great as Sting's lyrics are, he doesn't always sing them clearly, especially with the Police.  So I understood some of these lyrics for the first time.  Turns out of course that it's Robert Downey, Jr, aka Ironman etc.  With Sting (yeah the shaved head looks weird, don't know what that was about) and a great backing band.

I've been aware of this concept of the Bucket List for a few years but didn't have one.  Now I've got one item.  I'm not deluded enough to say "sing with Sting" or in a particular venue.  I'd just like to sing on stage with two or three hot lady backup singers.  Just one night.  I've got sweet backup voices on my one and only record but we did our parts separately (I didn't even meet the sax player whose solos are my favorite moments until years later.)  But I've never had that experience in real time.  I suspect it would be a bit of an out of body experience, but maybe a video of it would allow me to savor.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

This Is Not The Technological Age

This is not the technological age.  We may be seduced into believing this by the tiny devices that increasingly rule our lives, and the rooms of books, records, photo albums and letters that have vanished into electronically accessed clouds in the ephemeral realms of cyberspace.

Even the names that dominate our days--Google, Yahoo, Apple, Twitter, Facebook, Amazon--suggest the whimsical worlds of make believe.  But this insubstantial pageant masks the hard and increasingly terrible truth: we still live in the Industrial Age.

Technology may have revolutionized our lives, and may well change our circumstances even more in the near future.  But we are too easily deceived by the bright screens and images at the speed of a fingertip, and by all the giddy power that fits in the palm of your hand.  For despite its seemingly inconsequential size and weight, this device is manufactured out of materials mined and constructed in huge industrial operations, and gathered together from many distant places.

There is no "cloud."  There are only miles of  servers, requiring gross and exotic materials, vast quantities of electrical power which in turn requires vast quantities of fuels.  And that's true of all other new technologies, in medicine, communication, and industry itself.

 Technology is a subset of the industrial age, because without the systems of that industrial age, there would be no technological marvels in your hand.

For a generation or more we in the US have been told that we live in a service economy, dominated by communications--that manufacturing and mining are occupations of the past.  The manufacturing and mining, the industrial byproducts of deadly chemicals, poisoned land, water and air as well as cheap labor and pitiless human health risks, may mostly exist now in distant and hidden places, but their scale is ever more immense and growing.

Industrialization in those parts of the world where it did not exist means that industrialization is spreading and accelerating to far larger sizes and impact than the "Machine Age" of textbooks and museum shows.  3-D printing and the Internet of Things do little if anything to change this fact.

In fact the Industrial Age has spread beyond the processes of manufacturing things to the industrialization of the food supply--crop farming (with heavy use of GMOs and pesticides), livestock (with heavy use of antibiotics, engineered feeds and chemicals) and fishing (with the collateral damage of other species and habitats.)

Though attention has turned away from it, clearcutting and other industrial timber cutting continues.

The Industrial Age is vast and insatiable.  Capitalism's addiction to relentless growth insists on this.  It is also increasingly fragile.  Fossil fuels are harder to find and extract, requiring more complex machinery and greater damage to the natural world, both in remote and biological sensitive locations, and dangerously near human communities.  The metals and minerals that computers need are especially vulnerable, as some vital ones come from few countries, which may be in strife or controlled by criminals.

Industrial farming is depleting soil that only thousands of years could nourish.  Industrial logging continues to destroy all that supports the life of forests, streams, wildlife and ultimately people.

Garbage and waste is itself a huge industry, poisoning land and now immense areas of the oceans, which among other things, regulate global weather.

Transportation is perhaps the defining industry of our age, so comparatively cheap that much of our material goods come from afar, including our food.  Transport that uses fuels, power and packing materials in massive quantities.

Disruption of  transportation is now easily the most consequential of industrial processes. Disruption of computerized communication may overall be worse in the short term, but its effect on transport could be deadly.  With our lives so dependent on multiple industrial processes far away, they are stunningly fragile.  How many of us can depend on even locally produced food, once the supermarket shelves and the cupboards are bare?

It may be comforting to think it's the technology age--it sounds smarter, cleaner, smaller.  The reality is larger, dirtier, more violent and ultimately horrifying in its abuse and insanity. It is important to recognize that our shiny technologies and the culture's obsessions with them may blind us to realities that need to be addressed.  Both to our fragile dependence and to the effects of industrialization on our planet and its ability to sustain life.      


I've posted the paragraph below as an update to a previous post but it got me thinking.  In 1972 the Firesign Theatre troupe fielded its own presidential candidate: George Papoon, candidate of the National Surrealist Light Peoples Party.  I'm not even going to try to explain Firesign Theatre to people who didn't experience them.  If you did, you can probably still repeat lines from their records.
("I'm not talking about hate...")

But the point is this was a comedy group, however hip and intelligent.  And the entire Papoon candidacy was predicated on his single slogan: Not Insane.  

With Nixon in the White House (and Watergate already unfolding), the Vietnam War inexplicably continuing etc. that slogan was a sly commentary on the Zeitgeist. I probably still have one of these buttons and bumper stickers somewhere.

But in 2016, it is apparently a main argument for a major party candidate advanced by a sophisticated political commentator.  And one that Jonathan Chiat  believes will carry the day.  Following arguments from demographics and surveys, complete with charts and graphs, he concludes:

"The argument for Clinton in 2016 is that she is the candidate of the only major American political party not run by lunatics. There is only one choice for voters who want a president who accepts climate science and rejects voodoo economics, and whose domestic platform would not engineer the largest upward redistribution of resources in American history. Even if the relatively sober Jeb Bush wins the nomination, he will have to accommodate himself to his party's barking-mad consensus. She is non-crazy America’s choice by default. And it is not necessarily an exciting choice, but it is an easy one, and a proposition behind which she will probably command a majority."

There it is: "Not Insane."  End of campaign.  I'm ready to vote.

