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No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother. - Margaret Sanger

Liberty and Personal Freedom on Rana Station

By Jan S. Gephardt

Recent events have gotten me thinking about liberty and personal freedom. Here in the United States, we recently seem to have had an unusual amount of trouble defining just exactly what those are. To whom should they be extended, and in what measure? There seem to be different standards, depending on who you’re talking to, and about whom they’re talking.

Yes, I know. We Americans are kinda famous around the world for having staked a claim, back in the day, that “all men are created equal.” But the qualifiers were there, even then. At the time, they literally meant only male humans. They also assumed these “endowed by their creator” male humans were white landowners.

A whole bunch of people fell outside of that definition, but the Founders didn’t seem much inclined to talk about them (indeed, the less the better, they judged, for the sake of the union).

Freedom is not the absence of limitations and constraints but it is finding the right ones, those that fit our nature and liberate us. – Timothy Keller
Many thanks, Quotefancy!

Today, it seems that liberty and personal freedom – at least, for some of us – are once again under assault. I suppose, when are they not, in one way or another? But by golly, if I were Queen of the Universe . . . oh, wait.

In one particular universe, I am the Queen.

A few Words from the Queen of . . . A Universe

The realm where I actually am the Queen of the Universe is a place where I’ve been running a little thought experiment on Rana Station, in the Chayko System of Alliance Space. As I explained in an earlier post, I’ve been exploring a kind of outrageous idea.

It’s a human-run system that tries to create an environment where all of its citizens have the tools to reach their full potential. Strange idea, right? We certainly don’t have such a system around my neck of the woods, “equal protection under the law” notwithstanding. How would such a system even look? How would it operate?

Rana Stationers value their liberty and personal freedom as much as anyone. But how is ‘liberty and personal freedom” understood in Ranan culture? How does it compare with the way we understand these concepts in the United States?

Don’t forget – no one else sees the world the way you do, so no one else can tell the stories that you have to tell. – Charles de Lint
Many thanks, Ms. Mullin!

Rather than speak in broad generalities, let’s look at a particular point of friction in the United States, especially after the United States Supreme Court’s most controversial recent decision, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

Health Care on Rana Station

Readers of my books probably have observed that on Rana, unlike in the United States, both mental and physical health care is considered a basic right. Even if you’re poor. Even if you’re not a citizen. And even if you’re a criminal suspect. Access to care is essential if liberty and personal freedom are to translate into reaching one’s full potential.

My readers know some things about Ranan health care because my characters spend a fair amount of time interacting with the Ranan health care system. Most of them have dangerous jobs. They get banged up sometimes (some more than others). And some of my characters work in the Ranan health care system.

Of all the forms of inequality injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane. – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., March 25, 1966
Many thanks, Medium (scroll down).

But except for passing comments, none of my characters or situations has directly addressed reproductive health yet. That’ll change in future books, but here’s an overview. Because space is not unlimited on a space station, the population’s size must be carefully controlled.

Reproductive Rights and Reproductive Health on Rana

I know I’m not the only teacher who’s sometimes been exasperated by the fact that people don’t have to get a license to be a parent – even when there’s ample evidence of malpractice. So, when I conceived of Rana Station I decided to explore that idea.

On Rana, you really do have to apply for a license to have children. You have to show you have the mental and physical capacity to parent a child and an understanding of child development and appropriate care. But how can that square with liberty and personal freedom?

It’s not an ideal situation, and it definitely puts limitations on adults and their free exercise of the right to bodily autonomy. But let’s be clear. The focus isn’t on the adults.

Choosing to have a child means your life is no longer your own. Behave like it. Cherish them. –“Laws of Modern Man” blog by Erik Angstrom.
This doesn’t mean you’re a slave to your child. But it does remove you from the center of your universe. (See credits below).

Call it a “Nanny State”?

Social and legal structures are in place on Rana to ensure that parents and children have strong support networks. Call it a “nanny state” if you must. But on Rana the focus is on child care, not on needlessly coddling adults in the pejorative sense that some conservatives and “rugged individualists” use the term. When the state is dedicated to ensuring that all of its citizens have the tools to reach their full potential, it has certain responsibilities – especially to children.

And perhaps the most important of those responsibilities is making sure parents are equipped and empowered to care for their children well. Most of us want this for our kids, but in the American system it’s hideously easy to fall through the cracks, especially if you are poor or part of a minority community. Of course, in any human-run program, things will not  go perfectly.

Effective parenting requires being the grown up version of what you want your children to be. Why? Because example is the most compelling superpower. – Richelle E. Goodrich, “Slaying Dragons.”
How to build a healthier world? One wise-adult-to-child bond at a time. (See credits below).

The Crucial Trade-Off: Fertility and Autonomy

If a state is going to require a license to become a parent, it instantly brings up some very sticky points, if one is focused on liberty and personal freedom. Remember China’s misguided and draconian “One Child” policy? Outside control of an individual’s fertility is always, without question, coercive and invasive.

Today, young women in the United States are properly alarmed at the prospect of being forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term (or dying for lack of needed health care). But the “flip side” of forced sterilizations is just as horrifying. Its oppressive and racist applications in the past were unconscionable. That in some cases the practice continues today should be an automatic argument for public scrutiny.

More horrifying questions follow. The power to choose between who may become a parent and who may not is frightfully open to abuse, even when it’s kept transparent and carefully safeguarded. Americans, Europeans, and especially the Nazis enthusiastically embraced the eugenics movement that began in the late 19th Century. Eugenics history alone should offer more than enough nightmarish warnings. Here on earth, many people rightly see reproductive rights as human rights, essential to liberty and personal freedom. Yet new biological advances force us to confront new ethical questions.

No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother. - Margaret Sanger
Many thanks, AZ Quotes!

Contraception and Yet More Ethical Questions

The fact remains that Rana Station is a carefully-balanced, closed ecosystem. Its sovereignty and national security require that it be a self-sustaining island in a great sea of space. They have to be able to feed themselves and meet all other needs through internal resources. Too much dependence on outside resources makes them vulnerable to powers in the system that definitely don’t see liberty and personal freedom the way Ranans do.

It’s all too easy to throw a balanced system out of safety margins and risk famine. The population, among a laundry list of other things, must be meticulously controlled. It’s not a “Cold Equations” scenario, but sober caution is an existential necessity.

That means there can only be a limited number of new births and immigrations allowed in any given year, to balance the “expected deaths.” In its 90-plus years of history, the Station has only expanded its territory once, by adding Wheels Seven and Eight. That was a difficult and expensive venture, one the government is still paying for. Unlimited reproductive freedom simply is not practical.

Eventually we'll realize that if we destroy the ecosystem, we destroy ourselves. - Jonas Salk
Many thanks, AZ Quotes!

So, How do the Ranans do it?

Any tight control of population growth requires an ironclad means of contraception, something we don’t yet have in our contemporary world. Science fiction, y’all. I’m assuming someday we will have such a thing. I can do that because I’m the Queen, remember?

Given this infallible means of contraception, certain rules fall into place. From the onset of puberty, all Ranan kids must undergo a reversible procedure that renders them temporarily sterile. Same goes for anyone seeking to immigrate, even on a temporary visa. It’s a requirement that the law mandates must never bent or fudged.

In this situation, abortion is a non-issue. No pregnancy gets that far. No one can force a woman to carry a pregnancy to term if she doesn’t want it, because she and her partner(s) have to literally sign up for it. This also means that one form of bodily autonomy – and a measure of liberty and personal freedom – must be subsumed for the greater good.

Most Ranans have long since accepted it. But of course, not everyone is happy with the trade-off. Therein lies the seed of conflict, and conflict is the stuff of which plotlines are built! Stay tuned.


We have lots of people to thank this week, most especially AZ Quotes, which provided the quote-images from both Margaret Sanger and Jonas Salk. Other excellent sources included Quotefancy, for the Timothy Keller quote and Ms. Mullins (teacher extraordinaire) for the quote from Charles de Lint. Medium published the article that included the quote-image from Dr. King. Jan found the quote from “Laws of Modern Man” by Erik Angstrom via Connie Young’s “Let’s put children first” Pinterest Board. Finally, we’re grateful to Quoteslyfe for the words of Richelle E. Goodrich, from her book Slaying Dragons. Many thanks to all of you!

On a background of plastic straws, a photo of The Ocean Cleanup’s haul of waste plastics after a day’s run, and a mountain of baled plastic waste in Boise, Idaho.


By Jan S. Gephardt

Which eco-dreams will fuel the solutions of tomorrow? The climate change challenge has put fire in many bellies. It’s inspired the imagination of people all over the world. And well it should! Our future depends on those clever ideas and ambitious visions.

But not all eco-dreams work out the way we expect.

“If life were predictable it would cease to be life, and be without flavor.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt
Characteristic wisdom from Mrs. Roosevelt. (Many thanks, Be An Inspirer).

A Brilliant Idea

Back around 2009-2010, a Japanese scientist-inventor named Akinori Ito developed what he hoped could be a solution to two problems: the global ballooning of plastic waste, and the fact that petroleum production was controlled by a small number of countries who’d formed into a cartel to collude on prices.

Plastic is made from petroleum. What if he could devise a practical way to use thermochemical decomposition – a process called pyrolysis – to retrieve useable petroleum from waste plastics? The earliest online references to Ito’s process that I could find date to about 2010. He created a “home pyrolysis unit,” which he called the Blest Machine. It could be used on a consumer level, and dreamed of scaling the process up. He formed his Blest company for that purpose.

