Coastal Christmas

OK.  We can probably agree that my Advent Calendaring consistency leaves something to be desired.  I didn’t manage a daily giving suggestion – but I think I did blog more in the last few weeks than in the previous year or so!  It’s nice to be on speaking terms with my blog, again.

I took the photo above at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Moss Beach, CA, just north of Half Moon Bay, a couple of years ago.  It’s one of my favorite places to visit, and I go with the eternal hope that I will spot an octopus in the tide pools.   So far, they have eluded me, but the other tide pool creatures and visuals more than make up for them.  The Reserve has a great little ranger station with species checklists and information, and very knowledgeable docents are often on hand on the beach.  If you live in the Bay Area and haven’t been here, treat yourself (it’s free).  And if you get out here for a visit, put this spot on your list.

Last week – in fact, the same day I was pant-hooting about chimpanzee retirements – there was some very good news for sea creatures.  California finalized the largest network of undersea reserves in the continental United States!  Maybe I don’t say this enough, California: I love you.  I love that coastal protection priorities continue to survive incredible odds and powerful opposition, and that something like the Marine Life Protection Act can be enacted and fulfilled.  Marine protection areas work.  Merry Christmas, coastal creatures!

Something fishy

CohoSalmon_FlickrCreativeCommons_SoggydanDanBennett_BY_3.jpg
Photo credit, FlickrCommons/Dan Bennett.

During the last two years, I fell in love with salmon.  Not the way most people fall in love with salmon — poached, grilled, etc. (although I’ve been there, too).  I fell in love with the magnificent creature that is spawned in a small, woodsy stream, navigates increasingly treacherous rivers to spend a few years at sea, and then finds its way back to its natal stream to die.  Yes, I’m talking about a fish.  But what a fish!  Seriously, watch this PBS/Nature special, “Salmon: Running the Gauntlet,” which turned out to be one of the most-watched Nature specials ever (the full episode can be watched at that link).

And read “Grace Behind Glass,” a wonderful essay in High Country News, by Ana Maria Spagna.   This part always gets me a little misty-eyed:

A digital ticker above the emergency exit lists the number of each species that passes through the dam. So far today the video monitor has counted 238 chinook, 242 steelhead, 28 sockeye, three lamprey. The miracle, I realize, is not just that the fish survive, but that they’re shepherded past this dangerous place. By biologists, engineers, activists, judges and ratepayers. We’ve made mistakes, God knows. No surprise there. The surprise is that, despite rancor and derision, despite terrorist protections and antiquated facilities, despite our ignorance, even, about why salmon runs swell or deplete, we can still, collectively, decide to spend $107 million to try to get juvenile fish downstream. Just so they can come back up. What hard-wired instinct is this? In a world of such weight and trouble, to care for a creature shorter than my shin.

Most people close to me expected me to write mostly about gorillas and chimpanzees when I tackled interspecies justice in my dissertation.  But when it came down to picking a good animal to “think with,” it turned out to be fish, and I zeroed in on salmon.  One of the carrots I dangled in front of myself through the long writing process is that I would start volunteering with SPAWN (Salmon Protection and Watershed Network) one or two Saturdays/month when I finished.  Although I finished several months ago, I haven’t yet freed up the Saturdays – but I will!  In the meantime, I will tell you that this organization does great work, protecting and restoring coho salmon habitat, and training citizens to do the same.  And between now and December 31, your membership contributions will be matched and thus doubled.  As I said in the last entry, I love a matching donation campaign.

(Almost forgot to mention: for some truly gorgeous salmon images, check out Todd Mintz’s incredible photos of a sockeye salmon run in British Columbia.)

A random act of blogging

(Update: typo fixed. :)) (Update 2: more typos fixed. I should probably do my blogging earlier in the evening.)

