No hypothetical threats, these

My Artdog Images of Interest for most of this month have focused on places of natural wonder that are under threat, with the hope that–if we’re working to build a better future–they still can be preserved. Mining hasn’t happened at the Grand Canyon yet. No one has begun to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge . . . yet.

Grand Escalante, at left in blue, with a significantly reduced footprint; the decimated Bears Ears at right in red.

Unfortunately, my subjects today aren’t under hypothetical threatThe Very Stable Genius in Chief has already decimated two national monuments in Utah, with great fanfare and self-congratulation for rolling back a “massive federal land grab,” and striking a blow for “states’ rights.”  (Side note: Ever notice how it was “opening the West,” when Europeans invaded tribal homelands, but it’s a “massive federal land grab” when white ranchers’ or mineral developers’ access is restricted?)

It should be no surprise that indigenous groups, including the Navajo Nation, and environmentalists have launched protests and filed lawsuits, but were not consulted when the boundaries were redrawn.

Granted, some of the more spectacular sites, such as the Dry Fork Slot Canyons, (including PeekaBoo and Spooky, featured in the video above) and the Toadstool Hoodoos still remain in Wilderness Study Areas, and thus are mostly still protected from development.

A somewhat unique view of the Toadstool Hoodoos, still in a Wilderness Study Area (no thanks to Mr. Trump).

Other areas? Not so much. Despite the economic stimulus brought to southern Utah by a tourism boom after President Clinton’s designation of the Kaiparowits Plateau (with its Late Cretaceous “Dinosaur Shangri-La” fossil beds) as part of Grand Escalante National Monument, Mr. Trump’s administration seems to have listened only to the mining and oil interests who have long bemoaned “that the Staircase monument has strangled economic development in Kane and Garfield counties for the past 21 years.” The area is now available once again for renewal of dormant oil and gas leases, or the granting of new ones.

If you follow paleontology at all, you probably already know about the Kaiparowits Plateau, the scene of many important finds over the last two decades since Clinton protected them. Just last October, paleontologists announced a major new find. “With at least 75 percent of its bones preserved, this is the most complete skeleton of a tyrannosaur ever discovered in the southwestern US,” said Dr. Randall Irmis of the Natural History Museum of Utah.

Future finds such as this newly-discovered Tyrannosaur skeleton may soon be at risk from nearby mineral development.

Equally endangered are many ancient cultural sites in places such as the Dark Canyon Wilderness, Cedar Mesa, and the White Canyon area, which are now more open to less-restricted public access, along with the near-certainty of looting and vandalism“Only a very small part of this area has been subject to a cultural resources inventory,” Tim Peterson, a program director at the Grand Canyon Trust told Nadja Popovich of the New York Times in December.

Not-so-protected petroglyphs from what used to be part of Bears Ears National Monument–photo by Mason Cummings.
Cliff dwellings such as this one in the Dark Canyon Wilderness are now more vulnerable to looting and vandalism, much to the dismay of local tribal groups and others concerned with preserving cultural sites in the area that until recently was part of Bears Ears National Monument.

We may never know everything we stand to lose, in the wake of this Trumpian downsizing move. One thing I haven’t seen mentioned so much–but which appears to be another likely result–is the loss of wildlife corridors, particularly because there will be fewer restrictions on development.

So–is all now lost? No. Environmental and tribal groups already have already filed lawsuits to block Trump’s changes to these two monuments. If you feel strongly about this, two immediate paths of action are available.

First, donate to groups such as The Sierra Club or Natural Resources Defense Council, which are among the ten environmental groups that have filed suit, or the Native American Rights Fund, which CNN reported is representing the Hopi, Zuni and Ute Mountain Ute in the lawsuit.

Second, write or call your representatives in the US House of Representatives and the US Senate, to let them know your opinion. They can’t directly block an executive action, but they do have to weigh in on any changes to Wilderness Study Areas, among other things, and they are in charge of funding decisions. Contrary to the intransigence I often receive from the three men who purport to represent me in Washington (Rep. Kevin Yoder, Sen. Pat Roberts, and Sen. Jerry Moran), SOME people’s elected representatives even listen to them!

