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The wettest rainforest in the continental United States had gone up in flames and the smoke was so thick, so blanketing, that you could see it miles away. Deep in Washington’s Olympic National Park, the aptly named Paradise Fire, undaunted by the dampness of it all, was eating the forest alive and destroying an ecological Eden. In this season of drought across the West, there have been far bigger blazes but none quite so symbolic or offering quite such grim news. It isn’t the size of the fire (though it is the largest in the park’s history), nor its intensity. It’s something else entirely — the fact that it shouldn’t have been burning at all. When fire can eat a rainforest in a relatively cool climate, you know the Earth is beginning to burn.
And here’s the thing: The Olympic Peninsula is my home. Its destruction is my personal nightmare and I couldn’t stay away.
Smoke gets in my eyes
“What a bummer! Can’t even see Mount Olympus,” a disappointed tourist exclaimed from the Hurricane Ridge visitor center. Still pointing his camera at the hazy mountain-scape, he added that “on a sunny day like this” he would ordinarily have gotten a “clear shot of the range.” Indeed, on a good day, that vantage point guarantees you a postcard-perfect view of the Olympic Mountains and their glaciers, making Hurricane Ridge the most visited location in the park, with the Hoh rainforest coming in a close second. And a lot of people have taken photos there. With its more than 3 million annual visitors, the park barely trails its two more famous western cousins, Yosemite and Yellowstone, on the tourist circuit.
Days of rain had come the weekend before, soaking the rainforest without staunching the Paradise Fire. The wetness did, however, help create those massive clouds of smoke that wrecked the view miles away on that blazing hot Sunday, July 19. Though no fire was visible from the visitor center — it was the old-growth rainforest of the Queets River Valley on the other side of Mount Olympus that was burning — massive plumes of smoke were rising from the Elwha River and Long Creek valleys.
By then, I felt as if smoke had become my companion. I had first encountered it on another hot, sunny Sunday two weeks earlier.Fire Information Bulletin Board and Smoke from Fire, Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, Olympic National Park, July 19, 2015.Subhankar Banerjee
On July 5, I had gone to Hurricane Ridge with Finis Dunaway, historian of environmental visual culture and author of Seeing Green: The Use and Abuse of American Environmental Images. As this countryside is second nature to me, I felt the shock and sadness the moment we piled out of the car. In a season when the meadows and hills should have been lush green and carpeted by wildflowers, they were rusty brown and bone-dry.
Normally, even when such meadows are still covered in snow, glacier lilies still poke through. Avalanche lilies burst into riotous bloom as soon as the snow melts, followed by lupines, paintbrushes, tiger lilies, and the Sitka columbines, just to begin a list. Those meadows with their chorus of colors are a wonder to photograph, but the flowers also provide much needed nutrition to birds and animals, including the endemic Olympic marmots that prefer, as the National Park Service puts it, “fresh, tender, flowering plants such as lupine and glacier lilies.”
Snow normally lingers on these subalpine meadows until the end of June or early July, but last winter and spring were “anything but typical,” as the summer issue of the park’s quarterly newspaper, the Bugler, pointed out. January and February temperatures at the Hurricane Ridge station were “over 6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than average.”
By late February, “less than 3 percent of normal” snowpack remained on the Olympic Mountains and the meadows, normally still covered by more than six feet of snow, “were bare.” As the Bugler also noted, recent data and scientific projections suggest that “this warming trend with less snowpack is something the Pacific Northwest should get used to … What does this mean for summer wildflowers, cold-water loving salmon, and myriad animals that depend on a flush of summer vegetation watered by melting snow?” The answer, unfortunately, isn’t complicated: It spells disaster for the ecology of the park.
Move on to the rainforest and the news is no less grim. This January, it got 14.07 inches of precipitation, which is 26 percent less than normal; February was 17 percent less; March was almost normal; and April was off by 23 percent. Worse yet, what precipitation there was generally fell as rain, not snow, and the culprit was those way-higher-than-average winter temperatures. Then the drought that already had much of the West Coast in its grip arrived in the rainforest. In May, precipitation fell to 75 percent less than normal and in June it was a staggering 96 percent less than normal, historic lows for those months. The forest floor dried up, as did the moss and lichens that hang in profusion from the trees, creating kindling galore and priming the forest for potential ignition by lightning.