On the heels of mind-boggling recent world events, bizarre tornado warnings in the peninsula region south of SF over the weekend, and news that the geologist known chiefly for predicting the 1989 “World Series quake” – Jim Berkland – is now predicting that coastal California or Mexico will have a significant earthquake sometime this week… my good friend and occasional co-blogger abc41 emailed, half-joking, “do you suppose the Apocalypse is upon us?”  I told her the thought had crossed my mind, leading me to wonder if I should write faster and try to finish my dissertation before the world ends, or just pack up and go on a long, lovely hike somewhere.  The hike is definitely tempting.  Then again, if this group (who shall remain nameless on my blog, lest it become a “hit” for someone searching for them on Google) is correct, I’ve at least got until May 21 to finish the dissertation.  That’s not so very far from the June 1 deadline I set with my advisor.  And if I’m not raptured, I can polish the text and schedule my oral defense for the first week of September, thus wrapping everything up during the “153 days of death and horror before the world ends on October 21.”  On the other hand, if the world ends on October 21, my dissertation project – which treats the protection/preservation of other animals as a matter of justice – will be a moot point.

I shared with some other friends the not-surprising-news that trace amounts of radiation from the Japanese Fukushima Daiichi reactor had been detected in Sacramento.  One wrote back dryly, “we can be assured that the radiation released is insignificant in comparison to any one of the hundreds of above ground nuclear tests between 1945 and 1962.”  Then he provided a link to a stunning and very effective animation by Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto, plotting those above ground tests.  Watch it.

At 4:30 a.m. PST, the day of the Sendai earthquake, my father phoned to tell us there was a tsunami headed our way and he didn’t want us to sleep through it.  As it happened, we were having a stranger and more sleepless night than usual, and my Better Half had just gotten up to watch television and saw the news.  We live high enough that the tsunami – had it made more than a ripple in San Francisco – would not have reached us.  But it made us both say, for the third or fourth time since the Christchurch NZ earthquake at the end of February, “we have GOT to get our ‘earthquake kit‘ together!”  Then I spotted that Jim Berkland prediction on one of my Twitter follows last night, and I decided to stop talking about it and go do it.  I got in the car at 10 p.m., and went to the store for the supplies we know we should always have on hand.  Here’s hoping Dr. Berklund is wrong, but if he isn’t – I’ve got us stocked up well enough that it’d be at least a week before we’d have to dip into the rain barrel for water or feed peanut butter sandwiches to the dogs and cats.

Now I think a little sweetness and light is in order, don’t you?  In my web-wanderings last night, I came across this wonderful story about Codie Rae, a German Shepherd dumped at the Oakland animal shelter in 2006 with a badly infected leg and a note instructing that she be euthanized.  Thankfully, they didn’t.  Five years later, Codie Rae is an overachieving “tripod” who co-stars in a delightful new music video by Patrick Stump.  Enjoy.

On the heels of mind-boggling recent world events, bizarre tornado warnings in thepeninsula region south of SF over the weekend, and news that the geologist known 

chiefly for predicting the 1989 “World Series quake” – Jim Berklund – is predicting

that coastal California or Mexico will have a significant earthquake sometime this

week (and I may as well add the launching of another war http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-libya-fighting-20110320,0,1292435.story )… my good friend and occasional co-blogger abc41 emailed, half-joking, “do you

suppose the Apocalypse is upon us?”  I told her that the thought had crossed my mind,

leading me to wonder if I should write faster and try to finish my dissertation before

the world ends, or just pack up and go on a long, lovely hike somewhere.  The hike is

definitely tempting.  Then again, if this group (who shall remain nameless on my blog,

lest it become a destination for someone searching for them on Google)

http://articles.cnn.com/2011-03-06/living/judgment.day.caravan_1_rvs-dish-world-ends?

_s=PM:LIVING is correct, I’ve at least got until May 21 to finish the dissertation.

That’s not so very far from the June 1 deadline I set with my advisor.  And if I’m not

raptured, I can polish the text and schedule my oral defense for the first week of

September, thus wrapping everything up during the “153 days of death and horror before

the world ends on October 21.”  On the other hand, if the world ends on October 21, my

dissertation project – which treats the protection/preservation of other animals as a

matter of justice – will be a moot point.

