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On reading Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist, by Paul Kingsnorth

Let's say someone close to you gets a new car. It's a make and model you weren't familiar with -- a Toyota Solara, say. Suddenly, you can't drive anywhere without seeing Solaras. Did a fleet of Solaras suddenly flood the highways? No. You just learned to recognize them.

Reality didn't change, but your perception of it did.

And that's the essence of what Paul Kingsnorth is arguing. Grown and bred in a culture that believes in "progress" and worships the supposed cleverness of our species, people have trouble seeing what is in front of their noses.

What is in front of our noses is not a cheerful view, but neither is the view in the mirror: the planet's most invasive primate species, chewing through the landscape, displacing the planet's other inhabitants at an astonishing rate, spewing waste, all while some monkeys crow about how we're gods now and had better get good at it.

If you know in your bones that we are not gods and not going to get good at it, you'll find good company with Kingsnorth and his fellow-travelers at the Dark Mountain Project. Kingsnorth's Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist is well worth reading in its entirety, and I can't begin to do it justice here.

The more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger analysis of where the environmental movement took the wrong road is alone worth the price of the book. The take-downs of technocratic neo-environmentalists are delicious fun. But that's not the end of the story.

The obvious criticism of the Dark Mountain writers is that they are giving up, retreating from the field of battle to save the planet. Actually, I'd say they're taking the fight to a different front -- they just want to change your head.

It sounds mushy and sentimental, but the power to change the behavior of our murderous pack of invasive primates lies with the storytellers, not the technocrats, as recent events in the political and social realms make only too clear.

Getting people to wake up to their biological, animal identities as part (but only one part among many) of an Earth system of interconnected lives strikes me as a good goal, as likely to succeed as anything else we've tried.

Which is to say, not very likely. But you can learn to live with that.

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A reading list for the end of the world

In a time when lies are the coin of the realm, an honest reckoning is refreshing! And there are few things more delicious than having inchoate thoughts and feelings, and then finding those ideas, refined and crafted into words of perfect clarity, in a book.

That's how I felt when reading Paul Kingsnorth's Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist, a collection of his essays, most of which were written for the Dark Mountain Project, which he co-founded. Perhaps you've heard of it.

The point of Dark Mountain was to gather like-minded creative thinkers to share ideas and stories about the current situation and the unimaginable future -- about the violence our species has done to our planet and how to live with that, going forward. These are no longer radical, fringe ideas, and Kingsnorth is resigning from running Dark Mountain this month, because he feels he's said his bit. More on Kingsnorth later.

Yes, these are good days to be talking about the end of the world as we know it. I've moved on from reading Kingsnorth to reading Learning to Die in the Anthropocene, by Roy Scranton. Holy cow! Prophets of doom come in a variety of flavors. Scranton is the fire-breathing sort. More on him later as well.

Shaken to the core by Scranton's book, Wen Stephenson brooded for two years and then produced this essay, about reading Hannah Arendt:!

Stephenson's book is next on my list.

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This is what they mean by climate justice

In 1936, the leader of a small African nation sounded a warning to the League of Nations about a global threat. In his case, it was Italian fascism. Do I hear an echo here?

""At a time when my people are threatened with extermination, when the support of the League may ward off the final blow, may I be allowed to speak with complete frankness, without reticence, in all directness such as is demanded by the rule of equality as between all States Members of the League?

Apart from the Kingdom of the Lord there is not on this earth any nation that is superior to any other. Should it happen that a strong Government finds it may with impunity destroy a weak people, then the hour strikes for that weak people to appeal to the League of Nations to give its judgment in all freedom. God and history will remember your judgment." -- Haile Selassie, emperor of Ethiopia

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Invertebrate of the week: migratory Monarch.

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"Maybe it’s like all the health warnings that you should eat fewer chips and drink less soda, which, to judge by belt-size, not many of us pay much mind. Until, maybe, you go to the doctor and he says: “Whoa, you’re in trouble.” Not “keep eating junk and some day you’ll be in trouble”, but: “You’re in trouble right now, today. As in, it looks to me like you’ve already had a small stroke or two.” Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are the equivalent of one of those transient ischaemic attacks – yeah, your face is drooping oddly on the left, but you can continue. Maybe. If you start taking your pills, eating right, exercising, getting your act together."

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Just let them drown

First Harvey destroys Houston... now Irma is heading toward Miami. Houston has had three so-called "500-year floods" since 1979.

But Scott Pruitt, the science denier running the EPA, says discussing “the cause and effect of these storms" right now would be "very, very insensitive".

Right. We wouldn't want to hurt people's feelings now, would we?

Just let 'em drown.

Cut funding for research on climate change. Don't plan for the future. Let the flood maps go out of date. Keep on acting like everything is fine:

Last week, researchers at the University of California, Davis, overlaid FEMA’s flood-zone maps on top of satellite imagery of the devastating flooding around Houston after Harvey poured more than 40 inches of rain across the region.

The preliminary assessment found that two-thirds of the inundation occurred outside the federal agency’s 100-year floodplains, where there should be only a 1 percent chance of flooding in any given year. More than half of the deluge happened “outside of any mapped flood zone,” even including 500-year events, in areas that should face only “minimal flood hazard”.

This, in part, underscores the rare severity of the storm that hovered over the Texas coastline for days. But it also arguably highlights inadequacies in our federal flood risk assessments, since by some calculations Harvey “represents the third ‘500-year’ flood in the Houston area in the past three years,” as the UC Davis researchers note.

That “basically refutes suggestions that Houston has just suffered from random ‘bad luck,’” said Nicholas Pinter, associate director of the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, in an e-mail. “We scientists are ultra-cautious about reading climate change in any single weather event, and that caution is appropriate. But there is a growing suspicion that the U.S. may be creeping over a meteorological tipping point.”


A few cities, and some engineering firms, have already begun to adopt development standards that incorporate future climate- change threats. Notably, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection conducted a comprehensive assessment, and concluded that some $1 billion in assets were under threat from future sea-level rise and storm surges. The analysis added 30 inches of flooding on top of FEMA’s 100-year flood maps, adopting the high-end forecast from the New York City Panel on Climate Change, and ultimately recommended $315 million in facility upgrades.

Similarly, in 2015, President Obama issued an executive order that established new flood standards for federally funded projects that took into account the rising risks of climate change. It required agencies to either build two or three feet above 100-year flood lines, depending on the project type; base new development on 500-year flood elevations; or otherwise determine appropriate construction standards based on the best available climate science.

Less than two weeks before Hurricane Harvey made landfall, President Trump rescinded that order.

I really don't know these climate change deniers are thinking. Certainly it has nothing to do with being wise, or thoughtful, or kind, or prudent. Maybe they hope they'll be dead before things affect them personally? Maybe they don't care about their children, or grandchildren?

The quote is from the MIT magazine Technology Review:

Here is Pruitt claiming that we shouldn't talk about climate change now:


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Invertebrate(s) of the week: caterpillars!

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A Prayer for Our Earth (Laudato Si’ following par. 246)

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe and in the smallest of your creatures. You embrace with your tenderness all that exists. Pour out upon us the power of your love, that we may protect life and beauty. Fill us with peace, that we may live as brothers and sisters, harming no one. O God of the poor, help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes. Bring healing to our lives, that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction. Touch the hearts of those who look only for gain at the expense of the poor and the earth. Teach us to discover the worth of each thing, to be filled with awe and contemplation, to recognize that we are profoundly united with every creature as we journey towards your infinite light. We thank you for being with us each day. Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle for justice, love and peace. Amen.

-- Pope Francis

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Invertebrate of the week: skippers! They are tricky to identify, so I don't try.
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