That day, I was intent on showing Finis the spot along the Hurricane Hill trail where, in 1997, I had taken a picture of a black-tailed deer. That photo proved a turning point in my life, winning the Slide of the Year award from the Boeing photography club and leading me eventually to give up the security of a corporate career and start a conservation project in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
As it happened, it wouldn’t be a day for nostalgia or for seeing much of anything. On reaching Hurricane Hill, we found that the Olympic Mountains were obscured by smoke from the Paradise Fire. Meanwhile, looking north toward the Strait of Juan de Fuca in the Salish Sea, all that we could see was an amber-lit deep haze. More smoke, in other words, coming from more than 70 wildfires burning in British Columbia, Canada. As I write this, there are 14 active wildfires in Washington and five in Oregon, while British Columbia recently registered 185 of them.
So if you happen to live in the drought-stricken Southwest and are dreaming of relocating to the cool, moist Pacific Northwest, think again. On the Olympic Peninsula, it’s haze to the horizon and the worst drought since 1895.
A rainforest in a national park
For visitors to the Olympic Peninsula, it seems obvious that a temperate rainforest — itself a kind of natural wonder — should be in a national park. As it happens, getting it included proved to be one of the most drawn-out battles in American conservation history, which makes seeing it destroyed all the more bitter.
Two centuries ago, expanses of coastal temperate rainforests stretched from northern California to southern Alaska. Today, only about 4 percent of the California redwoods remain, while in Oregon and Washington, the forests are less than 10 percent of what they once were. Still, even in a degraded state, this eco-region, including British Columbia and Alaska, contains more than a quarter of the world’s remaining coastal temperate rainforest.
In the era of climate change, this matters, because the Pacific coastal rainforest is so productive that it has a much higher biomass than comparable areas of any tropical rainforest. In translation: The Pacific rainforests store an impressive amount of carbon in their wood and soil and so contribute to keeping the climate cool. However, when that wood goes up in flames, as it has recently, it releases the stored carbon into the atmosphere at a rapid rate. The massive plumes of smoke we saw at Hurricane Ridge offer visual testimony to a larger ecological disaster to come.Smoke from Paradise Fire obscures the iconic view of the Olympic Mountains, July 19, 2015.Subhankar Banerjee
The old-growth rainforest that stretches across the western valleys of the Olympic National Park is its crown jewel. As UNESCO wrote in recognizing the park as a World Heritage Site, it includes “the best example of intact and protected temperate rainforest in the Pacific Northwest.” In those river valleys, annual rainfall is measured not in inches but in feet, and it’s the wettest place in the continental United States. There you will find living giants: a Sitka spruce more than 1,000 years old; Douglas fir more than 300 feet tall; mountain hemlock at 150 feet; yellow cedars that are nearly 12 feet in diameter; and a western red cedar whose circumference is more than 60 feet.
The rainforest is home to innumerable species, most of which remain hidden from sight. Still, while walking its trails, you can sometimes hear the bugle or get a glimpse of Roosevelt elk amid moss-draped, fog-shrouded bigleaf maples. (The largest herd of wild elk in North America finds refuge here.) And when you do, you’ll know that you’ve entered a Tolkienesque landscape. Those elk, by the way, were named in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt who, in 1909, protected 615,000 acres of the peninsula, as Mount Olympus National Monument.
Why not include a rainforest in a national park? That was the question being asked at the turn of the 20th century and Henry Graves, chief of the U.S. Forest Service, answered it in definitive fashion this way: “It would be great mistake to include in parks great bodies of commercial timber.”
Despite the power of the timber industry and the Forest Service, however, five committed citizens with few resources somehow managed to protect the peninsula’s last remaining rainforest. “They did it by involving the public,” environmentalist and former park ranger Carsten Lien writes in his Olympic Battleground: Creating and Defending Olympic National Park. He adds, “Preserving the environment through direct citizen activism, as we know it today, had its beginnings in the Olympic National Park battle.”