Ito’s Process

As Michael Luciano described the process in Design World, Feb. 21, 2017, “Plastic waste is placed into a large bucket inside the machine, where the temperature inside slowly rises to melt and eventually turn the plastic into a gas. Upon entering its gaseous form, the plastic passed through a tube into a water-filled container, where it cools and forms the oil. The final product can be burned in this form, or further processed into gasoline, diesel, or kerosene.”

Wow! Talk about an eco-dream with potential! Even if it just stayed on the household level, perhaps people could form co-ops to collect enough gasoline, kerosene, or other petroleum products to create a supplementary resource. Unfortunately, the most recent reference to the Blest Machine or Ito’s process that I could find is from 2017.

Akinori Ito’s Blest Machine, at top in a display, at lower left set up on the floor and ready to work. At right, Ito demonstrates his machine to a group of schoolchildren.
Akinori Ito’s Blest Machine showed up fairly often in news articles, on waste management and engineering websites and in demonstrations by the inventor. I couldn’t find online references newer than 2017, however. (See credits below).

An Eco-Dream of Energy Independence for the USA

Back in 2015, we were still talking about a future in which we might become energy-independent. Hydraulic racking had begun to be deployed widely enough to prove its worth in that respect . . . and to raise a whole bunch of questions about “What is it doing to the groundwater?” And “How can it be a coincidence that we’re having earthquakes in fracking country?”

My focus in the blog post then was the opening of the Bakken Formation, which was experiencing boom times in 2015. Still reeling from the Great Recession, people were flocking there for good-paying jobs – then arriving and discovering there was no place to live and the winters were colder than they could possibly have imagined.

Images of oil fields and two of the mobile-home developments that sprang up all over the Bakken Formation region.
The oil fields of the Bakken Formation extend from North Dakota into Montana. In the early 2010s at the end of the Great Recession, people rushed to the area to work in fields newly opened by hydraulic fracking. Mobile home boomtowns like those above sprang up nearly overnight, to house them. (See credits below).

Eco-Dreams of an Oceanic Application

I first learned of the Blest Machine through an online video in 2014. At first I was dubious. It sounded too good to be true. But I checked into it and discovered that a lot of people were taking it seriously. After I’d originally reposted the video, I wrote an update and posted that on my blog in 2015.

In my blog post, I speculated about scaled-up applications that might help to deal with ecological obscenities such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. In passing I mentioned that a young engineer (named Boylan Slat) had proposed ideas about how to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and other global gyres, which also are collecting plastic waste.

Speculating as Science Fiction Writers are Known to Do

In my post, I asked a question: Could the pyrolysis process of Akinori Ito be combined with cleanup ideas such as those of Boylan Slat, to both supply the need for energy independence from the oil cartel and deal with plastic waste?

“Yes, yes, I know,” I concluded my post back then. “I’m WAY over-simplifying. My idea is impractical for thousands of immediate reasons. But what if they can be overcome? The key to any innovation is first to think of the idea, then solve the problems that currently make it impractical. Simple? Easy? No. Worth considering? We won’t know till we consider the possibilities for a while.”

A world map illustrates the five “Ocean Gyres of the World;” an iconic photo of a baby seahorse clinging to a 2-ended swab with a plastic shaft.
All five ocean gyres of the world contain greater or lesser Garbage Patches. The most famous is the Great Pacific. The iconic “Sewage Surfer” photo © Justin Hofman (used with his permission) shows a baby seahorse in the Indian Ocean Gyre, clinging to an entirely unsuitable “stalk of seaweed,” instead of better-rooted support. The photo won Hofman honors in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition in 2017. (See credits below).

Well, it’s Been a While. Where do the Eco-Dreams Stand?

In my 2015 post, I reported that Boylan Slat was planning to launch his first efforts through his organization called The Ocean Cleanup “next year.” So, then, what’s “the rest of the story”? As far as I can tell, The Ocean Cleanup is going strong. Their objective is to clean up 90% of floating ocean plastic pollution. They’re now actively collecting waste plastics from all five major ocean gyres.

Since the first effort, they’ve learned a lot and refined their techniques for tracking, sourcing, and collecting plastic waste. They’d love to tell you all about it (and show you why your generous donations would be put to world-saving use). They’ve also branched into the much knottier problem of river cleanup.

Oceanic Waste Management

Inevitably, of course, there’s a question of “what do we do with it once we collect it?” They most emphatically don’t want to hand it off to irresponsible “recyclers” like those who helped create the problem in the first place. In 2020 they launched a proof-of-concept project, The Ocean Cleanup Sunglasses. This sold-out prototype demonstrated that, “plastic caught in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch . . . can be recycled into high-quality consumer products.”

However, their specialty and strong point is collecting the trash, not recycling it. “In the future, we no longer intend to create our own products; instead, we will work with partners to develop products using The Ocean Cleanup Plastic. This will allow us to focus on our core mission of cleaning up.”

On a background of plastic straws, a photo of The Ocean Cleanup’s haul of waste plastics after a day’s run, and a mountain of baled plastic waste in Boise, Idaho.
By sea or by land, we’ve created literal mountains of plastic waste that we must now deal with sustainably. (See credits below).

How About Energy Independence?

Since 2015, the United States has indeed achieved energy independence on the fossil fuels front. According to Forbes author Robert Rapier, the US has been a net exporter of coal and gas for a while, now. That status does not appear to have changed, even during the Pandemic. Rapier points out that the Energy Information Administration (EIA) determined the US to have been energy independent in 2019 and 2020. So, since before the Pandemic hit. He also offers a primer on what “energy independence” means as he uses it.

The US is able to cut off Russian oil imports, unlike some European countries that are dependent on Russia for gas and oil. Unfortunately, we’ve continued to flirt with other oil-producing autocrats, and our national energy sources still remain all too heavy on the fossil fuels. Mr. Biden recently opened up some federal lands for gas and oil leasing, against future need, which I wish he hadn’t.

The most depressing part is the continued heavy emphasis on fossil fuels – which are causing our problems in the first place!

But What Happened with Pyrolysis?

Those eco-dreams have a murkier story. My 2015 blog post mentioned several startups that seemed to show promise. One was a company in Utah called PK Clean. It later changed its name to Renewology, still making efforts to scale up the chemical recycling of plastic.

Renewology and the City of Boise, Idaho formed a partnership im 2018 to turn waste plastics into fuel. They introduced what they called an “EnergyBag” program to collect consumer plastic waste at people’s homes, and bag it separately so it could be used for the program. By 2019 the “EnergyBags” were piling up, but not being used for fuel. In 2020, Boise renewed its “EnergyBag” program, but with a different destination planned for the plastics collected.

PK Clean/Renewology also launched a partnership in Nova Scotia with a company called Sustane Technologies in 2017. There was a glowing update in 2018 about how they were seeking approval to convert plastic waste to fuel. An update overview from Sustane in 2020 does not mention PK Clean or Renewology, but Sustane does claim to use a pyrolysis system, purchased from a Utah companyto create synthetic diesel fuel. So, maybe it worked, there.

The building and even the signboard are the same. Only the name changed from PK Clean at left to Renewology at right. The two photos, along with an aerial view of the Sustain plant in Nova Scotia, are placed on a background image of a literal wall of “Energy Bags” stockpiled in Boise, Idaho.
Whether they called themselves PK Clean or Renewology, the City of Boise, Idaho (background image is a wall of Boise’s “Energy Bags”) never reached the desired result with them, and they now appear to be out of business. Sustane Technologies in Nova Scotia (see their plant in the aerial view with the local landfill in the background) may have found the key to using pyrolysis, however. (See credits below).

Investigative Reporting Tells (Most of) the Rest

I finally found my answers about PK Clean/Renewology from a Reuters investigative report published in 2021. Pyrolysis, at least as Renewology attempted to implement it, had proved unsustainable. Plastic waste is more easily burned to create energy, but there are toxic byproducts, and burning is still a contributor to the greenhouse effect.

Of the Blest Machine in 2017, Luciano wrote, “there are some relatively unanswered questions regarding the true extent of the Blest Machine’s reduced CO2 emissions and what happens to discarded chemical compounds during the conversion process.” Any inefficiencies an “discarded chemical compounds” would tend to scale up with attempts to use the technology at scale. At a guess, that’s probably what happened with the Boise and Nova Scotia efforts.

Keep on Following Eco-Dreams

The hard truth is that not all promising technologies work out – certainly not immediately, and maybe never. If you’d asked me to bet, in 2015, whether Akinori Ito’s pyrolysis or Boylan Slat’s eco-dreams to clean up the ocean would succeed better, my money would’ve been on the pyrolysis.

Which goes to show that science fiction writers only look like prophets of the future later, if they guess right!

The fact is that either initiative could have failed, depending on luck, management decisions, technical problems or a thousand other things. And either initiative also could have succeeded brilliantly, as it appears The Ocean Cleanup mostly is. Were both worth trying? Absolutely.

Eco-dreams can’t turn into a better future for us and our planet if we don’t even give them a try. No new technology or process is easy at the start, or it would already have been done long ago. And maybe we shouldn’t give up too soon, even on something that looks as if it failed. Sustane Technologies is keeping its cards close to its chest at this point, but there may yet be hope for Akinori Ito’s plastic-to-fuel pyrolysis eco-dreams, too.


Many thanks to Be An Inspirer, for the Eleanor Roosevelt quote. All montages are Jan S. Gephardt’s fault. The upper photo of Akinori Ito’s Blest Machine comes from MB&F, AKA Maximilian Büsser & Friends (on display with a green background). The other two came courtesy of The Civil Engineer. Deepest gratitude to both!