IMAGES: Many thanks to The Salt Lake Tribune for the map showing original and shrunken outlines of the two national monuments (the article was written before the official changes, but the maps turned out to be pretty accurate). I also am grateful to Climb Utah and YouTube for information and the imagery from the Dry Fork Slot Canyons; to TripAdvisor’s article about the Toadstool Hoodoos for the photo of that feature (check the page for many more photos!); and to the Natural History Museum of Utah, for the photo of the newly-discovered tyrannosaur fossil from the Kaiparowits Plateau. Many thanks also to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and photographer Mason Cummings, for the photo of petroglyphs in one of the newly-exposed areas that used to be part of Bears Ears National Monument, and to the US Forest Service, via Howard Myerson’s “The Outdoor Journal,” for the photo of a cliff dwelling in the Dark Canyon Wilderness.

Mining here?

The Artdog Image of Interest 

In keeping with this month’s theme of working toward a better future, my Images of Interest for the rest of the month will feature amazing places in the United States that are threatened or actively under attack. As long as they continue to exist, we can still fight to save them, even if things are looking bad at the moment.

Today’s image is a stunning photo of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon at sunset, chosen in response to the current administration’s recent (early November) moves toward opening areas adjacent to the second-most-popular US national park for uranium mining, despite the concerns of environmental groups and local Native American groups. Local mining interests have been opposed to an Obama-era ban on such mining since it was put in place in 2012.

IMAGE: This photo appears to have originated on Shutterstock (photo by Erik Harrison), but it has migrated widely all over the Internet since it was listed in 2014 (thanks, TinEye!). I first found it on the Grand Canyon West website.

What do we value?

My theme this month is “working toward a better future.” That probably is a pretty common and predictable topic at the turn of the year, when it seems as if we have a new chance to “get things right.” 

NOTE: every day actually is a new chance. Every hour. But many of us do tend to think about it more around New Year’s.

How “right” we can get things depends in part on the cards in our hand, however. Last year at this point, for instance, certain decisions already had been made. Votes had been cast, and irrevocable changes set in motion. We dodged a few bullets in 2017, but some dies already had been cast by this time last year. In this context, I’ve been thinking about a pair of “takes”  on current events, by two commentators whom I respect.

4-27-08 Al DIAZ / MIAMI HERALD STAFF — Leonard Pitts Jr. Miami Herald Staff.

The first is a recent column by the ever-perceptive Leonard Pitts, Jr., a columnist based at the Miami Herald. He wrote that “our sense of what is allowable and acceptable on the public stage, have been eroding for years, but 2017 saw the process accelerate like Usain Bolt. It was the year things that are not supposed to happen happened all day, every day.”

He goes on to lay out the argument that we’ve come to a place in the public discourse where “anger, coarseness, political destabilization, and a trickle-down nastiness [is] visible both in anecdotes and in hate-crime statistics.”

But he doesn’t leave it there. He’s one of my favorite columnists because he always takes it to the next step. He ended his column, not with a groan of despair but with a call to action: “civil society is not something you take for granted. It’s a choice you make, a thing you have to fight for. Which will be a fitting mission for 2018 and beyond.”

Resisting the tide of discord and “trickle-down nastiness” is an honorable goal, and it is our daily choice. I’d like to echo Pitts’s challenge as well as respond to it in my own life. We also were treated in the last few days to another ringing call fo a better future, when Oprah Winfrey was awarded the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 2018 Golden Globes. In case you haven’t heard her speech, or even if you have, but want to hear it again, I’ve embedded a YouTube video of it here.

Even if some things look bleak as we move into 2018 and beyond, let us “maintain hope for a brighter morning, even during our darkest nights.” Let us all affirm together we “know that a new day is on the horizon,” because we are working to make it so.