I shared with some other friends the not-surprising-news that trace amounts of radiation from

the Japanese Fukushima Daiichi reactor had been detected in

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fgw-japan-quake-sacramento-

20110319,0,2453591.story  One wrote back drily, “we can be assured that the radiation

released is insignificant in comparison to any one of the hundreds of above ground

nuclear tests between 1945 and 1962.”  Then he provided a link to a stunning and very

effective animation by Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto, plotting those above ground

tests: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9U8CZAKSsNA

On being in the wrong place at the wrong time

At 3:30 Tuesday morning, police shot and killed a mountain lion in the “Gourmet Ghetto” area of Berkeley (just a few blocks from Chez Panisse and a number of other trendy eateries). They had been tracking the cat through residential backyards for about an hour after someone reported seeing it in a vacant lot. They killed her after deciding that she posed a significant threat to public safety. At 3 a.m.? When she was clearly trying to evade human beings?

My first thought was one that many other readers had: why couldn’t authorities simply tranquilize and relocate her? They had been tracking her for an hour while she was in command of her senses. Surely they could have tracked her another 10-15 minutes while a drug kicked in and debilitated her? But that was never even a consideration:

Berkeley police don’t carry tranquillizer (sic) darts, and they aren’t standard issue for wardens either, (Fish and Game Warden Patrick) Foy said. “We don’t carry tranquillizers (sic) drugs in our patrol trucks,” he said. “There are some instances where you have time and you can get the tranquillizers (sic), but that’s not at three in the morning.”

Why not? Is it really safer to have three officers firing shotguns into the night? (The first two officers missed.) And couldn’t they have contacted a vet, the zoo, or the Department of Fish and Game during the hour they were pursuing the cat?

These kinds of encounters with “wildlife” are becoming much more frequent as so-called suburbs press more deeply into previously undeveloped ranges and habitats. If a bear or mountain lion wanders out of the “the wild” and into the neighborhood – an increasingly fuzzy boundary – chances are good that the local police departments (and even Fish and Game authorities) are going to consider it an “imminent threat,” which – according to California Department of Fish and Game’s Public Safety Wildlife Guidelines – must be “humanely euthanized (shot, killed, dispatched, destroyed, etc.).” “Public safety wildlife species confirmed by Department field staff to pose an imminent threat to public safety shall not be relocated for release.”

Again I ask, why not? Of COURSE human safety is a top priority. But what if an imminent threat can be – what’s the law enforcement term? – de-escalated in a non-lethal way? And what if law enforcement officers and game wardens were trained and encouraged to consider that possibility first? That might require some attitude adjustments. We have a long cultural history of reflexively and routinely dismissing the basic needs of nonhuman animals when they come into conflict with human interests. But given the likelihood that these conflicts and encounters will increase, perhaps it’s time that dart guns and tranquilizers DO become standard issue, so that officers are equipped to consider a non-lethal response first. Sadly, it will not always (or even often) be possible.* But without training and equipment, it’s not even an option.

[*Indeed, even a successful darting does not guarantee that wildlife officials will relocate an animal. On the same morning the mountain lion was killed in Berkeley, Colorado Division of Wildlife agents successfully tranquilized a mother bear and her two cubs after they were chased out of a resident’s home. After the bears fell out of the tree, they were euthanized. Were they gravely injured in the fall? The story implies otherwise: “‘…once they start exhibiting that behavior of getting into human habitation, that’s an indication they’ll continue to do that,’ (spokesperson Michael) Seraphin said. ‘Relocating them was not an option.’” Really? My recollection is that Colorado has some pretty spacious non-residential wilderness areas to consider.]

Enabling

There’s a short, biting poem in Mary Oliver’s collection, Red Bird.  It’s titled “Watching a Documentary about Polar Bears Trying to Survive on the Melting Ice Floes.”

That God had a plan, I do not doubt.

But what if His plan was, that we would do better?

It came to mind as I read the closing lines of Greg Garrett’s Science & Religion Today column, “Energy, Theology, and the Gulf” – a column that echoed some of my own soul-searching and reflecting in these weeks of helpless oil “spill”-watching.  Because right smack in the middle of all this, we bought a car.

