EcoIdeaMan on Twitter

I’ve been very short on time these past few months. And without funding, that trend is only likely to continue. But I will say this. I plan on using Twitter much more frequently. You can find me on Twitter here -> @ecoideaman Also, I’ve stopped using Facebook. Having no outside funding, no assistants, and no smart…

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I’ve been blogging less frequently, because I’ve been trying to get more sleep. But that hasn’t been working. I need a plan ‘B.’ Still, I wanted to post this, since I originally started this Contact page blog to post about the great extinction crisis that is unfolding. This article below fits that bill.

In yesterday’s New York Times, in the Sunday Review section, there appeared an article (John W. Fitzpatrick and Nathan R. Senner, “The Globe’s Greatest Travelers are Dying”) about how the world’s long-distance migratory birds are in decline. This is actually nothing new. Mangrove forests have been decimated. Wetland habitats have shrunk considerably too. There’s less food for birds. Less habitat. More pollution. More of us. More mouths to be fed. More hunters. More wealth. More people wanting homes that face scenic views. Etc. It’s a predictable equation.

“The bottom line,” as this article states, is that “shorebirds are declining everywhere they exist … all over the planet.”

What these amazing birds are capable of is really quite astonishing. Take for example the bar-tailed godwits. According to the article, “Individuals tracked by satellite have traveled nonstop more than 7,000 miles, flying for nine days over the Pacific Ocean between Alaska and New Zealand.” And they may even have it easy, compared to the 8,800-mile trip pectoral sandpipers make annually. That’s twice the distance Christopher Columbus traveled in 1492.

Sometimes, when I contemplate migratory birds traveling thousands of miles, and seemingly so effortlessly, my mind quickly shifts to the ubiquitous images of people fruitlessly searching for their cars, in crowded parking lots. Maybe “bird brain” shouldn’t be such a disparaging term, after all.

I found this very disturbing. According to an op-ed that ran in this past Sunday’s New York Times (Alanna Weissman, “Doctors Fail Women Who Don’t Want Children” Dec. 3), many doctors are refusing to help women who have decided they do not want to have children. No, this has nothing to do with abortion, this concerns tubal ligation and endometrial ablation.

This is stunning! In an age where we’re adding 1,000,000 people to this planet every 108 hours, women who freely choose to undergo relatively simple procedures such as these are being turned away? What is going on?

The journalist who wrote this piece speaks from experience. She writes that she complained to her gynecologist, five years ago, about “long, heavy, unpredictable periods” that left her anemic, but was told that no doctor would perform endometrial ablation on a woman in her 20s. At the end of the op-ed, she writes that she gave up searching for a doctor willing to perform the elective sterilization, not because she changed her mind, but because she simply found it “too stressful to continually look for someone who accepts my right to decide what is best for my own body.”

One woman Weissman writes about was denied a tubal ligation by four doctors. They all refused to help her. Meanwhile, the woman’s husband, “who is the same age … called a doctor seeking a vasectomy and was able to undergo the procedure the next day.”

What’s also surprising is that Weissman writes that there is “no definitive research on how many women seek sterilization only to be turned away.” It shouldn’t be too difficult to come up with an answer to that question. But the research is evidently lacking.

Weissman states she’s “spoken to and learned about many” women who’ve had similar experiences to hers. For example, Catherine Pearson at HuffPost, she writes, “interviewed a woman who had to wait about five years between her first sterilization request at age 24 and the time she found a doctor willing to do it.”

Reading this piece opened my eyes. But it’s also yet another example of how far off course we are. When a woman freely decides that she definitely doesn’t want to have children, finding a doctor willing to perform the sterilization procedure of her choice, shouldn’t be so difficult. It’s her body, her decision — plain and simple.

An article appearing in today’s New York Times (Lisa Friedman, “Dueling U.S. Messages at Global Climate Talks / Unofficial Team Counters Trump,” page 4), describes how a “shadow American delegation” is making its presence felt, at the United Nations Climate Change Conference convening this week in Bonn, Germany. They aren’t part of the official talks, going on inside; they are outside, in “a nearly 27,000-square-foot tent.” Former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg footed the bill — over $1 million. He is there. As is California’s Governor Jerry Brown, and “a handful of United States senators, all Democrats.” Here’s a quote from Jerry Brown, as reported in the article:

There’s a debate in the United States between the denialists who pooh-pooh any thought about climate change and the catastrophic dangers it portends, and those who agree with the scientific academies of every country in the world that we’re facing an existential threat and we have to do something about it.