P.S. Firesign Theatre is still around.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Canada and the Climate Crisis

The climate in Canada appears to be changing on climate change.  A meeting (or summit) of provincial leaders made news, first for climate crisis activists staging a protest march of some 25,000 people in Quebec City, and secondly for some action--as the premiers of Quebec and Ontario provinces signed on to a cap and trade deal.   British Columbia province had earlier instituted its own carbon tax.

This means that the three most populous provinces in Canada, accounting for nearly 90% of the country's population, are instituting carbon pricing schemes.  However, several of the major fossil fuel energy producing provinces are not participating.

These provinces are joining several US states like California in taking state and regional action to price carbon. Unlike the US at the moment, the federal government of Canada is unsympathetic (it's still Bush up there.)  Nevertheless, though the Obama administration has taken meaningful actions to regulate carbon and encourage clean energy, Congress has stymied federal participation in a carbon tax or the previously Republican-proposed alternative of cap and trade.

The complexities (and perhaps futilities) of states and provinces acting without broader participation is analyzed from a business orientation here. The need for national government action was a point made by protesters, especially regarding oil pipelines in Canada.  The premiers themselves called for federal action in their final statement.

As even the business analyst admitted, something is better than nothing.  For at least one Nobel Prize winning activist however, it was the march itself that will have the most lasting consequences, as opposition grows to a pipeline in eastern Canada, within the context of growing concern over the climate crisis.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Best of What's Still Around

Recently via YouTube, PBS etc. I've been catching up with Sting.  He's a great performer and a very great songwriter.  This is from his 60th birthday concert a few years ago, which featured many guest artists.  The video available on YouTube is a strange amalgamation of professionally shot and pretty bad amateur video from the audience.  But this is one from the professional part at the beginning--it's Rufus Wainwright singing "Wrapped Around Your Finger."  Such a great voice, and his opera interests really show in great intonation and force--it's already my favorite version of this song, including the original Police recording.

For fellow boomers, Rufus Wainwright is the son of songwriter and singer Loudon Wainwright III and singer Kate McGarrigle of the McGarrigle Sisters.   I once was in their apartment in the Village, tagging along with Georgia Christgau and maybe her brother Robert.  I don't remember why we were there, but the apartment was empty (maybe to water the plants?): no Kate (I think she and Loudon were separated at that time) and no infant Rufus.  Just hundreds of motel keys hanging from nails near the ceiling, all around one big room.

This may be the first of a series, inspired by Sting's line: "When the world is running down/ you make the best of what's still around."  Which includes: appreciate, savor, enjoy, celebrate.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

When the Rainbow Is Enough (with Update)

An editorial in the Sunday New York Times begins:

"It is a peculiar, but unmistakable, phenomenon: As Barack Obama’s presidency heads into its twilight, the rage of the Republican establishment toward him is growing louder, angrier and more destructive.

Republican lawmakers in Washington and around the country have been focused on blocking Mr. Obama’s agenda and denigrating him personally since the day he took office in 2009. But even against that backdrop, and even by the dismal standards of political discourse today, the tone of the current attacks is disturbing. So is their evident intent — to undermine not just Mr. Obama’s policies, but his very legitimacy as president."

It is peculiar (and some would say, nothing new for the rabid right) but not inexplicable.  It is peculiarly extreme politically, as an attempt to pre-demonize the 2016 Democratic candidates and poison the electorate.  If Republicans can create the fantasy of a failed Obama presidency and color the mood of the media and the country particularly in the summer before the election,  they might have a chance--and perhaps their only chance--of winning.  By either associating candidates with an unpopular President, or creating enough panic (not hard to do among Dems unfortunately) so they run away from the Obama legacy (as many did in 2014) they hope to replicate the outcomes of 2014.

So they need to keep hammering at Obamacare before its success becomes generally accepted, and they need to undermine a deal with Iran that could not only forestall very deadly warfare there, but could go a long way to establishing peaceful change in the region.  These ends for the good of the country, for the lives that might be otherwise wasted and lost, for the good of the world--they are nothing compared to political party advantage--because this is a holy war, a last desperate gasp war, and in more ways that one, a race war.

I like passing along the funny spin that Borowitz etc. put on things, but unfortunately they exaggerate very little.  The party of Cheney really does want war with Iran, among others.  The Republican party really is deeply beholden to racism, and to apocalyptic fundamentalism.  The fact that they use outrageously extreme rhetoric to describe their political enemies--even when those enemies are pursuing policies that Republicans only recently abandoned--cannot confuse the issue: they are extremists, and getting more extreme all the time.

The 2016 campaign that essentially starts today promises to be the ugliest of my lifetime, and I've lived through some ugly ones.  I plan to ignore it as much as possible.  I fully expect it to be beneath contempt.  But though I turn my attention to where it might do more good, I'm not for a moment fooled as to the suicidal reign of hatred and ignorance that is embodied by a willing Republican Party.  I don't need wasted hours of angst for more than a year to know how I will vote.

Update: The last paragraph of Jonathan Chiat's column concluding that there is only one choice for President in 2016: "The argument for Clinton in 2016 is that she is the candidate of the only major American political party not run by lunatics. There is only one choice for voters who want a president who accepts climate science and rejects voodoo economics, and whose domestic platform would not engineer the largest upward redistribution of resources in American history. Even if the relatively sober Jeb Bush wins the nomination, he will have to accommodate himself to his party's barking-mad consensus. She is non-crazy America’s choice by default. And it is not necessarily an exciting choice, but it is an easy one, and a proposition behind which she will probably command a majority."

The hope for a different, better politics in Washington was not fulfilled.  Hope may best be directed elsewhere. Different hopes, some smaller, some larger, that inform what we do.  For hope is enacted in the present.  There are arcs of history still to bend, and rainbows still to follow.  

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

The California Way (With Update)

There are many reasons that California is the state making the most news in confronting the drought that affects much of the West.  One reason is that California is able to confront it directly, because its state government actually works--at least on this issue.