In 1938, the national monument was converted to Olympic National Park and a significant amount of rainforest was included. As Lien would discover in the late 1950s, however, the Park Service, despite its rhetoric of stewardship, continued to let timber interests log there. Today, such practices are long past, though commercial logging continues to play a significant part in the economy of the peninsula in national, state, and private forests.
A fire that just won’t stop
Once the fire began, I just couldn’t keep away. On a rainy July 10, for instance, listening to James Taylor’s Fire and Rain, I drove toward the Queets River Valley to learn more about the Paradise Fire so that I could “talk about things to come.”
At the Kalaloch campground, I asked the first park employee I ran into whether the rain, then coming down harder, might extinguish the fire? “It will slow down the fire’s spread,” she told me, “but won’t put it out. There’s too much fuel in that valley.”
The next morning, with the rain still falling steadily and the fire still burning, I stood at the trailhead to the valley thinking about what another park employee had told me. “The sad thing,” she said, “is that the fire is burning in the most primitive of the three river valleys.” In other words, I was standing mere miles away from the destruction of one of the most primeval parts of the forest. As Queets was also one of the more difficult locations to visit, less attention was being given to the fire than if, say, it were in the always popular Hoh valley.
In a sense, the Paradise Fire has been burning out of sight of the general public. Information about it has been coming from press releases and updates prepared by the National Park Service. Though it is doing a good job of sharing information, environmental disasters and their lessons often sink in most deeply when they are observed and absorbed into collective memory via the stories, fears, and hopes of ordinary citizens.
I had breakfast at the Kalaloch Lodge restaurant, not far from the Queets,while the rain was still falling. “When will the sun come out?” an elderly woman at the next table asked the waitress as if lodging a complaint with management. “The whole weekend we’ve been here it’s rained continuously.”
“I’m so happy that finally we got three days of rain,” the waitress responded politely. “This year we got 12 inches. Usually we get about 12 feet. It’s been bad for trees and all the life in our area.” In fact, the peninsula has received over 51 inches of rain, mostly last winter, but her point couldn’t have been more on target. “It has been so dry that the salmon can’t move in the river,” she added. Her voice lit up a bit as she continued, “With this rain, the rivers will rise and the salmon will be able to go upriver to spawn. The salmon will return.”
I asked where she was from. “Quinault Nation,” she said, citing one of the local native tribes dependent both nutritionally and culturally on those salmon.
“The Queets, the largest river flowing off the west side of the Olympics, is running at less than a third its normal volume,” the Seattle Times reported. “[B]ad news for the wild salmon runs, steelhead, bull trout, and cutthroat trout.” In addition to the disappearing snowpack and severe drought, the iconic glaciers of the Olympic Mountains are melting rapidly, which will likely someday spell doom for the park’s rivers and its vibrant ecology. According to Bill Baccus, a scientist at the park, over the last 30 years, those glaciers have shrunk by about 35 percent, a direct consequence of the impact of climate change.
After breakfast, I took off for the Hoh Valley. At its visitor center, a ranger described the battle underway with the Paradise Fire. Summing up how dire the situation was, he said, “Our goal is confinement, not containment.” Normally, success in fighting a wildfire is measured by what percentage of it has been contained, but not with the Paradise. “Safety of the firefighters and safety of the human communities are our two priorities right now,” the ranger explained. As a result, the National Park Service is letting the fire burn further into wilderness areas unfought, while trying to stop its spread toward human communities and into commercially valuable timberlands outside the park.
For firefighters, combating such a blaze in an old-growth rainforest with steep hills is, at best, an impossibly dangerous business. Large trees are “falling down regularly,” firefighter Dave Felsen told the Seattle Times. “You can hear cracking and you try to move, but it’s so thick in there that there is no escape route if something is coming at you.”
Besides, many of the traditional means of fighting wildfires don’t work against the Paradise. Dumping water from a helicopter, to take one example, is almost meaningless. As an NPR reporter noted, the rainforest canopy “is so dense that very little of the water will make it down to the fire burning in the underbrush below.” Worse yet, as the Washington Post reported, the large trees and thick growth “make it impossible to effectively cut a fire line” through the foliage to contain the spread of the flames.