Nice quote, but I don’t think there is an actual debate going on. The so-called denialists simply don’t care. They’re not actively engaged in listening to the arguments. They’re far more interested in reversing Roe vs. Wade. And I also disagree with the part where Gov. Brown says “we have to do something.” That’s much too tepid. It doesn’t connect with the severity of the situation we are in. Doing anything at all, is “something.” But that will accomplish nothing. There are no simple, easy fixes. Like I’ve said many times before, we have to “tremendously change how we live on this planet.” That’s what we have to do! That’s the only way we can save the planet. And every time someone says “But that’s not going to happen,” I say “I’m not saying that is going to happen. I’m just saying that’s what we have to do (in order to save the planet). That’s not me talking, those are the facts talking.” And quite frankly, I don’t think Gore, or Bloomberg, or those senators, have any inkling of what it will take to truly save the planet.

One problem with politicians is their job entails telling people what they want to hear (you don’t get elected by telling people what they don’t want to hear). Another big problem is that the whole system, as it presently exists, is designed to fail: if we shrunk our ecological footprint way down, our economy would collapse. Politicians never think in terms of how to fix that huge systemic problem, they just think in terms of offering “solutions” that (a) aren’t really solutions — maybe we should call them “shadow solutions” — and (b) reinforce the comfy, cozy message that we will never have to make any major or uncomfortable changes, ever. We can simply buy different cars, buy different air conditioners, buy different appliances and cell phones, and keep having as many children and as many pets as we want, and fly anywhere in the world we want to travel to, whenever and however often we wish to do so, and so on … But that behavior and belief system is not befitting the severity of the problems we are up against.

I’ll leave you with this. As a New York Times editorial (“Alone and Adrift in a Warming World,” Nov. 10) pointed out last Friday, the recent announcement by Syria that it will “add its name to the historic 2015 Paris climate agreement,” means that the United States is now the only country in the world, not a part of that agreement (Obama signed; Trump rescinded). That’s utterly deplorable. It’s strange, too, that in a nation like ours, that has so much to be grateful for, and is as influential as ours is (was?), we can’t come together on something so obvious and important as this. How can we have a United Nations, when we can’t even have a united nation?

Back in 2006, a The New York Times article (George Johnson, “A Free-for-All Debate on Science and Religion” Nov. 21, 2006) reported on a forum — titled “Beyond Belief: Science, Religion, Reason and Survival” — held at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California. The forum was underwritten by San Diego investor Robert Zeps and sponsored by Science Network, a California-based educational organization. (It states in the article that unedited video of the proceedings will be posted online at tsntv.org; but it also appears to be available now on YouTube as well.) Richard Dawkins was one of the featured speakers. He is quoted in the article as stating at one point:

“I am utterly fed up with the respect that we — all of us, including the secular among us — are brainwashed into bestowing on religion. Children are systematically taught that there is a higher kind of knowledge which comes from faith, which comes from revelation, which comes from scripture, which comes from tradition, and that it is the equal if not the superior of knowledge that comes from real evidence.”

Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg — another featured speaker at this event — went further, in stating: “Anything that we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done and may in the end be our greatest contribution to civilization.”

As a brief aside, and I hope this doesn’t sound anti-science in any way — it shouldn’t! — while I generally appreciate it when such powerfully persuasive speakers talk about such an important topic as this one, I would also like to interject a caveat regarding science. Just as you probably wouldn’t want to see a carte-blanche, laisez-faire, free rein for corporations and the business world, I wouldn’t want to see that for the scientific establishment, either; and it would be nice, too, if our collective intellectual prowess within the realm of scientific inquiry was better focused on endeavors that would lead to the most good.