Photos of the Bakken Oil Fields at their height in the early 20-teens came from a variety of sources. I’m indebted to Zack Nelson/AP, The Williston Herald, and The Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Washington (where I found it), for the photo of repair work on a pipeline leak near Blacktail Creek outside Williston, ND in 2015. Many thanks to Gregory Bull/AP and NPR for the 2011 photo of the company-owned “man camp” (long, straight, prefab rows), also near Williston. Deepest gratitude to Tim Smith Photography, for the photo of row after row of new mobile homes installed near Watford City, ND. Also to KERA News for the gorgeous, uncredited photo of a pump-jack at sunset near downtown Sidney, Montana in 2015.

Thank you very much to Harvard University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Their 2018 blog post “The Plastic in our Oceans,” provided the illustration-map of the Earth’s five ocean gyres. And I continue to be grateful to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2017 competition and to photographer and copyright-holder Justin Hofman, for permission to use his “Sewage Surfer” on my blog, including my original post.

So. Much. Plastic Waste!

Many thanks to Public News Service for the photo of the huge pile of plastics in Boise, Idaho in 2018. At that point they still had faith in Renewology. The Ocean Cleanup provided the photo of their “catch of the day,” a mountain of recovered plastic waste on “System 002’s” deck in October 2021. And I owe The New York Times thanks for the background photo of colorful plastic straws. It originally illustrated a story about their use by hotels and resorts.

Thanks to a whole lot of people for the “Renewology Woes” montage! The background photo, from 2019, is a literal wall of “Energy Bags,” from Reuters and photographer Brian Losness. Thank you! Big piles of “Energy Bags” were still sitting around in Boise, long after the bloom was off the Renewology rose. Eventually, those bags did produce energy, BTW. They even did it through a form of pyrolysis: they were burned to power a cement plant. Yes, burning produces thermochemical changes. Unfortunately, also toxic wastes.

Reuters and photographer George Frey also provided the 2019 photo of the Renewology sign in front of the company’s Utah building. I was somewhat amused to note that there are only two changes in 2019 from the photo of the PK Clean sign in 2017. Thank you, Waste Dive, for that photo. It’s credited to PK Clean, but we know they’re not answering anymore. The only differences in the photo from 2019 were the words on the signboard and the mounds of plastic waste. The building, and even the sign’s support structure, look exactly the same.

And Yet, Possibly an Eco-Dreams Grace Note

Finally, I’m also grateful to Sustane and the CBC for the 2018 photo of the Sustane Technologies plant. It’s located 25 km north of Chester, Nova Scotia, close to the Kaizer Meadow landfill, which supplies it with waste. In a 2020 article it says it turns about 90% of the municipal waste from the landfill into reusable materials. About 50% becomes pelletized biomass. And somehow they’re turning the 20% of their feedstock that’s plastic into synthetic diesel through pyrolysis.

“The Future is not something we enter. The Future is something we create.” – Unattributed.

Looking for Hope

By Jan S. Gephardt

Sometimes it seems that looking for hope in an era of climate change can seem like a fool’s errand.

Climate change is already upon us. This is not news to anyone who’s been paying attention. Remember those horrifying outcomes the climate scientists warned us about in the 1990s? They’re here. Happening now. The mega-storms, the super-wildfires, the changing weather patterns. Rising sea levels? Mass extinctions? Melting polar ice caps? Yup. All happening now.

Congratulations, climate-deniers! You, um “won”? The oil companies’ disinformation campaigns, combined with ghastly leadership deficits and rich nations’ widespread unwillingness to inconvenience themselves, have wrought the predicted result. So, now what? Is it “Game Over” for us now?

Weather disruptions these days come from ever-more intense tornadoes, hurricanes and typhoons, intense snowstorms, drought and wildfire.
Looking for hope seems hopeless sometimes. Clockwise from top left, the aftermath of a tornado in New Jersey, Hurricane Irma in the Bahamas, wildfire in California, and the aftermath of Typhoon Rai in the Philippines. At center, a heavy snow in Scotland. (See Credits below).

What Have We Done?

Well, we’re not dead yet (not if you can read this post), so we can keep looking for hope. If the goal was to avoid catastrophes, though, we can kiss that one goodbye, We screwed that up bad. Catastrophes are everywhere.

The United States offers a global microcosm. The deep south is the New Tornado Alley. Kansas wishes you all the best of luck, and advises you to build storm shelters. California is a near-year-round Burn Zone. Miami Beach and the Florida Keys are barely treading water (at least until the next King Tide), and the Pacific Northwest is still recovering from Death-Valley-like heat last summer. Oh, and . . . how many bomb cyclones have you Northeasterners weathered, in recent years?

If the goal is to avoid making it even worse, well, that, we still can do. But we need the will, the urgency, and the vision. Looking for hope in an era of climate change is hard, but it’s not impossible.

"People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you! You are failing us." - Greta Thunberg, to the United Nations Climate Action Summit, 2019
Greta Thunberg at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in 2019. (See Credits below).

What Can We Do?

First of all, we can stop kidding ourselves. Politicians and pundits who consider climate to be “one of many issues,” and mostly important to a small group of “green nuts,” are deluded. Anyone who doesn’t care about climate change at this point hasn’t been hit hard enough yet. Give it enough time and apathy, and it’ll be their turn soon enough.

Thanks all the same, I’d rather take a different path. And I know I’m not alone. I’m still looking for hope in an era of climate change. I fully realize that I could never in three lifetimes of stringent measures offset the deleterious effects of one poorly-managed feedlot or gas pipeline. But what a defeatist attitude, to decide that if I can’t solve it all, I won’t even bother. Get real!

No, I’ll do what I can – and one thing I can do is educate myself and then speak up. I can demand that polluters and outsized greenhouse gas-emitters be forced to change their ways. That wasteful habits be shunned and more eco-appropriate methods be rewarded.

And I can collaborate on a more hopeful vision. Looking for hope in an era of climate change only seems stupid and pointless to people who can’t see any way forward. How do I know this? Because I’ve already seen something like it before.

Photos from earlier decades show many drawbacks to pollution.
On a background of Bavarian trees killed by acid rain, the images include one of the many fires on the Cuyahoga River, this one in 1952; warning signs on roads in Times Beach, MO; shattered, thin-shelled duck and osprey eggs due to DDT; a lake killed by acid rain, and metal barrels strewn across Love Canal, back when it was a hazardous waste dumping site. (See Credits below).

Looking for Hope – Again

I think it’s important to consider what negative views of the future do to people – especially to young people. I remember growing up during the Cold War, and the heavy certainty that nuclear Armageddon wasn’t a matter of if, but when. That makes looking for hope harder. It skews a person’s view of the future and what’s possible, believe me. It was only after I’d been an adult for while that I truly started believing we might not blow ourselves up after all.

Instead, it seemed we would choke ourselves to death on pollution. Do you remember the 1969 Cuyahoga River fire? How about the “dead” lakes of Europe, the Adirondacks, and Ontario, killed by acid rain in the 1960s through the 1980s? The fish kills, the lakes too dirty to swim in or eat fish from? The years when we thought bald eagles, ospreys, falcons, and other bird species were doomed to extinction? Do you remember Love Canal and Times Beach? I do (especially Times Beach, MO, which was near my in-laws’ home).

I remember living in a Kansas City where after a few years of residence doctors routinely expected our lung X-rays to show clouding. Where we could park our car outside overnight and the next day it would be covered in a fine layer of tacky, oily pollution. Where, when the wind came in from a certain direction the whole area would stink. All this, even though I lived in a “good” neighborhood, by the redliners standards. How bad must it have been in poorer neighborhoods of color?

Organizational logos for many global climate action agencies and groups.
Many organizations and agencies have been formed to address climate change around the globe since the 1970s. Here are just a few. (See Credits Below).

What Changed?

People started to notice, be outraged, and speak up. The Environmental Protection Agency and other, more global initiatives came into being because people saw a need, not because the government had something against Big Business. We also should recall that the EPA was created during the Nixon Administration. By Republicans. And although Nixon vetoed the Clean Water Act, a bipartisan vote overrode it. Yes, it was a very different world.

The EPA has always been vilified by some groups. But, backed by strong legislation such as the clean water and clean air acts and the endangered species act, it staved off many disasters. It created some unintended consequences, granted. But Love Canal-style cleanup sites come around far less often now. My neighborhood doesn’t ever stink, my lungs are clear, and the primary everyday hazards to my car come from birds and tree sap, not oily, nasty pollution.

Anyone who tries to claim that pollution standards aren’t necessary, or that we’ve learned better now so we can ease up on restrictions ignores reality. They’re either lying, or don’t choose to remember history. Self-interested humans and profit-driven companies will cut corners and costs, unless some greater power forces them to clean up their act and keep it clean.

“We are the first generation to be able to end poverty, and the last generation that can take steps to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Future generations will judge us harshly if we fail to uphold our moral and historical responsibilities.” – Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations.
What he said. (World Economic Forum).

Looking for Hope in an Era of Climate Change

Remember that point I made above, “consider what negative views of the future do to people – especially to young people”? It’s equally true in reverse. What if enough of us around the world could come together and throw our whole-hearted efforts into combatting climate change? We could still mitigate some aspects, and perhaps reach a new balance. But crucial to any such effort is a powerful vision of the positive outcomes we still can create.

Powerful, big-money-driven lobbying groups, twisted ideologies of denial, and short-term political concerns remain. They’ll keep short-circuiting the ever-more-more pervasive ongoing threats from continued climate change, if we don’t push back. And we can, we must push back.

But we won’t, if we don’t believe that positive change can still happen. That’s why we desperately need stories and popular media that offer visions of positive outcomes after appropriate effort.

"The job of speculative and science fiction is to envision future outcomes in accessible ways. It’s what we sf writers do: we create engaging thought-experiments about how things might be." – Jan S. Gephardt.
Consider this a pull-quote. (Nebula 2 background artwork ©2021 by Chaz Kemp).