With the moist lichens and mosses that usually give the rainforest its magical appearance shriveled and dried out, they now help spread the fire from tree to tree. When they burst into flames and fall to the ground, yet more of the dry underbrush catches, too. In other words, that forest, which normally would have suppressed a fire, has now been transformed into a tinderbox.Moss-covered bigleaf maples in the Hoh rainforest, June 2014.Subhankar Banerjee
“Few people in our profession have ever seen this kind of fire in this kind of ecosystem,” Bill Hahnenberg, the Paradise Fire incident commander, told his crew. “The information you gather could be really valuable.” He didn’t have to add the obvious: Its value lies in offering hints as to how to fight such fires in a future that, as the region becomes drier and hotter, will be ever more amenable to them.
So far, the fire is smoldering, but as the summer heats up, the Seattle Times reports, “there is still the potential for a crown fire that can spread in dramatic fashion as treetops are engulfed in flames.” According to several park employees I spoke with, the Paradise Fire is likely to burn until the autumn rains return to the western valleys. As of July 23, it had eaten 1,781 acres, which sounds modest compared to other fires burning in the West, but you have to remind yourself that it’s not modest at all, not in a temperate rainforest. It also poses a challenge to the very American idea of land conservation.
Throughout the late 19th and 20th centuries, American environmentalists passionately fought to protect large swaths of public lands and waters. The national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges, and wildernesses they helped to create laid the basis for a new American identity. Nationalism aside, such publicly protected lands and waters also offered refuge for an incredible diversity of species, some of which would have otherwise found it difficult to survive at the edges of an expanding industrialized, consumerist society. Today, that diversity of life within these public lands and waters is increasingly endangered by climate change.
What, then, should environmental conservation look like in a 21st century in which the Paradise Fire could become something like the norm?
Tankers and rigs
“This is not an anthropogenic fire,” the ranger I spoke with at the Hoh visitor center insisted. In the most literal sense, that’s true. In late May, lightning struck a tree in the Queets Valley and started the fire, which then smoldered and slowly spread across the north bank of the river. It was finally detected in mid-June and firefighters were called in. That such a lightning strike disqualifies the Paradise Fire from being “anthropogenic” — human-caused — would once have been a given, but in a world being heated by the burning of fossil fuels, such definitions have to be reconsidered.
The very rarity of such fires speaks to the anthropogenic nature of the origins of this one. After all, a temperate rainforest as a vast collection of biomass and so a carbon sink is only possible thanks to the rarity of fire in such a habitat. According to the World Wildlife Fund, “With a unique combination of moderate temperatures and very high rainfall, the climate makes fires extremely rare” in such forests.
The natural fire cycle in these forests is about 500 to 800 years. In other words, once every half-millennium or more this forest may experience a moderate-sized fire. But that’s now changing. Mark Huff, who has been studying wildfires in the park since the late 1970s, told Seattle’s public radio station KUOW that in the past half-century there have already been “three modest-sized fires” here, including the Paradise, though the other two were less destructive. According to a National Park Service map (“Olympic National Park: Fire History 1896-2006”) in the western rainforest, during that century-plus, two lightning-caused fires burned more than 100 acres and another more than 500 acres.
If, however, fires in the rainforest become the new normal, comments Olympic National Park wildlife biologist Patti Happe, “then we may not have these forests.”
A team of international climate change and rainforest experts published a study earlier this year warning that, “without drastic and immediate cuts to greenhouse gas emissions and new forest protections, the world’s most expansive stretch of temperate rainforests from Alaska to the coast redwoods will experience irreparable losses.” In fact, says the study’s lead author, Dominick DellaSala, “In the Pacific Northwest … the climate may no longer support rainforest communities.”The Chevron oil tanker Pegasus Voyager moored in Port Angeles Harbor (with Geese), July 2015.Subhankar Banerjee
Speaking of the anthropogenic, on our way back, Finis and I stopped in Port Angeles, the largest city on the peninsula. There we noted a Chevron oil tanker, the massive 904-foot Pegasus Voyager, moored in its harbor on the Salish Sea. It had arrived empty for “topside repair.” Today, only a modest number of oil tankers and barges come here for repair, refueling, and other services, but that could change dramatically if Canada’s tar sands extraction project really takes off and vast quantities of that particularly carbon-dirty energy product are exported to Asia.