We also shouldn’t get so caught up in sounding the alarm about religion (and faith and God-belief) that we steer our ship straight into one of those “iceburgs,” that scientists have created. I sometimes point out that one of the best things scientists could do, would also likely wind up being one of the worst things they could possibly do. Suppose, for example, scientists discover a way to stop cells from aging. How would that change our species? The planet? The total human population, of the planet? And our prospects for saving the planet? And there are many such other instances where technology and scientific advancement could represent a double-edged sword. One particularly grave concern that I have, is we keep getting closer and closer to a point where geoengineering might represent our only viable remaining option (for saving the planet), and yet, any such desperate, last-ditch attempt(s) involving geoengineering, could easily wind up blowing up in our face, big time (!).

There is something else worth noting here, before I go on. A key problem I see with religion, is that religions represent foundational beliefs. (It’s not like stating, for example: ” ‘x’ is my favorite color.”) Religions are like blueprints, telling us how to live our lives. But what’s really needed, is a paradigm shift that places eco-conscious ideals front and center. Scientists (whether religious or not), often similarly lack that necessary perspective.

At one point in the article — referring to Sam Harris, who also spoke at this event — Johnson writes: “By shying away from questioning people’s deeply felt beliefs, even the skeptics, Mr. Harris said, are providing safe harbor for ideas that are at best mistaken and at worst dangerous.”

Now would you like to see a perfect example of an idea that we can all probably agree would qualify as “dangerous?” This, by the way, comes from an article which was published in The New York Times (Dennis Overbye, “A Familiar and Prescient Voice, Brought to Life” Feb. 13, 2017). The subject of the article concerns the posthumous publication of a book, The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God, based on a series of lectures Carl Sagan gave in Glasgow in 1985. The book was edited by Ann Druyan, his widow and collaborator. Overbye writes:

Never afraid to venture into global politics, Dr. Sagan warns at one point of the danger that a leader under the sway of religious fundamentalism might not try too hard to avoid nuclear Armageddon, reasoning that it was God’s plan.

“He might be interested to see what that would be like,” Dr. Sagan wrote. “Why slow it down.”

Eek! That’s a rather unpleasant thought! But it also brings to mind the recent mass shooting incident in Las Vegas that left 59 people dead and over 500 injured. Because while that killer’s motive is still a mystery, a much bigger mystery, by far, is why has the world community, for all these years, dragged its feet and allowed a crazy person like North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, get closer and closer to the point where he could potentially pull a nuclear “trigger,” and do with (one or more) ICBMs, what Stephen Paddock did with AK-47 rifles? I’ve always made the point that you shouldn’t assume that those who have the power to launch nuclear weapons, won’t do so, simply because it wouldn’t make sense for them to launch their nuclear weapons. If they’re suffering from the effects of a mental illness or disease, or medication side-effects — or aren’t thinking rationally, for whatever reason — and decide to launch one or more nuclear weapons, then the only thing the world community will be able to do in the aftermath of such a catastrophe, is scratch their heads and ask “Gee, I wonder what his motive was?” Remember that memorable line in the 1979 cult-classic, The Warriors, when Swan asks Luther, “Why’d you do it, why’d you shoot Cyrus?” Luther responds: “No reason, I just like doing things like that.” It could be as simple a motive as that … and in a sudden flash, New York City is no more.

Still, that said, I nevertheless read a recent news story about the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) — a coalition of 468 independent groups from over 100 nations — being chosen to receive a Nobel Peace Prize, with both a mixture of ambivalence and indifference. Would I like to see such weapons completely gone? I’m not sure. It’s complicated.  I’m not too familiar with the group, but I tend not to get too excited when I see that sort of thing — a clamoring for nuclear disarmament. For one thing, it’s too late. The genies’s out of the bottle. You can’t dis-invent what’s already been invented. The nuclear arms that exist today, sooner or later, are going to be relegated to the trash heap anyway. I am more concerned about the further spread of nuclear arms technology to other countries, or the possibility of such weapons falling into the wrong hands, such as falling into the hands of terrorists. But I agree, it is crazy to think that we are at a point today, where just one nuclear submarine, can potentially contain enough firepower to wipe out most of our population (and in the veritable blink of an eye).

As a way of illustrating that it’s not as simple an issue as groups like ICAN claim it to be, I’ll quote from Gary J. Bass’s review of Philip Taubman’s The Partnership: Five Cold Warriors and Their Quest to Ban the Bomb — published in The New York Times Book Review, January 1, 2012 — where he writes:

“The technology cannot be uninvented; when one country goes to zero, it’s enemy is sorely tempted to cheat; and the scarier the government, the less amenable it is to disarming.”