Can Science Fiction Save the Planet?

No literary genre can create the changes that are needed. But the job of speculative and science fiction is to envision future outcomes in accessible ways. It’s what we sf writers do: we create engaging thought-experiments about how things might be.

And it is historical fact that science fiction has shaped, and continues to shape, the world we live in today. I’ve already written about environmentally-focused science fiction on the “Artdog Adventures” blog, as well as sf writers’ perhaps-lamentable tendency to envision ways we might destroy the Earth.

Dystopian stories envision how things can go terribly wrong, before their protagonists win their way to freedom and security (or tragically fail to do so). And Lord knows, we’re currently living in an environmental dystopia. But how about more hopeful future-environment stories? They’re available, too! Forbes recently published an excellent list, but it’s not exhaustive. And there’s definitely room for more.

“The Future is not something we enter. The Future is something we create.” – Unattributed.
Consider your actions and attitudes carefully. You’re creating tomorrow, right now. (See Credits below).

A Vision of Hope for the Future We Want

We can envision the future we want, if we have the will and the imagination. We can take a proactive approach to finding better visions, as well. If we readers seek out more science fiction that ends well for the environment, we’ll get it. We need to ask for such books at bookstores of all kinds. Run online searches for them, ask for them in author forums. If we seek them persistently, publishers large and small will answer a perceived market need.

As a society, many of us are looking for hope in an era of climate change. We need fresh and positive visions to guide us. And we who write science fiction can offer a historically-proven place to start looking.


The first montage was composed from many sources. Sincerest thanks to NY1 and the uncredited AP photographer for the New Jersey tornado damage photo, to ABC News for the photo of Hurricane Irma, and to ABC 7, for the uncredited wildfire photo. Thanks also to the San Diego Union Tribune and photographer Jay Labra, AP, for the photo of destruction left in Talisay, Cebu, Philippines after Typhoon Rai, and to The Guardian for the photo of snow in Tomintoul, Moray, Scotland, by photographer Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images. The stormy background is “Storm at Sea,” by plus69 via 123rf. Jan S. Gephardt assembled and designed the montage.

Deepest appreciation to Greta Thunberg for her iconic and straight-to the-heart words, to Wikipedia for making them available, and to the AP via the Los Angeles Times for the photo of Greta at the UN. Jan S. Gephardt assembled the quote-image for her blog post “It’s Okay to Feel What We Feel.”

Environmental Destruction of Yore

Many thanks to the sources of the photos used in the montage of climate destruction from the mid-20th Century. They include Wikimedia and an unidentified German photographer, for the background photo of acid-ran-killed trees in Bavaria, and to Ohio History Central for the photo of a 1952 fire on the Cuyahoga River, from the Cleveland Press Collection at Cleveland State Library. The photo of the DDT-damaged mallard duck eggs in the upper left of the montage is courtesy of the “Rachel Carson” blog from the Nanyang Technological University of Singapore, while the photos of similarly-damaged osprey eggs at bottom center and far right came from the “Osprey Tales” blog.

The photo of the gross-looking acid-rain-killed lake at the top is the header for Interesting Engineering’s article, “What Acid Rain is, and Ways to Restore the Damage it Causes.” (photographer unattributed). IDR Environmental Services provided the photo of Love Canal in the early days, when it was openly used as a hazardous waste dump by Hooker Chemical Company. It illustrates Part Two of a series on “America’s Hazardous Waste History,” by Dawn DeVroom.

The color photo of the Times Beach “Dioxin” road was taken by legendary St. Louis Post-Dispatch photographer and Missouri Photojournalism Hall of Famer Robert LaRouche. The black-and-white photo is a 1982 photo by James A. Finley/AP, provided by Legends of America in their article “Ill-Fated Times Beach, Missouri.” Jan S. Gephardt assembled and designed the montage.

Environmental Agencies of the Globe

This montage shows logos and headers from a small fraction of the many governmental and non-governmental agencies and organizations from around the world that have developed since the 1970s to combat climate change. They include the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (courtesy of EurOcean), United Nations Climate Change Global Climate Action, and the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Others whose logos are represented are the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (courtesy of PAHO, the Pan American Health Organization), The African Climate Foundation, and the Climate Action Network of Southeast Asia (CANSEA). Many thanks to all, and good luck with your varied missions! Montage by Jan S. Gephardt.

A Collection of Quote-Images

Deepest thanks to the World Economic Forum, which provided the Ban Ki-moon quote-image as part of an excellent collection. This image also was featured in an earlier Artdog Adventures post as an Artdog Quote of the Week (contrasted with one from the disgraced, twice-impeached 45th US President, in 2017), but I thought it fit so well I’d use it again.

The background artwork for my pull-quote on the job of speculative and science fiction is Nebula 2, © 2021 by Chaz Kemp.

I’m sorry to say that QuotesHunter (my original source for the “Something We Create” quote-image) doesn’t seem to be around anymore, but you can still find this image on my Artdog Adventures posts “Creating Well” and “The Future we Want, and How to Get There.” It’s something of an emblem for this “The Future We Want” series.

"Cultural differences should not separate us from each other, but rather cultural diversity brings a collective strength that can benefit all of humanity." - Robert Alan Aurthur

See Diversity as a Strength

The Future We Want” Series – Part 1

By Jan S. Gephardt

I want a future in which we see diversity as a strength. Yeah, right, you might well scoff. Jan, have you noticed the hate crime statistics, lately? That’s not where we’re headed!

But what if it could be?

A few weeks ago, I posted an article about using science fiction as a way to envision a more positive future. Today, in the first of three planned posts, I’d like to delve a little deeper into that idea. In future posts I plan to talk about the environment and human rights. Today, let’s explore ways that science fiction writers can help readers see diversity as a strength.

We’re losing biodiversity globally at an alarming rate, and we need a cornucopia of different plants and animals, for the planet’s health and our own. – Diane Ackerman
When we see diversity as a strength, we better understand what’s at stake. (LATESTLY).

Diversity is a Mark of a Vibrant Community

Scientists have long since discovered that biodiversity improves the stability and resiliency of an ecosystem. Similarly, sociologists and historians attest that civilizations have thrived most brilliantly when cultural diversity increased. Whether cultural mixing arises via trade, conquest, or cataclysm-driven migration, throughout history the result is predictable. Cultural cross-pollination fosters innovation and new ideas.

The cultural and genetic mixing generated by the ancient Roman Empire created a legacy that endures to this day. Poorly-conceived though they were, the medieval Crusades led to the European Renaissance. Trade routes such as the Silk Road in Asia and Trans-Saharan routes in Africa stimulated vibrant cities and civilizations. I blogged about another fruitful period of Japanese/European cross-cultural exchange a few years ago, in “A Tale of Hokusai and Cézanne.

A great case in point is Medieval Cordoba, where Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived in relative peace. Its leaders could see diversity as a strength. They kept their subjects free from religious persecution, and created arguably the greatest city in Europe at the time.

"Cultural differences should not separate us from each other, but rather cultural diversity brings a collective strength that can benefit all of humanity." - Robert Alan Aurthur
Cultural tensions are inevitable, but we must not let them destroy the creative synergy of cultural exchange. (See Credits below).

How Can Science Fiction Help us See Diversity as a Strength?

Why – other than the fact that I write science fiction – do I see sf as a vehicle to foster a brighter future? Wouldn’t it be better to go on a lecture tour like Al Gore with his “inconvenient” slideshow? Well, there’s a place for that kind of presentation.

But as advertisers long ago figured out, the very best way to make an idea compelling is to embody it in a good story. I touched on this a few years ago when I blogged about the influence of science fiction on environmental awareness.

But I’m not the only one who sees sf this way. That bastion of liberal arts, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has recently offered a class on contemporary science fiction. The course uses 21st Century science fiction novels (see the illustration below) to help students see the world in a different way. These books provide a starting place for discussions that grapple with problems and questions we’ll confront in the future.

The government of China agrees with me in this, too. It has begun to view science fiction as an avenue for the use of “cultural soft power. Not only did it win a Worldcon bid (Chengdu, 2023), but it has begun to promote science fiction stories of which it approves (political critique is a whole different story). It’s also a growing player in the global movie industry.

I’d rather not let the government of the Peoples Republic of China envision our future for us, thanks. If you agree, seek a range of different voices—and see diversity as a strength!

Covers for “The Fifth Season” by N. K. Jemisin, Apex Magazine, featuring “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™” by Rebecca Roanhorse, “The City & The City” by China Miéville, and “Annihilation” by Jeff Vandermeer float above a photo of the MIT Media Lab Building.
These books spark discussions about the future, at MIT. (See Credits below).

Can You Envision A Diverse and Harmonious Future?

A lot of people can’t. In our current political climate, unfortunately, anti-Semitism, anti-Asian hate, and the ever-popular urge to oppress Black people are enjoying an apparent groundswell of enthusiasm.

This is happening alongside a steady, depressing drumbeat of homophobia, trans-phobia, and anti-immigrant measures against Muslims and people from anywhere in Latin America. We have armed militias of people abroad in the land who seriously want to re-enact The Turner Diaries in real life.

If ever there was a moment to promote a new vision, one that can see diversity as a strength, surely today gives us that moment. Dystopian science fiction has long depicted “worst-case scenarios,” and they genuinely do have a role to play. But how about some more positive visions to function as an antidote to the poison?

“Strength lies in differences, not in similarities” - Stephen R. Covey.
We have an uphill climb to convince some people this is true. (TextAppeal).

Creating a More Positive Vision

In teaching and parenting, “catch ‘em being good” is a sound approach. If a child/student receives positive reinforcement, this offers a better foundation for going forward than always just being told “no” or “don’t.”