That industry is already fighting to build two new pipelines from Alberta, the source of most of the country’s tar sands, to the coast of British Columbia. “Once this invasion of tar sands oil reaches the coast,” a Natural Resources Defense Council press release states, “up to 2,000 additional barges and tankers would be needed to carry the crude to Washington and California ports and international markets across the Pacific.” All of those barges and tankers would be moving through the Salish Sea and along Washington’s coast.
And let’s not forget that, in May, Shell Oil moored in Seattle’s harbor the Polar Pioneer, one of the two rigs the company plans to use this summer for exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea of Arctic Alaska (a project only recently green-lighted by the Obama administration). In fact, Shell expects to use that harbor as the staging area for its Arctic drilling fleet. The arrival ofPolar Pioneer inspired a “kayaktivist” campaign, which received national and international media coverage. It focused on drawing attention to the dangers of drilling in the melting Arctic Ocean, including the significant contribution such new energy extraction projects could make to climate change.
In other words, two of the most potentially climate-destroying fossil-fuel-extraction projects on Earth more or less bookend the burning Olympic Peninsula.
The harbors of Washington, a state that prides itself on its environmental stewardship, have already become a support base for one, and the other will likely join the crowd in the years to come. Washington’s residents will gradually become more accustomed to oil rigs and tankers and trains, while its rainforests burn in yet more paradisical fires.
In the meantime, the Olympic Peninsula is still wreathed in smoke, the West is still drought central, and anthropogenic is a word all of us had better learn soon.
Filed under: Climate & Energy
Australian researchers say the protein Ki67 can be used to help predict survival in people suffering from malignant peritoneal mesothelioma.
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Copa Airlines just announced that, beginning next December, it will be offering two weekly flights to Belize City from Panama’s Hub de la Americas, news that Belize’s The Lodge at Chaa Creek said...
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As usual, reauthorization of the law governing federal transportation spending is long overdue, caught in D.C.’s gridlock. But on Thursday the Senate did its part to break the impasse: It finally passed a six-year transportation bill, which includes some surprisingly good provisions for the environment.
Although it remains to be seen what the more conservative House of Representatives will do with the bill when they take it up this fall, results from the Senate suggest that the trend toward suburbanization has gone as far as it can and is now starting to bend back. Rampant sprawl once meant that Republicans were adamantly opposed to transit and to bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly streets. Now, sprawl is so widespread that even many people who can’t or don’t drive live in suburbs and sprawling Sun Belt cities, and their legislators have an incentive to reallocate transportation dollars in ways that serve them as well as drivers.
But before we go into detail, let’s start with a little basic background: Historically, the bipartisan compromise on transportation was that the money collected by the federal gasoline tax was doled out to states in formulas that allocated about 80 percent to highways and the rest to mass transit. Since all members of Congress needed highways or transit in their districts, this wasn’t a terribly complicated or partisan issue. Then two things happened.
First, in 1994, the GOP took over Congress on a wave of angry reactionary politics. Led by Newt Gingrich, they proposed repealing the last gasoline tax increase, from 1993. Though they failed at that, they stopped a new gas increase — and ever since, Republicans have refused to allow the gas tax to go up, even to keep pace with inflation. The result is that the current 18.4-cent-per-gallon gas tax brings in less revenue in absolute terms than it did 20 years ago — thanks to more efficient cars and a dip in vehicle miles traveled — and the shortfall is even bigger in relative terms because of inflation. So transportation funding is squeezed, and passage of a comprehensive transportation bill has been stymied by Congress’s inability to find a new funding mechanism.
