Sunday, December 29, 2013

Dinner Conversation

Rim Fire from NASA Earth Observatory
I read a news story in the LA Times last week about a guy named Tom Steyer. I'd never heard of him before, but it turns out he's a billionaire who is spending some of his fortune on environmental issues (which makes us very happy). One of the things that struck me in the article was this quote about climate change, "If you're not talking about it at the kitchen table, you don't really care about it."

I think the reason it struck me is that Roger and I do talk about it at the kitchen table. We always have very serious conversations at dinner. It's one of our favorite times to just sit and talk. We have a glass or two of wine and wonder about the future of the planet. We think about where we should move, where there might be adequate rainfall and enough water, where the temperatures won't be too unbearably hot for summer gardening of cruciferous vegetables. We think about what our grandchildren will have to contend with in thirty or forty years, or less depending on who or what you are reading.

Our smoky yard in August
I have to confess here. I am obsessed about climate change. I read crazy long articles about it and shorter ones that compile statistics and data. I just finished reading this article in Salon that summarized weather and climate events of 2013. I was left with trying to imagine a tornado 2.6 miles (4.2 km) wide. The author mentions the Rim Fire, but I don't have to even imagine that one. The smoke from that blaze darkened our skies and choked our air for weeks this past summer. Right now, California is about to have its driest year on record. A rainless year will only mean more fires, among other crazy big problems.

I am on a mailing list of a local grain farmer. He sent an email yesterday in which he wrote, "In what's looking like our third year of drought I have been thinking about what it will mean if this is what the future will be like. In my region it very well could be unpredictable winters of very dry or very wet as the climate changes.  I've been reading Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land by Gary Paul Nabhan, the ethnobotanist, historian, and writer about desert dwellers. It's about how people have adapted, or not, to extreme dry conditions and how we might think about the situation for ourselves. How will we feed everybody if California's salad basket or the corn belt no longer have predictable water supplies? At least, food for thought if not for our stomachs."

Roger and I believe that we are facing a dire future, and we don't think there is any will whatsoever to change anything. Sadly, we also are starting to think it might already be too late. This is what we talk about at dinner. We wonder if you talk about this too? What do other people talk about at dinner? We'd love to know. We'd also like to know if there has been any sign of climate change in your neck of the woods. Do you have a sense what the impact might be where you live? Drier? Wetter? Hotter? Colder? Just curious about your personal take on how things are going to change for you in your lifetime. Tell us your climate change story, join in our dinner conversation. Please!

And, Roger just reminded me of this interesting website about another important conversation we should be having at dinner.

More good reading to be found here and here

Sorry to end the year with such a somber post. Well, at least we can celebrate that my mom is doing well!

Happy New Year!

30 comments:

  1. I feel a lot of the same concern with the way a certain tribe of humans think money can control everything. Very difficult times. Who knows where it's heading

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  2. We talk about this just as you do. We also torment our family and friends talking about it, we share your fear. The hardest part is knowing that something - in fact quite a lot - could be done about it if only those in power (your country and mine and any other) had the will to look beyond their limited horizons. .

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  3. Wanted to add my climate change story: We live close to the largest river in Europe, Rhine, which is mainly fed by Alpine glaciers in Switzerland which are rapidly declining. Predictions vary but the river will dry out if things continue as is.In 30 years? In 20 years? In 100 years? Who cares? Add to this increasing heat waves, sever rain storms, tornadoes where none have ever been experienced. And if the sea level rise in Europe continues, 70 million people will lose their homes along the coast and the salty swills will destroy our inland farming areas in the not too distant future. And this is the mild version.

    Of course, we try and we know of many other who do: we produce our own solar energy, we cycle, walk and use public transport, we try and implement all the ideas of the transition movement etc. we feel just as helpless.

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  4. You live in a dry bit I live the other side of the world & it's wet & windy. Blame the greedy company's and the government. Have a Happy New year.

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  5. I keep thinking, "What will life be like for my grandkids and great-grands? They've never had any difficulty; they don't know how to live without technology. How will they ever cope?" I long ago lost hope of the people in power (government or commerce) doing anything at all until it's far too late.

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  6. I would love to sit in on your dinner time conversations, not that I would have anything intelligent to contribute but just to learn and learn.

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  7. We live a little north of you, in Chico CA. This county (Butte) is a bright 'Red' county in a 'Red' Central Valley. Agriculture is the only business here and yet, it's the home of thousands of Climate Change deniers. Our Congressman is a subsidized rice farmer. Think of the huge amounts of water needed to grow rice, yet he's a denier. Like you, we saw huge fires last summer and can't even imagine what will happen this coming year. We're 21" behind in our rainfall amounts and no rain is in sight. We're in our 70's and we worry about our grandkids and great grandkids. We'll survive for the few years we have left but the children have no memories that will help them.