California has become even more of a Democratic party state in recent years, reflected in the state legislature as well as the state house.  But Republicans in state government have largely supported Governor Brown's efforts on the drought.  His $1.1 billion drought relief package sailed through and became law within days of its proposal. The new policies he announced on April 2 also got quick and wide support.

So the arguments about water and the drought tend to be pretty substantive.  There are charges of political influence, but those charges transcend parties.  Mostly the questions are of responsibility and efficacy--of who needs to do what.  So far it seems to be a healthy debate.

That doesn't mean that nothing is happening in the meantime.  Regulators are dealing with local water boards and water use in that locality.  As the Washington Post put it:

"State regulators are naming and shaming local water departments that have let water wasters slide — and forcing agencies to slash water use by as much as a third....Since Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency last year, they’ve largely taken a soft, educational approach to curtail water use. That’s no longer enough, he says.

In response, state regulators have drafted plans that show how much each community has conserved and assign mandatory water reduction targets. A third of the water departments must make the deepest 35 percent cuts because they have high water use."

Another way to put it however is that municipalities with the least per household water use are rewarded, so it's not a 25% cutback for everybody-- for San Francisco with relatively small use they are 10% but for places like Beverly Hills that guzzle the stuff, it's 35%.

Meanwhile, Governor Brown is asking for cooperation among the various uses--households, industries, farming-- rather than blaming each other.  A New Yorker piece suggests there is responsibility to go around.

The erstwhile Governor Moonbeam ( a nickname he got when he was governor during the 70s--and ironically, during the last major California drought) is also looking to the future with his executive order that toilets and faucets sold in California beginning in 2016 must be low-flow.  The state is expected to support the home purchase of new technologies that save water, perhaps including greywater systems, which an advocacy group claims needs only 10% of southern CA home use to save more water than a new billion dollar desalinization plant will generate.

There are still rabid right crazies like apparent presidential candidate Carly Fiorina who blames the drought on "liberal environmentalists."  (The substance of her case is dispatched in the aforementioned New Yorker article.)  But by and large the state is confronting this constructively.

Governor Brown has himself linked the CA drought to the climate crisis, and so far, California is becoming a model of how a polity can address both the causes and effects of the climate crisis--with government action and substantive debate.

Update: An example of this comes from state water officials, stating that some responses to the drought aren't temporary measures, that water use in California will never be the same:

"California needs to use “this crisis as an opportunity to accelerate what we know we are going to have to do under climate change anyway,” said Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, which oversees the state’s complex system of water allocations, and this spring is tasked with writing new usage regulations."

In this Sacramento forum, she specifically mentioned greywater systems as one of those permanent features.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Retreats and Advances on Climate Crisis Fronts (With Update)

According to Washington Post's Dana Milbank: "There is no denying it: Climate-change deniers are in retreat. What began as a subtle shift away from the claim that man-made global warming is not a threat to the planet has lately turned into a stampede."

Milbank cites denials of denialing at rabid right organizations American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Heartland Institute.  Some, like Heartland, are admitting that greenhouse gases have caused and are causing global heating, to concentrate on fighting effective measures to slow down and stop them.   Others--particularly prominent officeholders still beholden to dirty energy money--are professing a wimpy agnoticism, singing along to the strained strains of "Don't Ask Me, I Am Not A Scientist."

Meanwhile, with these enemy forces in a stumbling though still stubborn retreat, the Obama administration is advancing on several fronts, anticipating the upcoming global climate conference in December.

Today the Administration focused on the climate crisis as a public health issue.  A White House conference on this will be held later this spring.  But today, President Obama, other administration officials and several medical experts focused mostly on one effect: the increase in asthma and other respiratory conditions and allergies directly related to the climate crisis.  Global heating enhances smog and other air pollution.

A study by the American Thoracic Society concluded that seven out of 10 doctors reported climate change as contributing to more health problems among their patients.  These include premature death.

The climate crisis creates or exacerbates a number of public health threats.  Addressing these threats means addressing both the causes and effects of the climate crisis.  Public health systems and medical care in general must be aware and able to respond to higher incidences of these illnesses, as well as the spread of insect-borne diseases and epidemics.  The cause of further public health threats must be addressed by limiting and finally ending greenhouse gas pollution.

Update 4/8 : President Obama was interviewed on Good Morning America and talked about this subject, and his daughter Malia's attack of asthma as an infant.  He did not attribute it entirely to global heating, as some sites are saying.

Here's the ABC News site with the actual interview and a story derived from it that says in part:

Keep in mind that climate change is just one more example of how the environment will cause health problems, and I think most people understand that,” the president responded.

The science of climate and its effect on health is indisputable, the president said. More severe wildfires that send more particulates into the air and longer-lasting allergy seasons will lead to higher rates of asthma. Higher temperatures could also mean that heatstroke in cities will become a severe public health problem.

“So the idea here is that by having doctors, nurses, public health officials who've come together highlighting the consequences of warmer temperatures, not only can communities start thinking about adapting and planning around those issues but individual families can also recognize that there is a link here, and collectively we can start doing something about it,” he said.

Water Doesn't Grow on Trees Continued

The LA Times today has a short piece but with a lot of links on California water in history and literature.  It references this  commentary by Steven Johnson on why the New York Times and other non-California outlets are getting the CA water story wrong.  It's very complex for one thing.

Here on the North Coast for instance.  The local Lost Coast Outpost site, Ryan Burns posts that Humboldt County's problem at the moment is too much water.  The reservoir is full and our area retains water rights commensurate with a thirsty timber industry that is much diminished.  Yet in terms of use, we're to be under the same restrictions as Southern California.

At the moment our water surplus isn't helping anyone else, as it is still comparatively expensive to transport it.  There are also places within the county that may need help, and the possibilities of helping out parched streams and therefore the salmon etc. are being explored.  And anyway, maybe some of that surplus ought to be saved for non-rainy days.  (Although I'm happy to report we had hours of steady rain yesterday.)