This appears to be an unresolvable dilemma; but one of the notations I made in the margin, might indicate otherwise. Here’s what I wrote: “True. But perhaps the operative word is ‘country.’ What if we fast-forward to a time, potentially, where there are no countries? Where separations called national boundaries are as nonexistent and antiquated as segregated water fountains?” If there are no countries — just one human family, spread out across the globe — then that solves the problem, doesn’t it? I know; that’s probably a long way off.

This is a longer post than those that usually appear on this page. That is because I have something special planned for my next Home page blog post (and I want it to appear back-to-back with my previous blog post there). That is why this post is here and not there. Having multiple blogs on this website, gives me that flexibility.

This is also the first time I am including a caution, regarding one of my blog posts:

Caution: If you have any real sense of eco-consciousness, and have any serious medical condition(s), such as high blood pressure or a weak heart, you may want to forego reading this post. It might make your blood boil. (You have been warned!)

Okay, that said, before I get to The New York Times cover story I wish to bring to your attention, I will set up that topic first by mentioning three news stories that appeared recently in consecutive issues of Science News (a bi-weekly magazine I subscribe to).

First, an article (Ashley Yeager, “South Asia faces future of deadly heat / High temps and humidity may put hundreds of millions at risk” p. 10) appearing in the September 2, 2017, edition of Science News, begins by stating that more than 3,500 people died as a result of two heat waves in India and Pakistan, in 2015. But 3,500 deaths might be “small potatoes,” because it then goes on to report that “by the end of the century, new climate simulations suggest, extreme heat and humidity could put hundreds of millions at risk of death.” That new study, published August 2 in Science Advances, involves so-called “wet-bulb temperature” conditions — a severe combination of heat and humidity. Yeager writes:

Not even the fittest person would survive a few hours in these conditions, even in well-ventilated, shaded areas, says study coauthor Jeremy Pal, an environmental engineer at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

Second, an article (Laurel Hamers, “Air pollution throws shade at solar power” p. 5) appearing in the September 16, 2017, edition of Science News, reports that “dust and other sky-darkening air pollutants slash solar energy production by 17 to 25 percent across parts of India, China and the Arabian Peninsula, a new study estimates.” Not only is sunlight being blocked from reaching solar panels, but particles and dust that land on the panel’s surface further reduce its efficiency in converting sunlight into energy. This new study was published in the Aug. 8 Environmental Science & Technology Letters. “Dust can come from natural sources,” the article states, “but the other pollutants have human-made origins, including cars, factories and coal-fired power plants.”

Third, I would also like to bring to your attention an article (Laura Beil, “Bad Air / Breathing pollution may harm a lot more than our lungs” p. 18-21) that appeared in the September 30, 2017, edition of Science News. This article addresses the concern that air pollution affects our bodies in ways that go well beyond the outdated traditional thinking of the past which taught that air pollution affected only the respiratory system. More and more evidence has been accumulating over these past two decades to suggest there is a link between air pollution exposure and diseases such as cardiovascular disease — which is the leading cause of death in the United States — obesity, diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, or cognitive decline. Further illustrating the extent to which air pollution is affecting the health of our nation’s citizens, this Science News article also points out that:

An analysis published in 2013 from researchers at MIT estimated that about 200,000 premature deaths occur each year in the United States because of fine particulate air pollution.

But that’s just this country. Considering that the United States represents only about four percent of the world’s population, and air quality in the United States is far superior to air quality in some other parts of the world, it probably shouldn’t sound surprising that according to a 2014 World Health Organization report, in 2012, around 7 million people died, worldwide, as a result of air pollution exposure.