Then, in the last 10 years or so, liberals and environmentalists have become more attuned to the importance of regional planning and transportation policy. Congressional Democrats have pushed for rules in the transportation reauthorization that put more resources and thought into how we can accommodate non-drivers. Also, the transportation funding shortfall has led them to think hard about how to get the most bang for our transportation buck, which tends to mean transit projects, multimodal streets, and road maintenance in denser, built-up areas rather than new roads in far-flung suburbs.
This has provoked the predictable backlash among Republicans and conservatives, who see any smart growth policy as part of a global communist plot to force everyone into high-rise apartment buildings. So the issue became paralyzed in Congress by Republican extremism on both fiscal and cultural politics.
Unable to pass a full reauthorization bill, Congress has kept the transportation dollars moving through a series of short-term extensions, which makes long-term planning impossible for the state and local governments that depend on the money. The most recent extension, for three months, was just signed by President Obama on Friday so that the House will have time to pass a companion bill to the long-term reauthorization just passed by the Senate.
The Senate’s bipartisan compromise was negotiated by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Environment and Public Works Committee Chair James Inhofe (R-Okla.), and the committee’s ranking Democratic member, Barbara Boxer (Calif.). That’s an unlikely trio: Boxer is a leading climate hawk, while Inhofe is the Senate’s most asinine climate science denier. The bill authorizes a total of $350 billion in spending over six years. That’s almost $100 billion more than what the gas tax is projected to bring in over that time. The first three years of additional funding, just under $47 billion, will be raised through a series of other revenue increases and cuts to spending on other programs, such as reducing dividends paid by the Federal Reserve to member banks and selling off a portion of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. For the latter three years, no additional funding source is specified to cover the authorized spending. Congress will have to come up with another $50 billion or so between now and then, and it’s not clear where it will come from.
Whether this Senate bill constitutes good news depends on your expectations. While it’s an improvement over the dysfunctional status quo, it falls far short of the total spending needed to fix our gaping transportation infrastructure deficit.
But there is good news for urbanists and environmentalists in the bill’s details. Here are the three big victories:
- Federal mass transit spending will be increased by about 25 percent.
- The TIFIA (Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation) program, which provides federal support for borrowing by local governments for transportation projects, will now consider transit-oriented development an eligible expenditure. That means it will be easier to finance construction of housing, shopping, or office development at mass-transit hubs. For example, one of the projects currently receiving TIFIA assistance is the renovation of the Staten Island Ferry terminals on both the Manhattan and Staten Island sides, in New York City. Staten Island is much lower density and much lower cost than Manhattan, and it could have much more dense housing within walking distance of its ferry terminal. Now, financing for efforts like that would be eligible.
“Because there’s so much infrastructure involved in projects near transportation stations, it can be more challenging and expensive to build there,” says Alex Dodds, a spokesperson for Smart Growth America, which advocates for sustainable transportation and urban planning policies. “But it comes with tons of community benefits. It’s something the federal government should support and make easy, and it’s a great way for the government to use its financing power.”
- The Safe Streets Act was wrapped into the transportation bill. The act is essentially a federal version of “Complete Streets” laws that are becoming more common at the state and local level. It would require that transportation projects receiving federal dollars consider all users, not just drivers. “You don’t necessarily have to build a sidewalk or bike lane, but you have to consider all users of the road,” explains Dodds. “You have to ask if people will be walking, biking, or taking transit. Will there be handicapped users? Until now that wasn’t a requirement.”
It’s surprising that this passed a Republican-controlled Senate. Interestingly, the bill was initially sponsored by two Democrats from low-density Western states: Brian Schatz of Hawaii and Mark Begich of Alaska. Begich lost his reelection bid last year, but, along with Ed Markey (D-Mass.), two Western senators signed on as cosponsors: Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and a Republican, Dean Heller of Nevada. Normally, Republicans are hostile to requiring any consideration for non-drivers. But perhaps the diversifying of suburbia, and thus their own constituencies, has opened the Republican mind. Thirty years ago, the suburbs and emerging Sun Belt regions were overwhelmingly white, native-born, and economically comfortable. Now, with foreign immigration to suburbia and suburban-style Sun Belt cities like Las Vegas, increasing suburban poverty, young people driving less, and Baby Boomers aging into disabilities and out of driving, Republicans have reasons to embrace complete streets.