Let us never lose hope, and never allow our weariness to keep us from continuing to fight for “the time when nobody ever has to say ‘Me too’ again,” and we live in a civil society where  the dignity and value of all persons are respected, basic human rights are demanded for all, and where we cherish the well-being of this fragile globe that we call home. It’s only too late if we give up on the values we hold most dear.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Jeremy Graham, Sr. on Ingrum, for the “Working towards a better future” image, and to Al Diaz and the Miami Herald for Leonard Pitts’s photo, via his profile on Speakerpedia. Many thanks to CNN for the transcript of Oprah Winfrey’s speech, and to NBC via YouTube for the video of Oprah’s acceptance speech.

For Food Security

Day Five: For Food Security

I feel more conflicted about this one than I have about my previous gratitude topics. Not that food security is not a marvelous blessing–it truly is, in every sense of the word. 

But I’m aware that all around me–in my community, across my nation, and around the world, there are many, many people who do not share this blessing.

To express public gratitude for it, in the knowledge of such widespread lack, almost feels like gloating. That’s not my intention at all. If I could, I’d extend this blessing to everyone in the world, so that no one anywhere has to go to bed hungry, or wonder where their next meal will come from.

Here in the USA, today is Thanksgiving. Everyone in the country is presumed to be eating their fill, then waddling into the next room to zone out in a “food coma” while watching American football games. However, despite the best efforts of community charities, not everyone will be able to do that. Statesman Jacques Diouf put it well:

Everyone alive should be acknowledged to have a basic human right to adequate, nutritious food. That this is ignored, pushed aside as inconvenient, left to the vaguaries of climate change, governmental style or unregulated capitalism, or even actively subverted so hunger can be used as a weapon is inexcusable. Yes, people have been doing it for millennia; it’s a crime against humanity every single time, in my opinion.

How can persons of conscience work to fight food insecurity? Acknowledging that we who can eat well are blessed, we can make charitable donations on both the local (link to find US agencies) and international (this link: UN) level to help fill immediate shortfalls.

But we also must advocate for longer-range goals: 

Creating systemic improvement is a large, difficult goal, fraught with practical difficulties, cultural pitfalls, and unintended results. It also is desperately necessary, as long as people anywhere are hungry.

Creating changes in public opinion is a way to begin. Funding empirical studies by unbiased researchers is a reasonable step forward. Involving all involved parties in design of solutions is a reasonable, respectful necessity that is likeliest to result in the best solutions. Many initiatives have already begun. We all must work together to bring the best ones to fruition.

IMAGES: The “Seven Days of Gratitude” design is my own creation, for well or ill. If for some reason You’d like to use it, please feel free to do so, but I request attribution and a link back to this post. The “Food security definition” quote by Pattie Baker is from Quozio, via Pinterest; her book Food for My Daughters is available from Amazon Smile and other fine booksellers. The Jacques Diouf quote is identified as sourced from Live58, though I couldn’t find it on their site; I did find it on the website for GRIID (the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy). The quote from Ray Offenheiser of Oxfam America is courtesy of The Huffington Post, via Pinterest. Many thanks to all!

Days of the Dead: Remembering the victims of human-made disasters

What can we do?

Sometimes we tend to look at the state of the world today, and say, “I’m just one person. What can I possibly do that makes any difference?” In yesterday’s All Saints Day post, I invited a pause to remember the amazing and valuable people who have perished in natural disasters this year–then to think about our own best response to those who are left behind. But not all disasters come in the form of storms, fires or earthquakes.

Do you think of all terrorism as local? In every case, it’s local to somebody–and wherever such attacks occur, they’re flat wrong. Here, some of my brothers and sisters in Christ (who happen to live in Egypt) were the target. But no community in any country of the world is invulnerable, and terrorism is always wrong, no matter who does it or why.

On this All Souls Day, it would do the world good to remember that too many disasters–this year and every year–are created by humans. And those human-made disasters routinely kill people and destroy lives in vast numbers.

In response to those, our wisest reaction is very much not to throw up our hands and ask, “What can anybody do?” Our clear call to action in those cases is to sit up, take notice, and ask “What can I do to help?” Because if we are not part of the solution to human-made disasters . . . well, you know how that one ends.