Kids are feeling their way along, trying to figure out how to “be” in the world. Positive reinforcement offers a map, a goal, a sense of what is desired. Negative reinforcement only tells them what not to do. How efficiently do you think you could get to a destination if you had a map that onlytold you where not to go?

That’s why I think we need positive future visions, as well as dystopian takes. Can we please stop fictitiously killing the earth and our fellow beings all the time? It’s good to be able to foresee that “this trend could lead to a bad outcome.” But in my opinion it helps more to see that “this really might be a good way to move forward.”

A collection of “dead end,” “road ends,” and “road closed” signs.
Negative messages help little when you’re searching for a way forward. (See Credits below).

A Vision for a Way Forward

I certainly can’t claim to be the only science fiction author who ever thought of this. I read a review just the other day for Central Station by Lavie Tidhar that you might enjoy. And Forbes recently published a whole list of sf novels with positive climate-change explorations. Moreover, multiculture-positive thought experiments seem to be the direction N.K. Jemisin is headed in her Great Cities project, if The City We Became is any guide.

What I want to do with my XK9 novels, in part, is give readers a glimpse, a way to see diversity as a strength in action. What would a society/culture/polyculture look like, if it could truly be mostly free of racial animus? If religious intolerance was mostly absent, and near-universally frowned upon? If the society was mostly without homophobia, trans-phobia, or a backlash against any other individual expression of identity? (I say “mostly” and “nearly,” because humans are humans).

It’s fun to explore those ideas in my XK9 novels. I hope my readers enjoy it, too. And I’d like to see more authors ask how they can inform a more positive view of possible futures. Especially those that see diversity as a strength.


Many thanks to “LATESTLY” for the quote-image featuring the words of Diane Ackerman, and to TextAppeal, for the quote-image featuring the words of Stephen R. Covey. The other quote-image, featuring the words of Robert Alan Aurthur, was assembled by Jan S. Gephardt, with help from a Wikimedia image. It shows a detail of the Almoravid Minbar, commissioned by Ali Bin Yusuf Bin Tashfin al-Murabiti in 1137 for his great mosque in Marrakesh. Photo by By إيان – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, from Wikimedia.

The two photo montages also were conceived and assembled by Jan S. Gephardt. The montage inspired by the MIT science fiction literature class is composed from a photo of the MIT Media Lab Building from Dezeen, three book covers, and a magazine cover. Books: The Fifth Season, by N. K. Jemisin (thank you, Target). The City & The City, by China Miéville (thank you, Penguin Random House). Annihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer (thank you, LA Times, FSG Originals, and illustrator Eric Nyquist). Apex Magazine’s cover features Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™, by Rebecca Roanhorse.

The montage of the map hemmed in by “Do Not Enter,” “Road Closed,” “Road Ends,” and “Dead End” signs includes a map of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. I chose it for its map-folds and size, not to express any opinion of those lovely states. It comes courtesy of The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens. Road signs come from a variety of sources. Driving Tests provided a “Do Not Enter” sign and a “Dead End” sign. Two “Road Closed” signs came from the City of Prairie Village, KS, while Angela Carmona uploaded the third, rather dramatic one to Pinterest. Also via Pinterest, I’m grateful to Todd Gordon and Kevin Barnett for the two “Road Ends” signs. Many thanks to all!

An illustration depicts white, spiky coronaviruses as snowflakes in a wintry landscape with evergreen trees.

It’s Okay to Feel What We Feel

By Jan S. Gephardt

Around my neck of the woods, it’s the season of “holiday cheer.” But frankly, I’m not seeing a whole bunch of bright, sparkly people out and about, having a real good time. That may partly be because (when I go out at all) I tend to hang out with people smart enough to wear masks. I can’t see their smiles, if they are smiling. If they are, that’s nice. But if they aren’t, that’s all right, too. It’s okay to feel what we feel.

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote a blog post titled “A Season of Small Bright Spots.” I sought out hopeful stories because I am by nature a hopeful, and generally optimistic, person. I thought that in the midst of “the COVID-19 winter” (I was assuming there would only be one), finding reasons to stay hopeful was a good idea. It still is. And there are still reasons for hope.

But as we crank up for a second COVID-19 winter, I also want to say that it’s okay to feel what we feel. If you’re “merry and bright,” that’s awesome! Congratulations, and don’t let anybody cast aspersions on your joy!

Truth is, however, a lot of us are having trouble getting there, this year. Me included.

An illustration depicts white, spiky coronaviruses as snowflakes in a wintry landscape with evergreen trees.
An uncredited illustration I found on Medpage Today and used in my December 2020 post “A Season of Small Bright Spots.”


We can be forgiven for feeling exhausted. Especially those among us in the health care sector have carried far more than a fair share of the burdens that never seem to end. My husband worked in an extremely busy lab until his retirement earlier this year, and my daughter recently secured a certification in health care, so I am “closely adjacent” to that overburdened sector.

To the anti-vaccine holdouts across the USA let me just say: Y’all please get vaxxed and boosted so we can end this thing before it ends all of us. And thank you to everyone else who already did take those measures.

Of her job, ICU Housekeeper Andrea says, “One minute you are important enough. The next minute it is like, no you aren’t that important to get the proper equipment, but you are important enough to clean it for the next patient.”
Quote image from Brookings.

Heavy Burdens for All

I’m not sure how teachers continue to cope, either. Between the historically chronic under-resourcing of time, funding, and facilities, combined with the most bizarre teaching environment in living memory, I’m surprised there’s anyone left in the field. Except, kids need to learn and teachers need to teach. God bless you all.

A teacher from Durant, Oklahoma said, “After 33 years, I just retired. I was already frustrated so much regarding public education and the route it was going. Covid just pushed me over the top.” A teacher from Pauls Valley, Oklahoma said, “I’m seriously considering leaving after 21 years because I’m immunocompromised. My passion or my health? I’m struggling to decide if the risk is worth it.”
Both quotes are from an excellent article in the Tulsa World.

A deadly pestilence has spread everywhere, and it’s ravaging the immune-compromised (and the misinformed) among us to a catastrophic degree. Complications from the seemingly-endless pandemic have snarled our supply chains, spiked inflation, and exacerbated food insecurity.

The exhaustion spreads much farther, of course. Maybe you’re a front-line worker living in daily danger just so our grocery shelves stay stocked, our deliveries get made, or our community services keep working. But you don’t have to be one, to be exhausted. Every single one of us carries heavier burdens these days, and it’s okay to feel what we feel.

"Workers on the edge of poverty are essential to America’s prosperity, but their well-being is not treated as an integral part of the whole. Instead, the forgotten wage a daily struggle to keep themselves from falling over the cliff. It is time to be ashamed." - David K. Shipler
From AZ Quotes.

Fear and Division

Meanwhile, one of our major political parties in my country has been taken over by death-cultists, insurrectionists, and white supremacists. It used to be a party of community-oriented, business-centric, mostly-responsible old white men. Now it fields “public servants” like the ones in Missouri who are trying to kill as many school children as possible. That is for sure scary.

So are the unmasked (yes, pun intended) efforts to subvert voting rights and election integrity, in service of keeping a dwindling minority in power. So they can . . . force young women to have babies they can’t support, in the name of the party of . . .  personal liberty?

“Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of man who can fabricate it.” - Hannah Arendt
Quote image courtesy of BukRate.

Oh, yes, and so they can provide a continuing drag on efforts to mitigate climate change. In case we weren’t beleaguered enough already, there is always the existential threat posed by climate-driven superstorms. No one can argue that this month’s historic tornadoes and recent hurricane seasons were “normal. Not scary enough? How about extreme drought and ever-longer wildfire seasons? We’ve now got those, too. “Thanks,” climate-change deniers.

"People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you! You are failing us." - Greta Thunberg, to the United Nations Climate Action Summit, 2019
See credits below.

It’s okay to feel what we feel, because our fear is justified. We can’t allow fear to destroy us, but maybe it can motivate us to push harder for necessary changes.


God help us, we have plenty of reasons to grieve. As I write this, we’ve had 805,112 COVID deaths in the United States, per the CDC, and 5,384,178 from COVID worldwide, as reported by “Worldometers.” By the time you read this there will have been all too many more. Of course, COVID isn’t the only health issue out there that’s killing people.

Among all the other dangers in the world, we’re also murdering each other at an astonishing rate, especially in the United States, where it’s easier to buy a gun than it is to legally drive a car.

And let us not forget the frightful toll of famine throughout the world. Food insecurity is widespread in the USA, but we’re far from the worst-case scenario. We could be living (or struggling to) in The Democratic Republic of Congo, Yemen, South Sudan, Syria, and more.

More to Grieve than Deaths

Egregious as they are, all the unnecessary “extra” deaths aren’t the only losses to grieve. We could be fleeing widespread violence and climate disaster, only to be penned up in squalid COVID hotspots at an international border. Or subject to slavery, torture, and genocide in “re-education” camps, at the hands of other authoritarian governments, or in failed states.

We may be climate refugees who’ve had to flee our homes. Or we may have been priced out of homes in our communities. We may have lost our beloved small businesses and personal financial resources during the pandemic. Political tensions and other stresses may have torn our families apart. (Yeah, Merry Christmas to you, too).

As long as poverty & hunger is prevalent in any continent or country, then the world at large is never safe.” – Oscar Auliq-Ice
Many thanks to QuotesLyfe.

It’s Okay to Feel What We Feel

Is it any surprise our children are struggling with mental health issues? If we’re honest, most of us are. So seriously. It’s okay to feel what we feel. In fact, stepping past denial and letting ourselves feel whatever we truly feel is the first step toward healing.