Okay, now that I’ve laid down that groundwork, that sets up my bringing to your attention the article I was referring to at the beginning of this post (yes, this is the one that might make your blood boil — figuratively speaking).  “On Busy Calendar, E.P.A Chief Puts Interests of Industries First” — reported by Eric Lipton and Lisa Friedman — was one of the featured news stories on the cover of Tuesday’s New York Times (Sept. 3, 2017). What was it about? “Since taking office in February,” EPA chief Scott Pruitt “has held back-to-back meetings, briefing sessions and speaking engagements almost daily with top corporate executives and lobbyists from all the major economic sectors that he regulated — and almost no meetings with environmental groups or consumer or public health advocates, according to a 320-page accounting of his daily schedule from February through May, …” is the sentence that I think best describes what the article is about. That is the “skeleton.” And in paragraph after paragraph after paragraph … that skeleton is fleshed out with lots of details, facts and examples. The information was released to comply with a Freedom of Information open records request by the liberal nonprofit American Oversight.

The article states at one point that William K. Reilly, the EPA chief during the  first President George Bush, “said Mr. Pruitt’s history of suing the EPA should have prompted him to meet regularly with public health advocates and environmentalists.” No. Pruitt’s history of suing the EPA should have precluded him from ever getting that job in the first place. As the article points out, Pruitt “sued the E.P.A. at least 14 times to try to block rules he is now in charge of enforcing.”

“I would think he would feel a responsibility to bend over backward to show a sense of judicious impartiality,” Mr. Reilly is quoted as stating.

But is Reilly really that clueless as to what Pruitt and the Trump team are trying to accomplish? If anything, you’d think Pruitt might feel a need to appear to be bending over backward a little in order to create the illusion of having a sense of judicial impartiality. And actually I’m kind of glad that Pruitt is so transparent about his blatant disregard for environmental protection. It might make our job of pointing out that more so than ever before and more so than many could have ever imagined, the Environmental Protection Agency is resembling what could more accurately be described as an Economic Protection Agency, that much easier.

In fact, while reading last week’s New York Times article (Lisa Friedman, “Soundproof Booth Is Set For Office of E.P.A. Chief” Sept. 27, 2017), about the soundproof “privacy booth” that Pruitt is having built in his EPA office to guard against eavesdropping, my first immediate thought was he might be doing this to make it difficult for anyone to “connect the dots” (concerning potential quid pro quo). Liz Purchia-Gannon, spokeswoman for Gina McCarthy, the EPA chief under President Obama, is quoted in the article as calling this “privacy booth” construction “bizarre” and not at all necessary, since the agency already has “a secure room for working with classified information.”

“I can’t imagine why this taxpayer expense would be necessary and why an extra secure room is needed in his office, other than to avoid staff,” Purchia-Gannon is quoted in the piece as stating.

Really? She can’t imagine any other reason? I suppose “to avoid staff” could be the reason. But perhaps if she read this other article I’ve been sharing with you today, she might feel differently. Because I’m much more inclined to think it’s not about avoiding staff, it’s about thwarting potential attempts to eavesdrop on conversations with top corporate executives and lobbyists pushing for legislation or policy shifts designed to save them tons of money, while helping the economy, and thus improving their re-election prospects.

Getting back to that other article (“On Busy Calendar, E.P.A. chief puts interests of Industries First”), it states that many of those who’ve met with Pruitt “have high-profile matters pending before the agency, with potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in regulatory costs at stake.”

The article reports that Pruitt “dined with top executives from Southern Company, one of the nation’s largest coal-burning electric utilities,” met with “the board of directors of Alliance Resource Partners, a coal-mining giant,” and “met privately with top executives and lobbyists from General Motors to talk about their request to block an Obama administration move to curb emissions that contribute to climate change.” In fact, Pruitt met with General Motors more than once, and one of those meetings included nine other automakers. Pruitt also met with the chairman of BMW.

As reported in this article, Pruitt also met with the chief executive of Chemours Company, a leading chemical maker; three chemical lobbying groups; the president of Shell Oil Company; “the president of a company seeking to roll back emissions regulations for trucks”; the president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America; and Pruitt also participated in a conference call which included individuals representing an organization with ties to the billionaire industrialists, Charles and David Koch.

A meeting Pruitt had with representatives of “CropLife America, a trade association run by big pesticide companies such as Dow AgroSciences and Bayer CropScience,” came just one day after Pruitt “overruled E.P.A. scientists who had recommended banning a pesticide, chlorpyrifos, which has been blamed, in E.P.A.-funded research, for developmental disabilities in children, particularly among farm worker’s families.”

At a gathering of conservative activists sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, one scheduled session was titled “Innovative Ways to Roll Back the Administrative State.” Does one of those innovative strategies involve building soundproof “privacy booths” inside the E.P.A.?