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  8. We don't particularly talk about it at any set time but we regularly discuss it and anything new we have seen on the topic as to whether it makes sense or not. We also discuss what we can do to make possible a good life for our kids and grandkids in the event of catastrophe. We have evolved on what that would be as the situation goes on. I won't say I worry about it. There are too many more immediate places for worry but I do feel concern and vote/support candidates accordingly. Likewise it's good to support groups getting out facts and that means with donations-- small or big. We are seeing differences locally in Oregon but whether that is cycle or permanent change, that remains to be seen. I am a big believer in facts and putting them out wherever possible, and making sure what upsets me most is within my range of control. I may not be able to change climate but being aware seems important and doing what I can

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  9. rain-- I often muse on the psychopaths who believe that their financial interests are more important than the planet on which they live.

    Sabine-- Thank you so much for sharing your story. One of the reasons Roger and I want to move from these dry foothills is that all of our excursions require us to drive. That is unacceptable for us. We want to be able to walk into town or bike ride. Your story about the Rhine is so much like our dry California rivers.

    Bill-- It really is all about greed, which seems pretty cray to me.

    Susannah-- We think it is going to be very tough on the next generation and the one after that. It's going to be bleak, and it surprises me how nothing is really being done in a serious way.

    Pablo-- You've been at our virtual dinner table for years! We love your company and contribution.

    Steven-- I read something the other day about one of our Senators and a Congressman from the central valley wanting our our governor to declare an emergency drought situation. The interesting thing is that the subtext was that there would somehow be more water for agriculture. OF COURSE. Fortunately, the governor declined their request, for now. We are planning on selling our house in the spring and move back to the coast, where we're hoping there might be more precipitation. We'll have to contend with the radiation from Fukushima and the ongoing poisoning of our beautiful oceans, but we choose that over the dry times ahead.

    Rain-- We are doing pretty much the same as you. We are trying to stay informed, support candidates who actually care about the planet, and figure out a way to stay safe in a catastrophe. I must say that we are glad that we are older, and will likely be gone before the worst of it.

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  10. Here's another conversation we all should be having:
    http://deathoverdinner.org/

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  11. Somber but necessary. We also worry about the future of our planet. Not only the global warming but the dangerous shale fracking which we fear will pollute our ground water. We are grateful we live near the continental divide where the water originates but worry about all downstream.

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  12. NCmountainwoman-- There are things we are doing to the planet that absolutely blows my mind. Fracking is one of them. When will we ever learn?

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  13. I think people generally believe what they need to believe to make themselves comfortable, in everything from religion to politics. Plus, of course, people generally can't plan rationally for things that are too far in the future. If we have a drought that lasts a few years and then get a year with a lot of rain, people start thinking that we will never have another drought. After all, it's raining today, right? If people were smart, they would pay attention to what insurance companies are doing. They're in the business of winning bets; you bet you will suffer a loss, and they bet you won't. And they adjust the odds so that they win on average. If insurance companies are taking into account the potential harmful effects of global warming, you can be sure they have calculated the odds very rigorously and see those harmful effects as too probable to ignore.

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  14. Mark P-- After reading your comment, Roger remembered reading that the Department of Defense is considering climate change in part of its planning for national security. A real threat is looming, and there is a concerted effort by some to delude the public about it. Still, in the biggest sense our way of life is simply not set up in any way to make the kind of changes necessary to forestall the consequences of how we live.

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  15. Post Carbon Institute is a think tank that focuses on peak oil, climate change and how to survive in a post-carbon energy world. I neither recommend nor dis-recommend (is that a word?) it, but worth a look for those researching those issues.
    I've read that we're supposed to have wetter weather in the northeast, but it's really been see-sawing, I think--dry years alternating with wet years. The average temps are definitely edging up and we are having more winter-time rain than I ever remember.
    Summer storms are more severe more frequently. Tornadoes used to be the rarest of oddities. Now they are a worry throughout the summer.

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  16. Also, I LOVE the new photo at the top--the reflected iridescence.