Burns' piece by the way quotes our member of Congress, Jared Huffman, expressing similar sentiments to the aforementioned Mark Hertsgaard's piece about industrial agriculture in the state: “A new form of legalized gambling is rampant in our Central Valley: according to CA Dept. of Agriculture, in the midst of this extreme drought, 70,000 acres with 8.3 million NEW almond trees were planted! That’s the opposite of conservation.”

Meanwhile, the LA Times reveals plans for real water rationing in Southern California this summer.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Water Doesn't Grow On Trees

Mark Hertsgaard, one of the most perspicacious analysts of the climate crisis as well as a skilled journalist, has a biting story in the Daily Beast on California agriculture and the drought.

Hertsgaard, who lives in the Bay Area, points out a well known if not often mentioned fact: that California agriculture consumes 80% of the state's developed water.

That fact alone is worth focusing on.  For it means that no amount of reduced lawn care or shorter showers is going to be enough to deal with a drought that is being magnified and extended by global heating.  Not if agriculture is left out of the response.

California agriculture is immensely important to the food supply not only of the U.S. but other countries, including China, especially in particular crops like tomatoes, strawberries, almonds--and pistachios, which Hertsgaard chooses as the symbol of an industry raking in profits because they pay so little for so much water.

And while California agriculture is very important to the state, it constitutes just 2% of its gross domestic product, Hertsgaard writes.  He chronicles recent efforts to reform water rights practices, an arcane but very important system since before the days depicted in Chinatown.  But political and economic interests have successfully limited reforms.

Meanwhile, the thirstiest crops have continued to expand in production and acreage.  Hertsgaard writes;

One striking aspect of California’s water emergency is how few voices in positions of authority have been willing to state the obvious. To plant increasing amounts of water-intensive crops in a desert would be questionable in the best of times. To continue doing so in the middle of a historic drought, even as scientists warn that climate change will increase the frequency and severity of future droughts, seems nothing less than reckless.

On Sunday, the Guardian quoted Governor Brown responding to charges that agriculture is being left out of his latest round of cutbacks, although it did not say to whom Brown was responding or where. “The farmers have fallowed hundreds of thousands of acres,” Brown said. “They’re pulling up vines and trees. Farmworkers are out of work. There are people in agriculture areas that are really suffering.”

Brown said shutting down agriculture production in the state was possible but “that would displace hundreds of thousands of people, and I don’t think it’s needed.” “If things continue to at this level, that’s probably going to be examined,” he said.

Some areas of agriculture are hurting, and of course those who are suffering tend to be the lowest paid workers.  But according to Hertsgaard, some agricultural industries are doing very well for themselves and their stockholders.

California has had long droughts before.  But at least two things are different.  First and most important: 30% of the yearly water supply dried up when the Sierras could not retain the snow that fell in December, to a significant degree because it got too warm.  With some variation year to year, it's simply not going to stop getting hotter.

And second, California agriculture was not quite the scale of industry it is now, especially in its control by large corporations with their particular economic and political power within a system that doesn't care what a corporation does or makes or how, as long as it makes money from one quarter to the next.

So yeah, things probably are going to continue at this level at least, and agriculture is probably going to need to be examined.  As in a lot more.

Rolling Stone Meets the J-School

For a (mostly) former journalist, the Columbia School of Journalism report on the Rolling Stone rape story--now retracted-- was absorbing reading.

For context, here's the Reuter's story on the report, with some explanation of the story involved.  The Columbia School of Journalism is one of the oldest and most prestigious in the country. So the report itself--which Rolling Stone online published in full---is interesting both for what it says about RS and the article, and for what Columbia considers important about it all.  Update: Here is the report as published in the Columbia Journalism Review.

I have to say I was impressed by how much time the reporter in question spent on the story.  Only a writer salaried by a particular publication could afford to do that, and Rolling Stone appears to be one of the few that still does it, also paying for travel and other expenses.  So basic support was not the main problem.

 The report described failures of journalistic rigor or even procedure by not just the writer but her editors and the fact-checking editor. Rolling Stone (like most other such publications) has reduced its editorial staff, which probably meant that fewer people were doing more things more quickly. This could cause problems, especially when decisions are made with a deadline looming.

The Columbia report says that rape is among the hardest stories to cover, and that makes sense.  Everyone admits that the nature of the story--a woman describing a brutal gang rape--biased RS in her favor.  There are tangled roles played by psychologists and (particularly involving the university) the law.  There were also unwarranted but understandable assumptions made about the information available to each party.  (It turns out the university was dealing with an allegation that had significant differences from the allegation RS reported on, though both made by the same person.)

Part of what usually makes this crime so difficult to cover is the lack of corroborating information to check, especially when it is without witnesses, in a private setting.  But this allegation was of a gang rape committed by several men at a particular event, a pre-rush party at a fraternity house, on a particular date.  It was only after publication that the fraternity knew the specific allegation, and has since claimed that no such social event took place on that date.  That's information that should have been checked.  The report details several other instances of  information that others found faulty (other news organizations and the police) that RS didn't check.

So I have to agree with the L. Grove column in the Daily Beast--the nature of the story doesn't excuse professional failures that resulted in such a consequential story with repercussions that likely haven't ended. Though RS has announced everybody is keeping their jobs, some folks really should be fired, for the internal health of the magazine as well as its responsibility to the public.   (Although I would not be surprised if there were some resignations or reassignments in the near future.) Update: Now that the fraternity is apparently taking legal action, the personnel decisions at RS become more complicated.

However I don't agree with the high dungeon Grove and others express when RS editors dare to say that the self-described victim has some responsibility in all this.  RS founder and top editor Jann Wenner describes her as an "expert fabulist storyteller," which while redundant, doesn't seem inaccurate.  I have certainly encountered people who told extremely convincing stories that turned out to be complete fabrications.  Sometimes such stories are told by swindlers, and sometimes by those in need of mental health services.