The headlines are full of the opiod epidemic sweeping the world right now–talk about a human-made disaster!–but addictions to alcoholgambling, and many other things abound, while understanding (and appropriate compassion for victims) lags seriously behind.

Terrorismaddictiongun violencehuman traffickinghomicidesdomestic violencesexual harassment and assaulttraffic accidentspollution and environmental degradationcoarsening civil discourse, and the determined efforts of many lawmakers to dismantle social safety nets and leave the poor, the elderly, the disabled and children vulnerable . . . no single human can tackle everything

But every single human can take on something

Just one of myriad examples of environmental degradation: cleanup after an oil spill in Nigeria.

What issues pull at you most strongly? Do you thirst for justice, despite living a class-stratified, discriminatory culture where too many nonviolent offenders are locked up for too long, while all too many better-funded violent offenders seem invulnerable?

Is your passion a yearning for greater kindness and civility in our communities? Compassion for the vulnerable at the hands of oppression? Are you worried over the degrading quality of our natural environment?

Each of those causes has an active community of people working to counteract it. I urge you to find one that suits your personality and concerns, then get involved.

You may not be able to solve the problem single-handedly, but you owe it to yourself and your world to do what you can. As long as we have life, that is the job of every moral being.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Casa Bonampak, for the Days of the Dead Papel Picado banner at the top (handy place to buy them); to NewsInfo on Inquirer.net for the photo of the Egyptian church aftermath; to CBC News for the photo of paramedics working on an overdose victim (and a story about how one paramedic copes with his job); to InvestorKing, for the oil spill photo and accompanying article about environmental degradation in Nigeria by oil companies; and to Pinterest for the quote image.

Days of the Dead: Remembering victims of natural disasters

It’s important to remember

This has been a rough year, all over the world. Recent posts in this space have focused on natural disasters in North America, but throughout the world, the lives of everyone who died this year because of natural disasters should matter.

Here is an updated listing of wildfires all over the world in 2017, along with the scope of their devastation, lest we forget.

I will argue that some natural disasters–such as increasingly violent storms driven by rising global temperatures, and wildfires in drought-parched regions–may have been exacerbated by human irresponsibility. But it’s also important to note that humans really don’t control everything. The only thing each of us can truly control is ourselves.

A review of the statistics for Hurricanes HarveyIrma, and Maria is sobering.

Storms, fires, and earthquakes have gone on since the earth began, and they’ll continue till the end. How do we respond to them? While we mourn the dead, how are we responding to those they left behind? That’s an open question until we answer it.

The devastation wrought by the Central Mexican earthquake of 2017 was not limited to Mexico City.

Do we respond with empathy and love? With generosity and support? With creativity and energyEach of us gets to answer that one on our own.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Casa Bonampak, for the Days of the Dead Papel Picado banner at the top (handy place to buy them),  to Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images and CNBC for the photo of the burned-out neighborhood in northern California, to The Daily Wire and Twitter for the photo of a drowned neighborhood in Puerto Rico, and to The Wall Street Journal and Getty Images for the photo from Mexico City in September 2017. Finally, I am grateful to Inspired to Reality for the image and quote.

Seizing the day in Puerto Rico

Puerto Ricans (and residents of other devastated neighboring islands, as well) need everything–RIGHT NOW. There’s no question about that. Lives are at stake.

Certainly looks like a tornado hit: downed power lines in Humacao, PR — photo by Carlos Giusti/AP and CNN

But while FEMA and the Puerto Rican government are leasing power generators and shipping in enormous planes full of food, water, and medicine, I hope the people who will be rebuilding Puerto Rico keep their eyes on the future.

Loading up for Puerto Rico: an industrial size generator. They’ll need a bunch of them! Power is the most critical need.

I’m from Kansas, so when I heard a meteorologist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research (who should know what he’s talking about) say of Hurricane Maria, “It was as if a 50- to 60-mile-wide tornado raged across Puerto Rico, like a buzz saw,” I could relate. We Kansans understand about tornadoes.