One big reason: safety. As Smart Growth America noted in a report last year, “In the decade from 2003 through 2012, more than 47,000 people died while walking on our streets. That is 16 times the number of people who died in natural disasters during in the same ten years … In 2012, pedestrians accounted for nearly 15 percent of all traffic deaths, up 6 percent from 2011 and representing a five-year high.” When the bill passed out of committee, Heller said in a statement, “Pedestrian safety is a pertinent issue in Nevada, where nearly a quarter of overall traffic fatalities are pedestrian fatalities.”
There were disappointments in the bill for smart growth advocates too. The total allocation to the TIFIA program was cut, and the competitive TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant program — which incentivizes the most efficient transportation projects — wasn’t made permanent. That means there will be annual appropriations fights over TIGER if this bill passes into law, but it was actually a triumph just that the program wasn’t eliminated altogether. There were some big-picture reforms that fell short too: Transportation policy experts say that it is inefficient how the law currently routes funding almost entirely through state departments of transportation rather than directly to local communities. There is also a general lack of accountability for performance or return on investment. Amendments to address those problems failed, although some minor progress is being made on data collection and analysis.
But the saddest thing about this bill is not these shortcomings; it’s that the legislation must now go to the House with its more conservative Republican caucus and total lack of power for the Democratic minority. If the House can even manage to pass a transportation bill, it will be worse than the Senate’s.
Filed under: Cities, Politics
A Tibet trek is filled with stunning high altitude scenery and cultural experiences that leave lifelong impressions on travelers. Tibet Ctrip Travel Service-TCTS...
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Narayana Angulo spent practically his entire childhood locked in a cramped public housing apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He and his six siblings grew up under the strict rule of a controlling father, Oscar, who let them go outside maybe a few times a year, although never during the winter, and one year, not at all. The family lived on welfare and whatever small income the kids’ mother, Susanne, earned for homeschooling the whole brood.
The Angulos’ incredible story is featured in the new documentary The Wolfpack. The film focuses on how, with almost no connection to the outside world and only so much to do in their four-bedroom apartment, Narayana and his brothers turned to movies (their sister, Visnu, has special needs). They watched thousands of films over the years and even reenacted some of their favorites on camera: Reservoir Dogs, Halloween, No Country for Old Men, JFK. They used handwritten scripts (if they didn’t already have the dialogue memorized) and homemade props. Here’s Narayana playing Samuel L. Jackson’s character in Pulp Fiction:
The Wolfpack is now a hit. It won the grand jury prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and is available both in select theaters and online.
Today, life is very different for the Angulo boys. In 2010, Narayana’s younger brother Mukunda (15 at the time), ventured outside without his father’s permission. The others, now between the ages of 16 and 23, gradually followed suit and have since fully assimilated with the outside world. Some of the boys no longer speak with their father, although only one — Narayana’s fraternal twin, Govinda — has actually moved out. Some have jobs, a few cut their long hair, and two even changed their names.
For Narayana, now 22, freedom meant finally being able to pursue one of his longtime passions: environmental activism. For the past three years, he’s worked for the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), a nonprofit advocacy organization. Most of his work with NYPIRG has focused on the anti-fracking campaign in New York that culminated in a statewide fracking ban last December.
I spoke with Narayana over the phone about how he developed an interest in the environment from inside a tiny apartment in Manhattan and how he’d eventually like to make movies that bring environmental issues to the silver screen. Our conversation has been edited and condensed.
Q. How did you get interested in the environment?
A. It was really my mom that sparked my environmental interest. She was my teacher growing up, and she made sure that we were very well-educated on the environmental issues. Science was one of my favorite subjects, so I would read all these books about climate change and toxic chemicals. I read a lot about Rachel Carson. Reading Encounters of the Archdruid, I was really inspired by how big of an activist [David Bower] was when he took his journey with these men and tried to tell them the importance of conservation. I also was a big admirer of Jane Goodall. And Sandra Steingraber as well — Living Downstream and her long personal battle with toxic chemicals, with breast cancer and trying to raise awareness for other people who are facing the same sort of issues. Oh, and of course, Lois Gibbs.