 Certainly this news organization should not have let itself be taken in, and as the report indicates, several regular journalistic practices would have (if followed) revealed the single source--the narrator of the story-- to be unreliable.  But that doesn't mean the source is blameless, and some in the media who defend her story do her no favors.  To assume that (as apparently some of these critics do) is to make the same basic mistake as the RS reporter: an a priori belief about credibility that, most of the time, according to social science stats, would be correct.  But not, in the real world, all of the time.

Why would RS risk its credibility by not adequately questioning and checking this story?  Because it was a "good story"--i.e. sensational, full of detail (not to mention sex and violence) and exposing venal institutions (the fraternity, the university.)  A story that's just about adjudicated cases that have been reported elsewhere wouldn't be as "good a story."  This may be the most significant bias.

That's the biggest temptation of periodical journalism, and it applies to more than tabloids.  Avoiding that temptation is a lesson that I'm not sure the J-School emphasized enough.    

Friday, April 03, 2015

The Good Deal

Oooh--what are the politics of the Iran nuclear deal that President Obama announced Thursday?  What do Republicans say?  Why is this a dramatic whatever for the President?

How about: what's in the deal, and is it a good one?

At least one nuclear proliferation expert says it's an "astonishingly good deal" for the West, that it diminishes the Iran nuclear program to a face-saving minimum, and outlines inspection regimes that are close to ideal.

All of that is part of this detailed analysis--the good and the ugly--in Vox.  The New York Times and other paywalled sites quote global security and other experts in praising the deal.  The New Yorker covers all the bases.

As for the Republicans, Borowitz sums it up satirically:

“President Obama is hailing this framework as something that could enhance the prospects for peace in the Middle East,” McCain told reporters at the United States Senate. “For those of us who have looked forward to bombing Iran for some time now, that would be a doomsday scenario.”

On another doomsday scenario for Republicans--Obamacare Doomsday, the success of Obamacare that they must deny--a point by point refutation showing how the law is working by Jonathan Chiat.  Its interesting because it's not just the numbers, it's the complexities of the insurance system, which was the biggest practical gamble.  Yet the law turns out to be amazingly well designed to reform this for-profit system that itself still has no ethical validity.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

A Long Dry Summer (With Updates)

Every April 1, California state water scientists measure the snow pack near Echo Summit in the Sierra Nevada mountains. It's considered the end of the wet season, when the accumulated snowpack should be greatest--or at least as big as it is going to get until next winter.  As the snow in these mountains melt, the runoff supplies water for the dry months of summer.  This accounts for about 30% of the state's water supply.

For the first time since these measurements began in 1950, the Governor of California was present.  He was there because everyone could see the brown meadows which normally would be covered with snow.  But the measurements were even worse than expected.

In the photo above, the water official is explaining that the black tape indicates the snow level in 1977, the historic low until now.  The yellow tape measures where it was last April 1, almost as low.  The green or blue tape near his right hand is the average.  The pole beyond the photo's height shows the deepest snow recorded.

 On this April 1, the snow measured 5% of normal, the lowest figure since the measurements began.  Officially it's one to two inches.  Last year it was 27 inches.

Governor Brown was there to announce the first mandatory water rationing in California and U.S. history.  Except for sumptuous lawn maintenance, it didn't affect ordinary home water use directly, nor farmers nor many industrial uses.  Though the targets were still mostly low-hanging fruit (golf courses, watering of ornamental areas on public land etc.) the cutbacks did aim to reduce water use throughout the state by 25%.

The water situation differs regionally and geographically in this huge state.  Here in Humboldt, our reservoir is full, and that's the case in some other places, especially here in the north.  But even places with adequate water now face insecure situations in the summer.  The latest long-range weather forecasts show some changes coming, including perhaps a stronger El Nino.  But even so, California is unlikely to see much rain before fall.

What the governor's order will mean depends in part on implementations in individual municipalities.  But clearly at this point--with hotter average temps due to the climate crisis deepening our drought--we're in unknown territory.  The chains of change will reveal themselves, probably with many surprises.

We think naturally of drinking water first, and water that we depend on for urban civilized life.  Water for California agriculture, which is a national as well as local economic issue.  Water for various forms of mining and manufacture.  Water in the ecosystem: already it's feared that lack of water, and warmer water, may severely deplete salmon and other fish.

Brown added a coda to his announcement that put this all in perspective.  He noted that California has been inhabited by humans for ten or even twenty thousand years. "But the number of those people were never more than three or four hundred thousand, as far as we know."  They could adapt to drought, or move away from it.

 "Now we are embarked on an experiment that no one have ever tried, ever, in the history of mankind.  And that is 38 million people with 32 million vehicles, living at the level of comfort that we all strive to attain."

Updates 4/2: Another summary of new restrictions and previous cutbacks.  Probably the best summary remains the New York Times lead story.  The Times adds several stories today, including one focusing on home water use--the standard is 55 gallons per person but in LA actual use is closer to 70, with some places as high as 100.

 A view on pricing water higher, especially for large volume users.  The Washington Post explains and illustrates the assertion that the California drought is "a likely consequence of climate change, specifically the rising temperatures which are intensifying many of the processes causing the state to lose water at an alarming rate."  There are several stories around the web about this.

The Washington Post also focused on the growing crisis in California groundwater, being depleted at a rapid rate and at historic lows.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

April 1: A Retrospective

April 1 is almost over, and it's been the same mixed bag for April Fool's jokes. (Including, elsewhere, mine.)  Lately it's become the sanctioned day for satire as well as pranks.  Megan Gaber at the Atlantic is down on the day, pointing out rightly that the Internet has fuzzed even more the distinction between truth and truthiness:

"And the Internet, for better and very often for worse, does not tend to distinguish between stories and facts, between the earnest and the satirical. The World Wide Web is an epistemological free-for-all—which makes it wonderfully democratic, definitely, but which also means that lies can spread on its platforms with, often, as much ease as truths."