Hurricane Maria over Puerto Rico (see outline) — image by Joshua Stevens and NASA Earth Observatory, via Vox

One of the things I keep hearing is how antiquated the power grid and other infrastructure on the island are. This stems in large part from the crushing debt crisis that has been plaguing the island’s economy for years, a situation that’s a haunting echo of the history of not-too-far-away Haiti’s economic woes. How did that develop? I like John Oliver’s explanation (note: this video is 21 minutes long, but in my opinion worth the time to watch).

It’s a pretty massive mess, and a disaster on top of it all isn’t helping in the least. But I’m oriented toward thinking about finding opportunities for positive change, even in the worst disaster. The “tornado” comparison led me to wonder if the island could take a page from Greensburg, Kansas’ recovery playbook.

Not Puerto Rico: this is Greensburg, KS, in May, 2007 — Photo by Mike Theiss of UltimateChase.com

No, I’m not suggesting that the “green revolution” that seems to be working moderately well for a small Kansas town of 771 residents could be directly scaled up for a tropical island with a population of 3.4 million! Different climate, different terrain, much larger population–this is definitely not a “one size ought to fit all” suggestion.

All the government buildings over 4,000 sq. ft. in Greensburg today are built to LEED-Platinum standards — Photo by Fred Hunt/New York Times, via SaveOnEnergy.com

But the residents of Greensburg took a direct hit from an EF5 tornado. Those who survived emerged into a landscape of utter devastation. With pretty much nothing left standing except shattered trees and mounds of rubble, they were going to have to either rebuild brand new, or leave.

I have a sense that, on a hugely more massive scale, Puerto Rico is facing a similar scenarioGreensburg lost half its population after the tornado. Puerto Rico’s debt situation had already started that trend, and, like Hurricane Katrina before it, I imagine Puerto Rico will see some migration that becomes permanent after Maria. But the survivors who stayed in Greensburg, KS decided to build for the future.

There’s already some movement in that direction, in Puerto Rico. In the footsteps of solar panel user Eddie Ramirez, the Casa Sol B&B operator in old San Juan profiled above, there are indications that the solar industry might be interested in participating in a transformation of Puerto Rico’s power resources. Certainly if Elon Musk gets involved, some perspectives should change.

If ever a power grid was ready for a fundamental transformation, Puerto Rico’s is! –Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images, via Vox.

I hope they do install many more solar capabilities–but I also hope they don’t stop with only solar power. True resiliency lies in diversity. It seems possible that wind power (maybe not during hurricanes) and perhaps tidal power generation (after all, Puerto Rico is surrounded by ocean) also might be renewable contributions to Puerto Rico’s energy resources.

Example of a wind farm. This one’s located near the Danish city of Grenå.
An artist’s rendering of a tidal fence to harvest tidal energy, based on a design by Energy BC, of British Columbia, Canada.

Building codes should be designed with hurricanes in mind, mandating (and possibly partially subsidizing) more wind-durable homes and similar structuresas well as household and community-level preparedness planning for the next “big one.” I hope to discuss hurricane preparedness more in a future post.

IMAGES: Many thanks to CNN and Carlos Guisti of the AP, for the photo of downed power lines; to Diesel Service and Supply, for the photo of the Puerto-Rico-bound generator on the big rig; to Vox, the NASA Earth Observatory, and Joshua Stevens for the satellite photo of Hurricane Maria; to Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and YouTube for the rather long video about Puerto Rican debt; to Mike Theiss and UltimateChase.com for the photo from Greensburg in 2007; to Fred Hunt/New York Times via SaveOnEnergy.com, for the more recent photo from Greensburg; to YouTube and NBC Nightly News for the video on the power crisis in Puerto Rico; to photographer Mario Tama of Getty Images, via Vox, for the daunting image of the downed power lines in Utuado, PR; to Siemens, for the photo of the Danish wind farm; to Energy BC of British Columbia, for the artist’s rendering of the tidal fence; and to Deltec, for the diagram of the hurricane-resistant house.