A reader new to this blog could be forgiven for having started to doubt my earlier claim that “I am by nature a hopeful, and generally optimistic, person.” This post has been pretty much of a downer. But we can’t successfully fight an enemy if we can’t name it, and we can’t overcome an evil if we can’t describe it. Given the misinformation abroad in the world and in our popular media, identifying the sources of our perils accurately is more of a problem than it should be.

We can’t help how we feel. Bug we can help what we do with how we feel. We must have the courage to face our situation, before we can do anything about it. It’s a vital first step. Only then can we can educate ourselves and start to build a stronger future out of the rubble all around us.

So, it’s okay to feel what we feel. In fact, it’s more than “okay.” It’s absolutely essential.


I used the first illustration last year in my post “A Season of Small Bright Spots.” I found the uncredited illustration on Medpage Today. And it really bums me out that it’s appropriate again.

The quote image of Andrea the ICU Housekeeper is from the Brookings article, “Essential but Undervalued,” about the forgotten and underpaid front-line health care workers who keep hospitals running. I wanted to include both quotes from Oklahoma teachers. It was very hard to choose from among 20 insightful teacher-quotes in a Tulsa World article from July 2020. Many thanks to AZ Quotes, for the wisdom of David K. Shipler, and to BukRate for the timeless Hannah Arendt quote.

Deepest appreciation to Greta Thunberg for her iconic and straight-to the-heart words, to Wikipedia for making them available, and to the AP via the Los Angeles Times for the photo of Greta at the UN (I assembled the image-quote). And finally, I’m indebted to QuotesLyfe for the quote from poet, author, and founder of Icetratt Foundation for Social Investments, Oscar Auliq-Ice. Many thanks to all!

This is how the strong survive, a montage of happy roses.

Only the Strong Survive

By G. S. Norwood

I have blogged about my flower garden before. Heaven knows my Facebook friends are tired of the new iris and rose photos I post every spring. But this year it felt a little different, stepping out into my garden after the Great Texas Deep Freeze of this past February. When our temperatures dipped into single digits, I was afraid everything in my garden would die. With temperatures like that, only the strong survive.

The once-verdant plant stand is a disaster zone after the freeze.
The patio plant stand in happier days (at left). Today it’s a total loss. (G. S. Norwood).

Total Loss

Let’s get through the painful part first. My back patio plant stand, which has been thriving in fairly deep shade for at least the last five summers, is a total loss. I’ve managed to overwinter three types of ferns, and even some tender begonias, for the past two years. They all bit the dust this winter. Even though I covered them, they weren’t strong enough to survive snow and sub-zero nights.

The only up-side is that I now have a chance to clean out old pots and repaint the weathered boards I used to build the plant stand. The boards still need another coat of paint, but then it’s off to the nurseries for me. Fingers crossed that there will be anything left after all the other gardeners in the county turned out to replace the zillion plants they’d lost to the freezing temperatures.

If only the strong survive, the verdict is still out on the flame acanthus.
In happier days, the flame acanthus attracted hummingbirds to the window outside my home office. Now it’s mostly dead, with a few inappropriate volunteer trees mixed in. (G. S. Norwood).

Looking Dead

Out front there looked to be some obvious casualties. The creeping lemon thyme and the delightful blackfoot daisy that once spilled over the edge of my planter box were both undeniably dead, as was the dwarf butterfly bush I’d intended to plant in a bare spot last fall.

Other perennials, including three flame acanthus bushes, a Texas sage, my cluster of rock roses, and a newly planted abelia looked dead, but still had some spring in their twigs. I might have to do some pruning, but there is a chance they can come back from the root.

The clematis vine, on the trellis next to the front steps, also looked dead. But it always looks dead over the winter. I decided to hold out some hope that these plants were, to quote Miracle Max in The Princess Bride, “only mostly dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive.”

Built of sterner stuff than the Texas natives, the clematis bounced back.
The clematis vine was only mostly dead, but quickly came back to glorious life. (G. S. Norwood).

Only the Strong Survive

In contrast to the Texas natives like the flame acanthus and the blackfoot daisy, my roses apparently loved the cold snap. They have come roaring back this spring, with thick foliage, lots of blossoms, and nary a hint of black spot. Even the Snow Witch rose that got accidentally mowed over is blooming like never before. They brighten my days and perfume my yard. I’ll let them speak for themselves.

This is how the strong survive, a montage of happy roses.
The roses came roaring back. Clockwise from upper left: Maggie, Zephrine, Carnival Glass, Marie Daly (pink), Sweet Pegge, and the return of the previously-mowed Snow Witch. (G. S. Norwood).

Iris Festival

Like the roses, my iris are enjoying a great spring. Iris grow happily in colder climates. February’s freeze seems to have invigorated them. Old favorites like Titan’s Glory and War Chief are blooming lushly. I even have blooms this spring from rhizomes I planted years ago but never saw a flower from, including the spectacular Cantina and Medici Prince.

If only the strong survive, here’s a gallery of my iris heroes.
My iris are having a great spring. Clockwise from upper left: Diamond Lake, Cantina, Medici Prince, Titan’s Glory, Cascadian Rhythm, No Count Blues, Blue Heritage, and War Chief. (G. S. Norwood).

The Garden Evolves

I’m not going to tell you that I’m glad we had such cold weather this past winter. Never mind my plants; 151 Texans died because of that cold snap. We don’t need that again. But the freeze did give me the chance to reassess my garden. In the weeks ahead I will trim back the plants that got overgrown. Shape and reshape the overall composition of the borders out front. I’ll give big plants more room, root out volunteer trees that are in completely the wrong place, and make the whole thing just a little bit closer to my ideal. Because no garden is ever completely finished. A garden is a living thing that keeps the gardener busy, and happy, for a lifetime.


Many thanks to author G. S. Norwood for the photos she took of her garden. All are ©2020-2021 by G. S. Norwood. If you wish to use them, kindly attribute the photographer and provide a link back to this post. G. is the author of the urban fantasy “Deep Ellum” stories, set in the historic Deep Ellum neighborhood of Dallas, Texas. The montages were prepared by Jan S. Gephardt.

Photos of five featured buildings, “Bosco Verticale,” Parkroyal on Pickering, Namba Parks, Ivry-sur-Seine, and the Chicland Hotel.

Literally Green Buildings

Happy 51st Earth Day! Followers of Artdog Adventures may remember earlier posts about environmentally-friendly architecture. I tend to post them around Earth Day. People sometimes talk about “green buildings.” But there’s “green” as in eco-friendly, and then there’s “green” as in literally green buildings. And some are both.

What do I mean by “literally green buildings”?

When I say “literally green buildings,” I mean green with plants. Lately, more and more architects think about plants from the very start of planning. This goes way beyond landscaping for curb appeal. They plan to make the plants part of the building.

I have lots of reasons to be interested in this intersection of beneficial plants with built environments. I’m both a lifelong gardener and the daughter of an architectural design professor who instilled a love of buildings in me. And Rana Station, the fictional setting for my XK9 stories, is kind of the ultimate “built environment with plants.”

This montage shows “25 Verde,” Boeri’s “vertical forest,” and the Chicland Hotel with vines cascading from each balcony.
At left, two views of “25 Verde,” in Turin, Italy (Haute Residence). In the center, three views of the “Bosco Verticale” or “Vertical Forest” in Milan, Italy (stacked photos: Stefano Boeri Architetti. Full-length view: Green Roofs / Laura Gatti), and two views of VTN’s concept design for the Chicland Hotel in Da Nang, Vietnam (ArchDaily / VTN).

In previous posts I’ve spotlighted projects such as Luciano Pia’s “urban treehouse25 Verde, and Stefano Boeri’s Bosco Verticale, or “vertical forest.” The Italians don’t have a corner on that market, of course. VTN Architects in Vietnam create many spectacular, plant-centric designs. So do others.

Literally green buildings since before history

People have always loved to incorporate plants into their living spaces. That’s nothing new. Trees probably provided our first shelter. And evidence of prehistoric and early-historic dugout shelters can be found all over the world. Sod roofs date into antiquity in Scandinavia for highly practical reasons.

Green roofs then and now, as described in the cutline.
Green roofs are nothing new. At left, sod roofs on log buildings in the outdoor Norsk Folkemuseum of Oslo Norway (by Kjetil Bjørnsrud – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia), contemporary green roofs that include trees on a high-rise complex (Urbanscape Architecture), and Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant in Sister Bay, Wisconsin, where goats graze on the grassy roof (Country Living / Flickr / Jesse Lisa).

In the same way, sod homes for European migrants on the North American plains, winter houses for Aleut peoples in Alaska, and others have sheltered humans for centuries. Often grasses grew/grow on them. Sometimes animals graze on them. “Green roofs” started to get popular on city buildings in the early 1970s. That trend is still growing. They offer quite a list of benefits.

Literally green” means built for plants as well as people

For this post I’ve chosen developments that bring green spaces and plantings into exterior architecture. They are literally green buildings. Many studies have shown the benefits of green spaces and trees. And that goes double for cities.

People also incorporate “Green Walls” into indoor and outdoor spaces. I’ll focus on them in a future post. But for now, here are glimpses of three that caught my eye. I hope you like them, too.

Ivry-sur-Seine, Paris, France

Welcome to Communist France! Ivry-sur-Seine, a Paris suburb, is organized as a commune—one of several in France. And communist ideology inspired this residence development. The married architectural team of Jean Renaudie and Renée Gailhoustet designed them as affordable housing. Built between 1969 and 1975Les Etoiles” (“the stars”) are built with sharp angles on multiple levels, with many green spaces. They’re quite a unique vision. They’re also literally green buildings.