Certainly, well, true, with many seriously troublesome effects.  The Internet is a platform for attention on the basis of bizarreness, so it's not clear whether the world is stranger than ever, or we just know more about it.  I'd say for sure both.  But that so much that is accurate is crazy (and that's just the Google News page) does flavor April 1 satire, which depends on the possibility of it being true.

Or maybe it just does what satire does--get the imagination freed for a new perspective.  I have to say that most of what I read today just wasn't that funny or interesting in this way, except for some sly "news" from an unlikely source, a very earnest and specific environmental group, the Center for Biological Diversity.  Their jibes came in the usual email advisory, which lately has often been about wolves endangered by aggressive hunting practices in several western states.  So it took a second for the satire to register in the headline "Idaho Governor Caught Stealing Wolves From Yellowstone."

In order to appease wolf hunters running out of prey, you see.  The gotcha moment made a point, but that was just the first of several stories.  For my money, here's the best one, both for quality, amusement and making several really telling points, plus there's something charming about it that goes beyond the joke-- Exploding 'Wind Trains' Wreak Mild Breezes on Unsuspecting Towns:

Yet another American community is reeling after a train carrying wind energy from the Great Plains derailed this week, unleashing mild breezes in its wake. Two hats and one freshly raked pile of leaves were lost in the disaster.

Wind-by-rail transport has been on a dramatic rise in the years since new technology allowed midwestern gusts to be captured, stored and transported to wind refineries in New York and California. In 2015 alone wind has been spilled eight times along rail routes, including in Nevada, where an outbreak of chapped lips was reported, and in Indiana, where a toupee was carried into a stream and drowned.

"So many of these 'wind trains' pass right next to our schools," said Pat Gumpter of the National Association of Peeved Parents. "Our children could be assaulted, at any moment, by an unexpected blast of air."

Sunday, March 29, 2015


A windy Sunday at Clam Beach.  First time seeing wind surfers there--two close to shore, at least two more farther out.

But it was too windy for our outing.  We drove a little farther north and found a sheltered spot on Trinidad Beach.  Just right.


They are called the 60s, a single ten year lump to praise or blame.  But those of us who lived through them know that each year of that decade was different, had its own shapes and smells, and each was filled with momentous events sufficient for a decade, so the 60s were as crammed and as various as a century.

Those of us who were young then were a big part of those events--as participants, victims and instigators as well as observers and receivers.  Those events--those arcs and moods, revelations and confusions--marked us, influenced the flow of our lives in the crucial decades of our teens and twenties, and to one degree or another determined our fates.

And as this decade of fiftieth anniversaries for various events of the 1960s, it is well to look at the context of an entire year--like 1965.  There's a book about that year that centers on the music but includes other elements, called 1965: The Most Revolutionary Year in Music by Andrew Grant Jackson.  The possibly inflated claim of the title notwithstanding, it suggests how much was happening.

Slate further emphasized this recently by selecting a single week from 1965, that included the recently commemorated Selma march, but also the release of Bob Dylan's Bringing It All Back Home (almost every song was great, but one side of the albums also had Dylan singing his songs backed by a rock band--and that much was revolutionary.)

It was also the beginning of a less well remembered but vital at the time phenomenon, the first "teach-in" on the Vietnam war.  The teach-ins set a certain standard for debates on college campuses, and an anti-war movement grew out of factual information and reason as well as principle and emotion.  That kind of nuance is missing from the three-word, three-note push button references to elements of the 60s.

There's even more about this year at the blog The '60s at 50.

This Slate article and probably the book also bring to light another aspect of remembering the 60s, which is the 60s weren't and aren't the same for everyone. Some events may unite us in a single year, but the flavor of a year for each us depended on when we got "turned on" to a particular record or musicians, book or author, etc. and what our particular enthusiasms were, as well as those of our friends.

 The author's contention that "technology was the root cause underlying all the changes" may pander to today's worship of new technologies, but seems to me to be way overstated.  Yes, technologies like television and some invented drugs (The Pill, LSD) played big roles, but they were not the root cause of much of anything about 1965.  (It's also a stretch to call pharmacology "technology."  If it is, almost everything is.)  I will stipulate however that without electricity for microphones and electric guitars it certainly would have been a different year.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Whatever Happened to Recycling?

This was the original slogan of the environmental movement that led to recycling becoming public policy in many if not most US municipalities: "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle."

It was the "recycle" that dominated, perhaps to its own detriment.  But what seemed like environmental idealism became a surprising reality.

I remember when the city of Pittsburgh was about to begin mandatory recycling in the 1980s.  One of the city's newspapers editorialized that it would never work, we lived in too much of a "throwaway society."  I wrote an oped piece for that newspaper, claiming that it would work--that a combination of youthful idealism and especially a cultural resistance to waste in Pittsburgh's traditional, immigrant culture, reinforced during the Depression and World War II recycling, would make it feel natural.

It was quickly clear that I was right--people did recycle in Pittsburgh, and elsewhere.  The problem has seldom been compliance.  But especially once it seemed there was money to be made doing it, the problems were economic.

When we moved to the North Coast almost 20 years ago, Arcata had no curbside recycling.  What they had instead was a Recycling Center, and a strong environmental ethic.  Like other citizens, we separated recyclables in our kitchen and garage, and periodically I would load up the Volvo and take everything to the Recycling Center.  I'd drive into it, park, haul out my boxes and stuff recyclables into the appropriate bins.  We separated newspaper from cardboard, and glass bottles by their color.  Plastics were a pain--all those numbers--but I could also easily recycle batteries and other somewhat exotic materials.