And to think, we’ve got at least another thirty-nine more months of stuff like this to go? Perhaps even another eighty-seven?

Today, I’ll share my idea about how to fix the gerrymandering problem. And, in so doing, demonstrate the sharp distinction between having an idea, but no ability to follow through, with having an idea, and having the capital to translate that idea into reality. Because without funding, this idea will go nowhere; but if, hypothetically speaking, a billionaire took a liking to it, you can probably imagine how quickly this idea can come to fruition.

One thing I might not have communicated sufficiently on this website is that the initial funding that I am seeking is only the “seed” funding. It is just the first step. If we are successful in saving the planet, it will ultimately, of course, over time, have cost billions. That is why I think it is so essential to get some billionaires on board. This solution to the gerrymandering problem, which I am about to share, is a perfect illustration of how a billionaire can single-handedly take the bull by the horns and begin the process of fixing this problem, that has persisted for 205 years, once and for all; and even make it look easy.

In a recent Times op-ed (“The Rising Power of Philanthropy,” June 20), David Callahan wrote that “today’s biggest donors aren’t much interested in … old-style charity.” They choose instead to aim their philanthropy towards making “‘systemic’ changes in society.” Well, what I am about to share is a sterling example of how to initiate systemic change.

The New York Times, in a recent editorial (“Free Speech at The Supreme Court,” June 20), stated that the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear a case involving partisan gerrymandering. To illustrate how egregious partisan gerrymandering can be, the Times editorial states that in 2012, in Wisconsin, “Republican assembly candidates received less than half the statewide vote and yet won 60 of 99 assembly seats. They took even more seats in 2014, while winning just a bare majority of the vote.” The editorial aptly points out that while Republicans and Democrats both engage in the practice, “the benefits over the past decade have flowed overwhelmingly to Republicans.” What to do? It’s not an easy problem to fix, it might seem. Politicians can’t be trusted; and courts are reluctant to intervene.

“The court has agreed that partisan gerrymandering could in theory become so extreme that it violates the Constitution,” the editorial states, “but it has never settled on who should make that determination or on what standards to use.”

My solution? Take the “who” out of the equation. Don’t let political parties do any of it. Have computer software designed, that can do it for us. And then, have a judge/the courts check it over and give (or not give) their stamp of approval. Judges can have experts examine the code. And, if necessary, throw out partisan coding in favor of nonpartisan coding.

If I had the financial resources and decided to do this myself, I would find some of the best computer programmers around (with broad political affiliation), and pay them to design software that would draw electoral districts, fairly. I am not a computer programmer, but can think of numerous ways of accomplishing that. It should be child’s play in an age where we can design vehicles that don’t even need drivers, or steering wheels. It has been decades since the computer Deep Blue defeated World Champion Garry Kasparov, in a chess match, so designing software today to fairly draw election districts should be comparatively easy.

Once such software is designed and tested and shown to be exemplary, commentators would clamor for it. (“Build a better mouse-trap, and the world will beat a path to your door,” the saying goes.) In op-eds, all across the country, they would extol the benefits of implementing such a system. And the court system would have a simple solution for when there are examples of egregious overreach. Rather than scratch their heads and say “Now what?” they can issue a ruling that the software be used to redraw the districts.

Could software still be designed to favor one side? Of course. But if it’s not done in some back room behind closed doors, but instead is all in computer code that can be examined (and rewritten), then there’s a world of difference between those two approaches.

I say, let’s do it! Partisan gerrymandering should be illegal.

Callahan also stated in his op-ed that Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos (he’s worth over $80 billion), recently “posted on Twitter a ‘request for ideas’ for a philanthropic strategy he should pursue.” So here’s how I’ll end this post:  Mr. Bezos, are you listening?

Of the three book reviews in yesterday’s Sunday New York Times Book Review, dealing with books about the Gulf of Mexico, the Great Lakes and the Colorado River, it is Robert Moor’s review (“Five Alive / An aquatic biography of the Great Lakes looks to the polluted past and a murky future.”) of Dan Egan’s The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, that I found the most interesting and recommend that you read.

I also agree with the proposed solution involving closing the seaway to overseas freighters, and then sending cargo on through the rest of the way by train instead.