Five views of the Ivry-sur-Seine housing complex near Paris France.
Called “Les Etoiles” (“the Stars”) because of their angled shapes, these buildings present an earlier melding of nature and architecture than our other spotlighted sites. The two photos on the left are from the “KUDOYBOOK” blog, the center photo comes from @TopAmazingWorld on Twitter, and the two on the right are from Solarpunk Aesthetic on tumblr.

Namba Parks Shopping Center in Osaka, Japan

The curving lines, many levels, and distinctive plantings make this beautiful shopping district a Pinterest favorite. That’s where I first glimpsed it. Winner of an Urban Land Institute Award of Excellence in 2009, it creates a “natural intervention” in Osaka’s dense urban space. There’s a rooftop park, a “canyon” walkway, and eight levels of offices, shops, dining, and places to relax. Next door: a 46-story residential tower and a 30-story office tower.

4 views of Namba Parks from above.
Photographers from high above in neighboring high-rises have caught some great photos of Namba Parks. Top left and right, as well as the bottom photo are from ArchDaily’s article “Namba Parks / The Jerde Partnership.” Top-center “View from Above Namba Parks” is by 663highland, CC BY 2.5, via Wikimedia.

The Parkroyal Hotel in Singapore

Billed as a “Modern-Day Hanging Gardens of Babylon,” the sustainably-designed Parkroyal Hotel on Pickering opened in 2013. It gives another eye-opening melding of plants with architecture. The Singaporean architectural firm WOHA was already known for incorporating a lot of greenery into their buildings. They designed the balconies and other green spaces to support the weight and root systems. They also designed the plantings and specifically chose the species for ease of maintenance. I think it’s safe to say that the luxury Parkroyal on Pickering really takes the “park” part seriously.

8 photos of the Parkroyal on Pickering from a variety of angles.
If the Parkroyal Hotel on Pickering isn’t the most-photographed hotel in Singapore, it’s got to be right up there in the top ten. I found so many great shots of this place it was hard to narrow it down to just eight! Most of the photos in this collection are from Trip Advisor’s enormous gallery in its article on this highly-rated luxury hotel. That includes the one at lower left from a contributor identified as “Mcfulcher,” and the dizzying view down past the balconies to the street next to it, by a contributor identified as “cwydyy.” Others came from the hotel itself, except for the side-by-side photos at top far left and left. They’re courtesy of Forbes, provided by WOHA, the architectural firm that designed this unique bulding. You can especially see the deep, sturdy structure that securely supports all the verdant plant life in the photos at far left.


It worked out better this time to ID the photo credits in the cutlines for each montage. See those for the most complete information.

The exception is the Header photo. In that montage, which doesn’t get a cutline. I collected five of the most unique buildings featured in this post. L-R: First the “Bosco Verticale” or “Vertical Forest” in Milan, Italy (Green Roofs / Laura Gatti). Next, the Parkroyal Hotel on Pickering in Singapore (Trip Advisor / “cwydyy”). At center, “View from Above Namba Parks” in Osaka, Japan (663highland, CC BY 2.5 / Wikimedia). Next comes a view of “Les Etoiles” of Ivry-sur-Seine near Paris, France (@TopAmazingWorld / Twitter). At far right, VTN’s concept for the Chicland Hotel in Da Nang, Vietnam (ArchDaily / VTN).

The Bryant family of Garland, TX huddled in front of the fireplace with their kids and their dog.

Surviving a Not-So-Natural Disaster

By G. S. Norwood

I grew up in Missouri, so I know about snow. I’ve been caught in a blizzard, snowed in over Christmas, and endured a January with fresh snow storms every three days. I know how to deal with natural disasters like those. So did the public utility companies of my native state. But I live in Texas now, and last week I only barely managed to survive a not-so-natural disaster. I credit my Missouri smarts, but I blame the government infrastructure that totally failed Texas.

It’s Not Like We Weren’t Warned

Weather forecasters in Texas tend to panic at the mere thought of ice. They’d been telling us for weeks that we were due for a dance with the Polar Vortex. We knew it was coming. Like any sensible person, I prepped my house, draining hoses and changing furnace filters. I stocked up on things like toilet paper and pet food. The Polar Vortex could bring it.

On Friday, February 12, I picked up my grocery order for the week, full of sandwich stuff and the ingredients for a big batch of chili. There had been a 133-car pileup to the west, in Fort Worth, that morning. Six people had died on an iced-over freeway ramp. We all shook our heads in dismay, but the roads were clear in my city. A few tiny flecks of very dry snow were starting to fall, and it was getting colder, but I was okay.

Cars, SUVs, trucks, and tractor-trailer units lie tumbled and smashed across several lanes of ice-shiny highway. On either side of the pileup, a dozen emergency vehicles, as well as police and firefighters scramble to help victims.
The debacle on I-35W near Fort Worth, TX. (Lawrence Jenkins / Special Contributor / via The Dallas Morning News)

The snow started in earnest on Saturday. I like snow, and I was indoors, warm and well-fed. My dogs wanted to go out and play. The cats wanted to sleep. My biggest concern was for the birds; I didn’t want my bird feeder to run out of safflower seed.

A Not-So-Natural Disaster

By Sunday morning the snow was about four inches deep, including in my driveway and street. A rabbit had hopped across my front lawn sometime overnight. The morning paper warned of possible “rolling blackouts” to protect the electrical grid from strain over excessive demand. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) promised these blackouts would last fifteen to 45 minutes each and be no big deal.

They lied. ERCOT and local energy providers had run cost/benefit analyses on winterizing the grid the way the rest of the country has done, and decided they’d rather save money than lives. That decision created a not-so-natural disaster.

The ERCOT control room has and extensive array of screens and futuristic-looking control desks.
The ERCOT control room looks a lot more advanced than its grid turned out to be. (@ERCOT_ISO / Twitter, via E&E News)

Timeline for a Not-So-Natural Disaster

On Monday, at 2:00 am, my power went out for the first time. It was out for about 30 minutes. We’d never had rolling blackouts back in Missouri, but if that was what they were like, I figured I could handle them.

At 3:30 am the power went off again. At 4:00 am, I woke up because the house was getting really cold.

That blackout lasted for eight hours. The indoor temperature got down to 40 degrees (F). I could see my breath. My house is all electric, so I couldn’t cook food, make tea, or shower. I had no light and, although I have a fireplace, I had no wood to burn in it. The internet was gone, but my phone was charged. Our local news kept repeating ERCOT’s lie about the 15 to 45-minute rolling blackouts. They recommended we drink hot beverages to stay warm, assuming everybody had a gas stove.

Nearby buildings are dark, but a few blocks over the lights remained on in downtown Dallas.
One deeply unpopular energy-saving strategy utilized partial blackouts like this one in Dallas. (Brandon Wade, via The Dallas Morning News)

Dark Night of the Soul

On Monday afternoon my power came back on for a couple of hours. I hurried to cook a serious meal and make myself hot tea. Every device went on a charger, while I closed off rooms and left drips on all my faucets to keep my pipes from freezing and breaking. Then the lights went off again.

Oncor, my local electric company, admitted that the rolling blackouts might last up to an hour. They told us to only make a report if the power was out for more than 60 minutes. I took grim satisfaction in reporting every hour on the hour as my power outage stretched into the evening.

Temperatures continued to drop, headed for a low of 2 degrees overnight. A friend reported it was 34 degrees in her kitchen. Around 9:00 pm an ambulance took away my next-door neighbor, an eighty-year-old stroke survivor.

I woke at 1:30 am on Tuesday. Fully dressed, buried in blankets, wrapped in jackets and coats and gloves, I was still cold. Wool boot socks did not keep my toes warm, even under the covers. I know about hypothermia, so when I began to shiver, I knew I was in trouble. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t want to get out of bed to find the tissues so I could blow my nose.

The Bryant family of Garland, TX huddled in front of the fireplace with their kids and their dog.
Weathering ERCOT’s blackouts challenged many families in Texas. The Bryant family cuddled by the fireplace in a pile of blankets with their kids and the family dog (wearing two doggie sweaters), in their home in Garland. (Smiley N. Pool, via The Dallas Morning News)

What’s A Woman to Do?

Frightened for my safety, alone except for my animals, I thought about calling 911. But what would I ask them to do? I didn’t need hospitalization, and my city hadn’t opened any warming centers. Who should I call? A mental health line?

Oncor got another outage report from me, and then I did what any pissed-off American citizen should do in such circumstances. Hunched over my tiny phone screen, I pounded out an angry e-mail to my state representative, demanding he introduce legislation to mandate modernization throughout the Texas electrical grid. Another angry screed went to ERCOT, pointing out what utter failures they were. Invoking images of frozen grannies, clutching their paid-up electric bills, I also referenced of frozen nuts. I didn’t mean pecans.

Then I burrowed deeper under my covers and resigned myself to the cold and the dark. I had my rage to keep me warm.

In this editorial cartoon a Texan in a cowboy hat, coat and muffler holds a mug under the frozen spigot of a container marked “Deregulation.”
Editorial Cartoon by Nick Anderson / Tribune Content Agency via

A New Day

When I woke up Tuesday morning, I discovered I hadn’t been the only angry emailer, tweeter, or caller to communicate with our representatives overnight. Some mayor out in West Texas got so tired of the calls he told everybody the government owed them nothing. He quickly became an ex-mayor. Our United States Senator decided to fly to Cancun, where it was warm. The response he got from his constituents was even hotter.

But Texas’ let-business-regulate-itself governor actually called for new legislation to regulate ERCOT. It seemed like everybody (who didn’t fly to Cancun) agreed: this was a not-so-natural disaster, and we wanted those responsible to pay.