It was kind of a fun place, too.  People were friendly, and there was a shop with donated--hence recycled--items, including books, records, clothes, stereos, lamps etc. but mostly elements people used to build and replace things.  For awhile there was a free bin of books, where I found a rare book I truly treasure (Fernald's English Synonyms that separates them by shades of meaning, instead of jumbling them together Roget-style, as if they actually all meant the same thing.)

But then Arcata Garbage got the contract for curbside recycling, and the Recycling Center faded and closed.

  At first, Arcata Garbage supplied us with a reycling bin with two sides: one for paper and cardboard, the other for metal and plastic.

In the past few weeks, they've replaced the two-compartment bin with one, and it's no longer necessary to separate at all.  The latest communique from Arcata Garbage describes what is recyclable and what isn't.  But if you're uncertain what qualifies, they have a new slogan: When in doubt/throw it out.

So there it is: 20 years from Reduce, Reuse, Recycle to When in doubt/throw it out.  I've read recently of consternation in the recycling/garbage business because China is no longer accepting certain plastics---apparently they were taking most of it, so few US companies invested in processing here.  I suspect that's true of more than certain plastics.  It really would not surprise me if everything in our recycling bins ends up in landfill.  But I keep doing it anyway, whispering those erstwhile magic words to myself.  Reduce.  Reuse. Recycle.

Update: An NPR report on "single stream recycling" of this kind says that about a quarter of it winds up in landfill, 40% of the glass.  Some due to consumers recycling wrong stuff but also due to breakage and cross-contamination.  One enviro quoted as saying:"In terms of preserving the quality of materials so that the maximum materials collected can actually be recycled, single-stream is one of the worst options," she says.  The report concludes that while single stream may be more "convenient":"But as single-stream processing continues to increase in popularity, the trade-off will be fewer recyclables recycled."  Here in Arcata I don't recall being given a choice.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Hope on Monday

So what was the most inspiring, hopeful and useful for the future event of Monday March 23?

Well, it sure wasn't this guy announcing he's running for President.  Although the Onion's story about announcement took a little of the edge off. Tues. Update: Not to mention this classic Borowitz.

Nor was it even the 5th anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. Not that it shouldn't be celebrated--so far it has been very successful, and will very likely be seen in the future as one of President Obama's most significant achievements.  And just as it took a generation before the transformational success of aspects of the New Deal, of the G.I. Bill of Rights after World War II--to name two programs opposed by "conservatives" that either barely made it into law (the G.I Bill) or were prematurely destroyed (the New Deal)--were widely acknowledged through real life testimony, it may take that long for this program to take its place next to Medicare (another program opposed then and still in essence opposed by--well, that guy who announced Monday) as crucial to the American future.

No, the big event Monday was the White House Science Fair.

For those of us whose memories of school science fairs involve sweating over a half-assed and embarrassing exhibit the night before it was due, this is nothing like that.  These kids are more than awesome--they are awe-inspiring.

Here briefly are some of their projects:

 Kelly Charley, 15, noticed that communities lacking electricity often build fires to stay warm, but that particles and ash from wood-burning fireplaces can be dangerous to breathe. She developed a solar-powered radiation system that circulates air and heats the interior of buildings. It can run without access to electricity or running water. Kelly, a sophomore at Navajo Preparatory School in Farmington, New Mexico, received a United National Indian Tribal Youth 25 under 25 Youth Leadership Award for her work to promote spiritual, mental, physical, and social well-being. Her heater design made her a finalist at the 2014 International Science and Engineering Fair.

Inspired by the global energy crisis and the lack of electricity around the world, Pittsburgh ninth-grader Sahil Doshi designed an innovative carbon-dioxide powered battery called PolluCell. Comprised of multiple electrochemical cells wired in parallel circuits, PolluCell harnesses the power of carbon dioxide and waste materials to generate electricity, reducing the environmental effects of pollution.

Jose Valdez, Casandra Dauz, and Jaleena Rolon are a team of elementary school students who competed in last year’s Future City Regional Competition, which challenges students to tackle infrastructure and natural resource challenges by designing cities of the future. The team created the “City of Crystal Water,” where agricultural “fish pens” separate industrial, commercial, and residential zones and vehicles travel along dams equipped with paddles that produce hydro energy. Recognizing the importance of connecting their idea with their rural, desert community’s cultural diversity, the team incorporated four languages into their City presentation: Spanish, English, American Sign Language, and Tewa, a Tanoan language spoken by Pueblo Native Americans.

During the summer before ninth grade, Bluyé DeMessie, 18, visited his relatives in Northern Ethiopia and was shocked by the lack of clean water. Over the last four years, Bluyé developed a novel method to convert agricultural waste into a bio-charcoal that is capable of removing pollutants from water within a short contact time.

When Sophia Sánchez-Maes learned that algae has the potential to yield 5,000 gallons of biodiesel annually per acre, she wondered how best to harness that promise. She computationally modeled algae growth in order to optimize that phase of the biofuel production process. Then she began work as a National Science Foundation Young Scholar, investigating how to convert a particular extremophile algae from Yellowstone into biofuel, with promising results.

A team of Ohio 6th graders got inspired after befriending some Haitian students in 2010, right before the region’s devastating earthquake. Team “Quake Safe” wanted to find a solution to help make the many structurally unsound buildings in Haiti safer. The students experimented with materials that could withstand pressure and unique construction shapes to find a building design that would be both cost effective and structurally sound. Their hyperbolic bamboo creation takes on a paraboloid shape, inspired by the shape of Pringle chips, and uses bamboo – a fast growing renewable resource that is easily accessed by most in the region.

And listen up, California:

A team of Florida grade schoolers set out to find a renewable way of generating safe drinking water from ocean water – currently a costly process. The team designed WateRenew, a conceptual system that uses wing-like structures to harness energy from the vacillating hydroelectric forces of the underwater swells. WateRenew converts energy from the elliptical motion of waves into electrical energy that can power desalination of ocean water into drinking water. The desalination process incorporates a special “reverse osmosis” membrane made out of graphene to trap salt while allowing water molecules to flow through.