I am so glad the brilliant Stephen Hawking now realizes the situation is much worse than he previously thought. But I still disagree with Hawking’s focus on getting off this planet. Ultimately, if interstellar travel ever proved possible, that might be a logical thing to pursue — after all, our sun will eventually supernova; but for now, our focus must be on saving the Earth. If we can’t save the planet we’re living on now, what chance would we have of surviving on some other planet, somewhere else?

This Sunday New York Times had some good stuff. The Book Review section’s page 27 essays pertaining to the question “Which dystopian novel got it right: Orwell’s 1984 or Huxley’s Brave New World?, I enjoyed reading. A letter on the Letters page of this same section suggests adding Constance FitzGibbon’s When the Kissing Had to Stop “to the list of books that resonate in today’s political climate.” And then goes on to note that The London Daily Mail said that book “relegates Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World to the nursery.”

In this same section, Helen MacDonald reviews Elena Passarello’s Animals Strike Curious Poses; and it is very fair to say that she did enjoy the book. For example, MacDonald states in her review:

I’ve spent decades reading books on the roles animals play in human cultures, but none have ever made me think, and feel, as much as this one. It’s a devastating meditation on our relationship to the natural world. It might be the best book on animals I’ve ever read. It’s also the only one that’s made me laugh out loud.

I loved reading about Mozart’s pet starling.

Also, particularly worth noting, is an opinion piece (“Chickens Can Help Save Wildlife”) by Richard Conniff, which appears in the Sunday Review section. I skimmed it and read most of it, but haven’t read it in its entirety. It deals with an immensely important topic, and one that ironically is virtually never discussed. For example, I can’t recall this topic ever being discussed or brought up in any presidential or vice-presidential debate in this country (or any presidential press conference). But then again, that’s not too unusual concerning environmental issues. This article concerns the rapid depletion of wildlife — particularly in the more impoverished regions of the planet — and how chickens (if made plentiful and affordable) could substitute for and help wean people off eating wildlife, which is a major cause of mammalian extinction.

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand it attempts to address a major crisis that should be setting off alarm bells all over the planet; and on its surface it looks like a potentially very effective approach. On the other hand, it appears to fly directly into the face of that admonition of Albert Einstein that I also referenced in yesterday’s Home page blog post (I’ve emboldened a portion of it, here, for emphasis): “Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.”

Additionally, I find it vexing that we have no trouble pointing to something like this as a potential solution, but never talk about, or moreover grapple with, the hugely significant related topic concerning the constantly rising total world human population. The statistic I usually cite estimates that we are adding 1,000,000 people to the total world population every 108 hours (every four and one third days). And many people, when I ask them how long they think it takes to add one million people to the planet (compensating for deaths), will guess something like “ten months?,” or “a year?” And all of those additional people will want a place to live, food, a job, a family, the freedom to do whatever they please, and lots and lots and lots of material things.

To save money and balance my budget, I get The New York Times delivered on Sunday mornings only (the cost usually comes to $31.20 a month for that service — worth every cent, and then some). The rest of the week, I just sneak a peek at the cover stories and if I find anything particularly appealing, then I write myself a reminder to buy it on my way home from work. Yesterday, was one of those days. “This is perfect!” I thought, as I scanned over the cover page.

Actually, it’s the opposite of perfect; but that was my point. By “perfect,” I meant in terms of having the ability to convey just how (especially) messed up things are right now in this age of Trump.

One of the things you notice on the cover is a photo of a large body of dead coral and the caption appearing underneath the title “Grim Fate for a Natural Wonder,” which reads: “Scientists say huge section of the Great Barrier Reef, a coral ecosystem off the coast of Australia so large it can be seen from space, are dead and dying because of rising sea temperatures. Page A8.”

But also on this same page, there is an article (Alan Rappaport, Glenn Thrush “Trump Budget Seeks Big Tilt To the Military / Sharp cuts for E.P.A. and the State Dept.” Mar. 16, 2017) that reports that the budget President Trump will be submitting to Congress, cuts out almost a third of the Environmental Protection Agency budget. In total, he wants to cut $2.6 billion from its budget, while trimming off twenty percent of its staff. The article states that if enacted, this “would cut the agency’s budget to its lowest level in 40 years,” when adjusted for inflation. One of the things that would be eliminated altogether would be funding for climate change research. How bizarre and surreal is that?