I was going to say we “had to” buy a car, but that’s not entirely true.  With careful travel planning and lots of patience, we probably could have gone awhile longer without one.  The Better Half was game to try.  Her commute to work and back goes pretty smoothly on public transportation, and rarely takes more than an hour or so each way.  And she recently used those bus and train trips to read John Francis‘ memoir, Planetwalker, describing a life journey that began when the author decided to renounce motor vehicles after witnessing the effects of an oil spill in the San Francisco Bay in 1971. So she was primed. My work, study, and church life is spread a bit more sprawlingly, and I can’t read or write on the bus without getting sick.  One of the locations I need to get to fairly often entails 5 hours round-trip, sitting on or waiting for buses.  That’s a lot of dissertation time.

Several cars have passed through our lives in recent years. Three years ago we bought an ancient diesel Volvo and ran it on biodiesel… when it ran at all. Over the course of a year it spent more time in the mechanic’s garage than ours, and cost over $3500 in repairs (which we’re still paying off). We gave up and bought a very fuel efficient used Hyundai. It was totaled in a low-speed 3-car pile-up. We replaced it with a friend’s 1994 Saturn – a car that got decent mileage, but guzzled oil like I guzzle Diet Coke. When it died of old age (and unquenchable thirst) just a couple weeks after the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe began, we found ourselves at this crossroads. A hybrid or electric car is not in the budget. We ended up with a used Focus – 28 mpg city/34 highway. And as often as possible, it ferries more than one person at a time.

In the early days of the spill disaster, BP CEO Tony Hayward whined, “what the hell did we do to deserve this?”  As Climate Progress noted, let’s start here.  Add to that list the news that BP’s emergency response plan for the Gulf region was laughably incomplete and error-ridden:

Professor Peter Lutz is listed in BP’s 2009 response plan for a Gulf of Mexico oil spill as a national wildlife expert. He died in 2005.

Under the heading “sensitive biological resources,” the plan lists marine mammals including walruses, sea otters, sea lions and seals. None lives anywhere near the Gulf.

The names and phone numbers of several Texas A&M University marine life specialists are wrong. So are the numbers for marine mammal stranding network offices in Louisiana and Florida, which are no longer in service.

Except that it’s not so laughable, is it?  11 human beings are dead, the Gulf of Mexico is being poisoned, the largest wetland region in the United States is threatened, estimates of the volume of oil “leaking” keep going up, and there’s no end in sight.  Yes, BP has behaved with criminal negligence, leading directly to this tragedy – and has worsened the crisis by being secretive and misleading about its extent. But we consumers of fossil fuels have a role in this, too. As Greg Garrett notes in his column, “there was profit in drilling deep wells in the Gulf for oil, and BP was pursuing it. And that profit is where our responsibility enters in.” We make the market. We keep buying and burning fossil fuels. Our government doesn’t make meaningful strides toward alternative and clean energies because our representatives have no meaningful evidence that we want it. When gasoline prices skyrocketed a few years ago, consumers began buying more fuel-efficient cars. Evidence of enlightenment? A rejection of the carbon-based economy? Hardly. As soon as the price of gasoline started dropping again, SUV sales increased.  We vote with our dollars and our politicians follow the money.  A headline in the UK’s Telegraph today reads, “The US falls outta love with Big Oil.” I clicked, ever hopeful, but the article turns out to be about the Administration’s anger at BP, not about a Great Consumer Awakening to the high cost of cheap oil. What would it take to really shake our oil addiction? Here’s Brian McLaren, in Sojourner’s today:

To really address the larger systemic issues of our unsustainable, dirty energy economy, yes, we’re going to need to change our light bulbs … but we’re going to need something far deeper too: to change our values. And changes in values are matters not just of the pocketbook, but of the heart. They tap into the faith traditions and personal and societal narratives by which we organize not just our lives but our civilizations. So, yes, we need to improve our understanding of science, economics, and ecology … but ultimately, without a spiritual shift — conversion is not too strong a word — we won’t have the sustained and sustaining power we need to create a sustainable and regenerative economy.

“…a spiritual shift – conversion is not too strong a word…”  Maybe that “Great Awakening” analogy I invoked above is not so outlandish.  I happened to catch Newshour this afternoon, and heard Jim Lehrer cite a poll reporting that “70 percent of the American people are following the BP oil spill story and care about it deeply.”  I hope that means something.  I hope that is the start of a shift.

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