By Tuesday night—Oh! Look! Actual rolling blackouts began to happen. They were more like two hours on; six hours off, but they were sort of predictable, and cycled more quickly through the night. On Wednesday, around noon, my power came back on and has stayed on ever since. By Saturday, February 20, a solid week after things began to go bad, the temps in my part of Texas popped up into the 40s, and the snow melted away.

A low camera angle catches frost on the grass in a Texas field at dawn.
A frosty morning in Texas from an “ITAP” (I took a picture) thread on Reddit. (Alyssa J. Perez)


It will take a while to get back to normal. The New York Times reports at least 58 people died as a result of this not-so-natural disaster. The Dallas Morning News reported that broken pipes and cold-related damage will cost insurance companies more than Hurricane Harvey did back in 2017. Politicians have called for investigations. People have called plumbers and lawyers, and started to look for someone to sue.

Me? I’m just happy I survived. I am safe and warm, and my house is undamaged. For just this quiet moment of time, that’s good enough for me.


Many thanks to The Dallas Morning News for three of the photos in this post! First, for the “Debacle on I-35W,” with extra thanks to photographer Lawrence Jenkins. Second, for the “Partial Blackout in Downtown Dallas,” with a tip of the hat to photographer Brandon Wade. And thirdly for the “Family Survival Cuddle,” with gratitude to staff photographer Smiley N. Pool. The “ERCOT Control Room” photo is from ERCOT itself (on Twitter), via E&E News. We offer our deepest gratitude to Nick Anderson and Tribune Content Agency for the “Kool-Aid is Frozen” cartoon, via And we also appreciate the “Frosty Texas Morning” photo by Alyssa J. Perez, via an “I Took A Picture” thread on Reddit. We appreciate all of you!

G.’s Housemates:

For posts about the other living things that share G.’s home, you might enjoy “The Snow Witch Sisters” and “How Does Your Garden Grow?” about her gardens (we hope they survived), “The Texas Pack,” about her dogs, or “Cats in Space?” and “The Universe Gives Me a Cat,” about . . . we bet you can guess!

This Muhammad Ali quote says, "Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth."

What are our priorities?

I think we all understand that life will change after the pandemic, but what are our priorities? What guiding principles will light our way and inform those changes? In the face of glaring inequities revealed by the crisis, I worry about this.

Perhaps I should explain where I stand. I believe that the proper role of government is to defend and work for its citizensAll of them, not just the rich and powerful. This idealistic view parallels passages in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, or, at least it does the way I was taught to read them.

Unfortunately, what we see unfolding in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic all too often reflects different priorities.

Priorities revealed

It’s a truism that we don’t really know what we’re made of till we’re tested. 

This quote from Warren W. Wiersbe reads, "After all, a crisis doesn't make a person; it reveals what a person is made of."
Many thanks to QuoteFancy, for this quote from Warren W. Wiersbe.

For every prediction that smart investors should migrate to renewable energy, there also seems to be a view to the contrary that “We can no longer indulge the impulses of “environmental” activists. Sanitary plastic grocery bags are safer than reusables. Mass transit and densely-packed cities spread infections. Automobiles and suburban/rural living are healthier,” as Jerry Shenk put it recently.

Other decision-making whipsaws reflect just as little consensus. Whose priorities should we value? Whose should we reject as unworthy? 

Varied views of future outcomes

I’ve read interesting stories about wildlife venturing into areas where traffic has dropped off. Others about historically clean air in places where traffic has dropped off. And one about ways to make cities more walking friendly and keep car traffic at lower levels after the pandemic (see a trend, there?).

I’ve seen several articles about ordinary people’s decimated savings. Others explore the disastrous effect of recent public policies. And a flood of new ways for creative people to grow their businesses continues as people discover new and old techniques. 

Not only that, but there are predictions about ways our minds will change about things such as social distancingwork from homechild care, and universal health care. I’ve also read more cynical predictions about how some will spin retrospectives to skew perceptions if possible.

This quote from James Baldwin says, "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced."
Many thanks to Goalcast, for this quote from James Baldwin.

Our decisions reveal our priorities

Most of my fellow countrymen/women are pretty decent folks, as individuals. We’ve seen gallant examples of selflessnessself-sacrifice, and public spirit as this pandemic rolls out. These warm my heart and give me hope.

Some of my most-accessed blog posts in recent weeks have been those about ways to thank first responders, and how to understand and respond to their stress.

Many Americans–many people all over the world–understand the deep things. The value of honest work, the worth of a thank-you, the joy of praising admirable deeds.

This Muhammad Ali quote says, "Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth."
Many thanks to Discover Corps for this quote from Muhammad Ali.

But we’ve also seen a different spirit. 

It reveals itself in the unseemly scramble of large, publicly-traded companies grabbing up vast sums of money meant to go to small businesses struggling to stay afloat. The rules allowed it, so they grabbed. Some of them gave it back once they were caught. 

We’ve also seen banks garnish stimulus money from overdrawn customers, pre-empting what was meant to be grocery and rent money from ever reaching the desperate would-be recipients.

And we’ve seen crowds of closely-packed protestors, mostly white folk with guns, demanding that the lockdowns be ended immediately so they can get haircuts, among other things. They claim a constitutional right to liberty, plus economic insecurity, drives them. Although other motives have been noted.

What are our priorities? 

Now is the moment for us to decide. Are things more important than people?

Is our convenience more important than other people’s lives? Do we even have the right to make the decision that it is?

Who gets to decide how many deaths are “acceptable losses”–and, acceptable to exactly whom?

Do we live in a country that is of, by, and most especially for the people? All of the people? And, for this question’s purposes, corporations are not people, my friend. 

This quote from Mahatma Gandhi says, "The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members."

I very much worry how history will evaluate our true measure, based on how we order our priorities today.

How do you think we should form–and inform–the priorities that will guide us into the future? What are you doing to join that conversation?


Many thanks to QuoteFancy, for the Warren W. Wiersbe quote; to GoalCast, for the quote from James Baldwin; to DiscoverCorps, for the quote from Muhammad Ali; and to AZ Quotes, for the Mahatma Gandhi quote. I appreciate you all!

The illustrated title says "Happy Earth Day Celebrating 50 Years."

Earth Day, fifty years on

Earth Day, fifty years on, looks a lot different from the early Earth Days I remember. 

Followers of this blog may recall my claim to be “older than dirt” (as a gardener who composts, I can confidently make that claim). I also am older than Earth Day.

As with many things in the 1970s, however, I came to Earth Day a bit late. Many schools in the US let out classes or didn’t count absences, if students left campus to participate in peaceful demonstrations or “teach-ins” on April 22, 1970 (Seriously! What an awesome civics lesson!). But not my high school in conservative southwest Missouri! 

(Video courtesy of YouTube)

No, we may have glimpsed a story about it on the news. And it may have begun in a bipartisan spirit of cooperation. But it would take a few more years, and my evolution into a “somewhat-hippie” college art major, before I actively participated in any observances of Earth Day.

An expanding movement

The first Earth Day was a mixed success, but the movement persisted, because the problems didn’t go away. Decades of laissez-faire non-regulation of toxins in the environment had turned most of the “developed” world into a toxic mess

I cringe when I hear about recent changes that make the Environmental Protection Agency less able to hold polluters accountable, or when supposedly-reasonable political leaders discount climate change.

In this 1952 black-and-white photo, a tugboat squirts water on a fire that is burning atop the extremely polluted Cuyahoga River near Cleveland, OH.
The Cuyahoga River caught fire several times near Cleveland, OH, during the mid-20th Century. It got to be kind of a routine event. This is a photo from June 25, 1952, when it still seemed kind of novel. (historic photo courtesy of Wired)

That’s because I remember when the Cuyahoga River could be set on fire by sparks from a passing train. And I remember rarely being able to see the mountains from Denver (while the view of Denver from the mountains was a reddish-looking haze of pollution). I also remember being in Kansas City for only a day, before I could wipe a layer of grime off my car from particulates in the air.

In this 1980s-era photo, the Denver skyline and the Rockies beyond it are only dimly visible through the reddish-brown haze of pollution that routinely hung over the city.
Denver smog alert, 1980s-era (photo courtesy of the EPA).

But the USA wasn’t alone. Irresponsible governments and companies were freely destroying the whole world. So by the 1990s, Earth Day had grown into a global event. We all have a stake in our planet’s health!

Fifty years on, “Earth Day is widely recognized as the largest secular observance in the world.”

But 50 years on, there’s still a lot to do

Global climate change is still accelerating. Too many powerful people don’t want to change, don’t want to risk having to pay for cleanups, and don’t seem to think they’ll suffer too many consequences if they drag their feet.

On this blog, I’ve sounded the alarm about deforestationhabitat lossextreme weather, and other aspects of climate change that affect us now–today.

And there’s plenty we can do. Let’s choose greater energy efficiency in our own lifestyles, advocate for climate-wise policies in our local, state, and national government, and stay aware and informed. 

Volunteer opportunities abound. So do donation opportunities. If we have more time than money, it’s pretty easy to find and get involved in local clean-ups, community gardening efforts, educational work, or any of the many other initiatives.

There are as many different paths to a better future as there are people–but time is running out. Fifty years on, Earth Day reminds us that the cost of ignoring the problem is too ghastly to accept.

The image reads, "Happy Earth Day."
(Image courtesy of Earth911)


Many thanks to for the “Happy Earth Day 50 Years” featured image, and to YouTube for the 1970-vintage video from CBS. I’m grateful to Wired, for the historic photo of the Cuyahoga River on fire in 1952, and to the EPA for the photo of 1980s-era Denver. And finally, many thanks to Earth911, for the “Happy Earth Day” greeting image.

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