The article referred to in the caption described above (Damien Cave, Justin Gillis, “Great Barrier Reef Is Imperiled, Much Of It Dying or Dead / Scientists Find Escalating Damage” Mar. 16, 2017), begins by stating that “the Great Barrier Reef in Australia has long been one of the world’s most magnificent natural wonders, so enormous it can be seen from space, so beautiful it can move visitors to tears.”

I’m afraid that in the future, visitors might also be moved to tears, but for entirely different reasons. Because it appears evident that the Great Barrier Reef and all the life that aquatic ecosystem supports, is in great danger.

The article also states that “Australia is the largest coal exporter in the world.” This reminds me of that saying “If you’re in a ditch, the first thing you should do is stop digging!” And if you’re a doctor, while its not in the Hippocratic Oath, “First, do no harm!” is a good general directive. Well, similarly, if you’re in a coal mine and there are numerous dead canaries all over the place, then you should immediately take notice and act accordingly. But we’re not doing that. We’re doing the opposite. If someone is drowning, you don’t throw buckets of water on them. And yet that’s what we’re doing. It’s sad, but it’s a fitting metaphor. If we want to have any hope of saving the planet, there are so many things we’re going to have to do differently.

Here’s something we need to remember: How goes the Great Barrier Reef, so goes the planet!

In yesterday’s Business Section of the Sunday edition of The New York Times, Robert Frank’s “Inside Wealth” column (“America’s Most Expensive House … Times Two”) provides a glimpse into how some of the world’s extraordinarily wealthy individuals live. It describes one home that has an official price tag of $250 million. But that’s small, compared to the one being listed for a whopping $500 million.

The $250 million home currently belongs to Bruce Makowsky. As the article states, Makowsky “made his fortune as a handbag designer,” but has now turned his attention to “developing and flipping mansions.” He is also described as a man who “wears $500,000 watches and drives $2 million cars.”

It’s hard to argue with his logic. He notes that in recent years, sales of yachts longer than 300 feet have risen sharply, some with price tags as high as $400 million. “It didn’t make sense to me,” he states, “that somebody would spend $300 million on a boat that they use eight weeks a year and live in a house that only cost $20 million or $30 million.” Fittingly, he describes the $250 million home, as being “like a land yacht.” A “land yacht” that comes complete with its own $30 million car collection (one car alone is valued at $15 million), 12 bedrooms, 21 bathrooms and three kitchens.

The other Bel Air home, the $500 million one, is called “The One,” and Nile Niami is its developer. The article states that it is still under construction, but “will have at least four pools and other interesting water features.” Frank writes that “some have likened the house to a giant mall or oversize resort, out of scale with a personal home.” Nevertheless, Niami is unfazed by its asking price, stating “all my houses always sell.”

My guess is that whoever winds up buying these homes, it’s probably safe to say they aren’t much concerned with saving the planet. That’s just my hunch.

The recent passing of Mary Tyler Moore (1936-2017), brought to mind a quotation that had almost made it onto my Quotations page. The quotation comes not from Mary Tyler Moore, but from Ed Asner. Together, they starred on the hit TV sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Here is the quotation:

We all moan and groan about the loss of the quality of life through the destruction of our ecology, and yet every one of us, in our own little comfortable ways, contributes daily to that destruction. It’s time now to awaken in each one of us the respect and attention our beloved Mother deserves. — Ed Asner

One thing I don’t like about this quotation is that he says “we all moan and groan about … the destruction of our ecology.” I couldn’t disagree more. In fact, I’ve coined a term. You’ve heard of psychopaths? Sociopaths? Well, how about ecopaths? To describe people who can cause great destruction to nature, natural ecosystems, and so forth, without batting an eye, without showing even the slightest remorse or concern. And there are so many people like that. I don’t actually use the term, ever, but it does pop into my head every so often when I’m reading a news story about what is happening somewhere in the world that results in more destruction of habitat, more loss of biodiversity, more pollution, more despoliation of aquifers, and so forth. And the only green many of those people care about is the green currency that ends up in their wallet or bank account as a result.