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  17. Re: dinner conversations It's a good thing to discuss the state of the world, shows you are paying attention, which of course I know you are. Interestingly, I was thinking about the 3rd year of drought as I commuted today. Usually I just tolerate the rain, as it makes a mess of driving and I have no fondness for gray days, although I know that we need the rain very much. Today for the first time in a long while, I actually wished for rain. I still would prefer it to rain overnight. Glad to see Mom and Bonsai looking well. And the new photo is very cool too! lindaj

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  18. CCorax-- We'll check out the Post Carbon Institute. Thank you for the (dis)-recommendation. Part of me wishes I could stick around to see what's going to happen in 50 years, and part of me is so glad to be way too old to do anything like that. I guess the '60s generation lucked in more ways than any of us every considered. So glad you like the iridescent header. I sent that pic to Les Cowley at Atmospheric Optics, and he said he was going to post it there some time. I am so glad about that.

    Lindaj-- We've had those dinner conversations in real life with you and Jerome. We absolutely know that you think about it, which is why it was so good to be your neighbors way back in the good old days. Yes, we need the rain. And it is so interesting to know how much we get accustomed to the sunny sunny blue skies days of drought.
    Glad you like the new photo. And yes, my mom and Bonsai are doing well. Thank you.

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  19. "We think about where we should move, where there might be adequate rainfall and enough water, where the temperatures won't be too unbearably hot for summer gardening of cruciferous vegetables."

    -Sounds ever so much like Port Townsend ;-)

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  20. "How will we feed everybody if California's salad basket or the corn belt no longer have predictable water supplies?"

    I would say, we're not obligated to feed everybody. People should have started limiting their numbers 4 decades ago. Our culture did (despite backward and religion-driven pockets here and there), so I feel we deserve to eat first. We'll have to start limiting exports if production declines. And for f**k's sake quit converting food to gasoline.

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  21. Phil-- It does sound ever so much like Port Townsend. Just wish PT was at a different latitude, say 40 degrees north instead of 48. I know, I'm spoiled!

    I'm not sure we deserve to eat first. We here in the US have been the main culprits in heating up the planet. Our consumption far exceeds are numbers.

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  22. The time for serious conversations around the kitchen table to have really been fruitful has long since passed, I'm afraid. While we, too, have those conversations, it's rather like discussing how we can put the atomic genie back in the bottle. I'd like to be less glum about it, but I'm too much of a realist, I think...but then, on occasion, I have these bursts of hopefulness...ach, to have an answer!

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  23. John-- I know you know that I completely agree with you. I am a realist too, and therefore am glum as well. Those bursts of hopefulness are fun to experience though. Fleeting and interesting.

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  24. It's one of the realizations that's surprised me the most in recent years: what people DON'T talk about, at the dinner table or anywhere else. That and how quickly one can become a skunk at a garden party by just mentioning certain subjects.

    Our most frequent topic of conversation nowadays is The Sixth Great Extinction and those that have preceded it.

    We talk throughout the day so we try to keep dinner conversation a bit lighter!

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  25. Marcy-- I've been reading about the Sixth Great Extinction. How sad it is to know that this is happening right before our eyes. I'm not sure why it's inappropriate to bring up the truth about our times, but the fact that it is, is part of the problem.

    Thank you so much for commenting. We appreciate hearing from you.

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  26. Read your post and all the comments with great interest and empathy. I feel your pain. It is my pain. It drives me nuts. We (the collective) have grand children and great grands to be concerned about. It ain't all about us. Time to meditate and breathe before I go nutso.

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  27. Coming in late, as usual. I share the general despair about those in power and authority ever coming to grips with this problem, let alone actually doing anything about it. As with guns, political funding, health care--and virtually everything else--there are too many wealthy interests at stake. I'd like to do more than I do to raise awareness, but share that feeling of powerlessness some of your responders have mentioned. Also, sadly, I must fess up to my contribution to the ungodly mess: I own two cars. I eat meat. The slant of my roofs puts a solar solution out of contention, so I continue to consume electric power. And so on... Good on you for bringing up the subject and keeping it in mind!

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  28. Tara-- It drives me nuts too. I worry and I grieve.

    Peter-- I think about our contribution every time I get in the car. That's why it's really nearly impossible to change things in any significant way. The world is built on this system, and disrupting it is much too much work.

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  29. I think about it all the time. As you know, we spend a lot of time away from home. Usually, it's in the desert. Everywhere you look, there are new cities, suburbs, or even neighborhoods popping up. I wonder if anybody buying in these areas gives a single thought about where their drinking, washing, or toilet flushing water comes from? I also wonder when we are going to start seeing desalinization plants in southern California? I just saw a photo of Lake Cachuma on the news. It is FIFTY FOUR feet below normal. All the rivers and creeks in the area are bone dry. Yeah, I think about it a lot.

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  30. Pat-- Somehow I knew that you'd be thinking about it too. Interesting times right now. I'm sure we'll eventually get some rain, and everyone will forget what a drought looks like. But the longterm climate change forecasts are not very good. It's a spooky new world.

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