A number of participants developed projects to respond to mental and emotional needs of children and adolescents. Some invented projects inspired by medical conditions of grandparents, family members or themselves.  For example:

Emily Bergenroth, Alicia Cutter, Karissa Cheng, Addy Oneal, and Emery Dodson, 6 (Tulsa, OK). After chatting with their school librarian, the “Supergirls” Junior FIRST Lego League Team from Daisy Girl Scouts’ troop 411 discovered that some people have disabilities that make it difficult to turn the pages of a book. They came up with the concept of a battery-powered page turner that could turn pages for people who are paralyzed or have arthritis.

Looking for a little hope?  Look no further than these.

The Real Climate Day After Tomorrow

A little more than a decade ago, the first and so far only climate crisis disaster movie called The Day After Tomorrow based its disasters on the effects of a slowdown of major ocean currents caused by an influx of fresh water from Arctic melting.  (The same mechanism figures in the contemporaneous but much more scientifically realistic climate trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson.)

Today the climate sci world has been buzzing about evidence that this phenomenon is happening, much faster than models predicted.  The video above, and the most mainstream story about it so far (in the Washington Post), referenced the climate sci-fi of that movie.

The Post piece begins: "Last week, we learned about the possible destabilization of the Totten Glacier of East Antarctica, which could unleash over 11 feet of sea level rise in coming centuries.

And now this week brings news of another potential mega-scale perturbation. According to a new study just out in Nature Climate Change by Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and a group of co-authors, we’re now seeing a slowdown of the great ocean circulation that, among other planetary roles, helps to partly drive the Gulf Stream off the U.S. east coast. The consequences could be dire – including significant extra sea level rise for coastal cities like New York and Boston."

The consequences, unlike in the movie, aren't going to cause a sudden new Ice Age (the scientists say), although they could bring colder weather to specific places, such as the US East Coast--and maybe, says one blogger on the subject today, they already have:

As such, cold water bleeding from the great glaciers of Greenland not only poses a threat to ocean circulation, it also poses a risk for generating significant disruptions to atmospheric winds and related weather as well. Ones that could set off increasingly intense storm events in the Northern Hemisphere similar to what was seen for the US Northeast this winter (but likely worsening with time) and the extraordinarily powerful barrage of storms hitting England during the winter of 2013-2014."

So it's today as well as the day after tomorrow, though it may just be getting started. Notes another climate blogger, it "is expected to continue, even intensify through year 2100..."

Though the original research is published in a scientific journal, the authors summarize it at Real Climate.  Another relevant blog post adds some more scientific chatter and more links.

Finally, I had cause recently to look up my San Francisco Chronicle Insight piece of 2004 about The Day After Tomorrow, though it was published days before the movie came out.  I found it interesting to read now, given all that has happened and has not happened in the decade since.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Humboldt Bay North Coast Weather Report

Friday night we had a relatively brief but intense rain shower here in Arcata.  I went out on both porches to listen to it, this rare event.  Saturday was sunny but with low cumulus clouds and wisps of mist all day.  We visited northern Humboldt Bay at Manilla. The Bay was turquoise (see above), which must have pleased photographers for post cards, among others.  At the Manilla Dunes recreational area, people walked their dogs, fished, and in one case, fished with their dogs (see below. Click on the photos to see more clearly what I mean.)

 Saturday night it rained, lighter but steady, and Sunday it has been raining like that until evening.  It's the first day of steady rain this month, and one of the few such days since December.  March is usually considered the last month of our rainy season.

Climate News: The Long and the Short

In terms of scope and long-term effect, the biggest climate news of the past week was about East Antarctica, contained in research by an international team published in Nature Geoscience.  The Washington Post summarized the import:

"A hundred years from now, humans may remember 2014 as the year that we first learned that we may have irreversibly destabilized the great ice sheet of West Antarctica, and thus set in motion more than 10 feet of sea level rise.

Meanwhile, 2015 could be the year of the double whammy — when we learned the same about one gigantic glacier of East Antarctica, which could set in motion roughly the same amount all over again. Northern Hemisphere residents and Americans in particular should take note — when the bottom of the world loses vast amounts of ice, those of us living closer to its top get more sea level rise than the rest of the planet, thanks to the law of gravity."

This research is preliminary, requiring data that now is likely to be sought before this year is out.  But the implications of greater than previously estimated melting in Antarctica adding some 20 feet to sea level rise expected before last year are enormous.  These levels will not be totally achieved for decades, perhaps a century or more, but they suggest profound changes to our coasts and everything now on them well before that.

At the Earth's opposite pole, the accelerating loss of Arctic sea ice--which hit a record low winter peak this year, it was revealed a few days ago--has both long term implications for sea level rise and short term relationships to our weather, as seen the past several winters in the US and elsewhere.

The likelihood that weather patterns now and in the near future are changing due to climate crisis phenomena, perhaps for a long time to come, received more support this past week.  According to one report, the nature of the new El Nino adds to suggestions that we're about to jump into a new climate and weather reality, characterized by global heating and local effects including more violent storms with more precipitation, and continued drought where this is drought now:

“One way of thinking about global warming from the human influences is that it's not just a gradual increase, but perhaps it's more like a staircase, and we're about to go up an extra step to a new level,” says climate scientist Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research."

Though heat released from the Pacific is more and more predicted to have this temperature jump effect, that's on top of a very consistent pattern of increasing global temperatures.  Last week NOAA announced February 2015 was among the hottest Februarys on record, and the first two months of this year suggest 2015 will be hotter than the record-breaking 2014.  But February is notable for another historical reason, this article in Slate notes:

"It’s been exactly 30 years since the last time the world was briefly cooler than its 20th-century average. Every single month since February 1985 has been hotter than the long-term average—that’s 360 consecutive months."