Q. Are there any films about environmental issues that influenced you?
A. The China Syndrome was one. That had such an interesting story behind it. Just three weeks after that film opened, Three Mile Island happened, and it happened in pretty much the exact same way that the movie predicted an accident could occur at a nuclear power plant, so the film had a lot of truth in it.
There are actually not that many films that deal with [environmental] issues, which is something that I thought a lot about growing up. I’d like to see more films like that that deal with those things. A lot of these issues are mostly the target of documentaries.
Q. Why do you think that is?
A. There’s probably this idea that any story that deals with environmentalism just isn’t that appealing to the mainstream audience that just wants to go to the movies for a fun, entertaining evening. That’s what I’m hoping, as an aspiring filmmaker, to bring to the movies. I think there definitely is an audience for that, and I think that’s the big risk that nobody’s taking. You have so many movies that deal with so many things — movies that deal with gangsters, movies that deal with war — and I think there’s plenty of room for movies that deal with nature.
Q. Did you get to interact with nature at all when you were growing up?
A. The most we got to do was go out to Central Park and East River Park. The same way movies used to be kind of a window to the outside world for us, science books and documentaries were kind of a window into that other world that was out of the city. That’s the world that I mostly longed for. Reading about Rachel Carson’s upbringing — her mom would take her to the shore and to natural places and show her the wildlife — I’ve always talked a lot about that with my mom, asking her about how she grew up. What did she see? What kind of wildlife did she interact with? That was mostly the extent of my interaction with the natural world.
Q. Having grown up in Manhattan, do you have much interest in urban sustainability?
A. Absolutely. That’s something that I’m still learning a lot about. There was a really good documentary called 2012: Time for Change, which was supposed to be like a symbol because 2012 was thought of as the year of change, if not the end of the world. The documentary basically talks with a lot of people about how in an urban area or urban setting, we can have a more sustainable system and not only provide energy, but just basic living [requirements].
Q. Do you think you’ll stay in the city?
A. I will definitely move at some point. Somehow I feel like I’m not completely done with New York. I’m thinking about visiting West Virginia and seeing what’s happening with the fracking over there and the coal mining over there. There was this documentary I saw called The Last Mountain, where Robert F. Kennedy was visiting communities and seeing how the coal industry was affecting them — how it was really taking a toll, the mountaintop removal in particular. But yeah — I do hope to in the future be traveling a lot, visiting a lot of different places where communities are still struggling with these issues and taking part in that somehow, whatever way I can.
Q. Have you been traveling a lot to do promotion for The Wolfpack?
A. Yeah. Going to Sundance was a very beautiful experience. It was out in the mountains and out in the snow, and there were really beautiful trees surrounding the entire area. I went to L.A. — not the most natural place in the world — but that was nice. And we will be doing more traveling abroad in the future, so I’m really excited about that.
Q. How did you end up at NYPIRG?
A. It started with Gasland. When I first saw that documentary, I had never heard about fracking before. Watching it felt like the way I felt reading Silent Spring. I was just really hit like a hammer or something. I heard that it wasn’t happening in New York, and when I heard there was a campaign on it, I jumped on board immediately. I just spent most of my time at rallies and protests and doing street performance things, and then a friend of mine told me about NYPIRG — that’s the first time I had heard about them — so I jumped on board immediately, and that was it. I’ve been with them ever since. It’s my third year working at NYPIRG.
Q. People come to environmental issues from all angles — politics, science, art — would you say yours is storytelling?
A. Yeah, because I think there are very interesting stories about the people who deal with these issues. The stories of Lois Gibbs and Rachel Carson and Sandra Steingraber are just amazing; they’re just mindblowing. Those are the kinds of stories that I grew up wanting to see on-screen. I think cinema is a really powerful medium.
Oliver Stone [I find to be] one of the most inspirational filmmakers, simply because he could make a ton of movies that dealt with that time that he grew up in — the turmoil of the ’60s, the Vietnam War, and the Kennedy assassination — and he could tell all those stories on film, instead of a PBS documentary.
Q. Do you want to make documentaries as well as fictional narratives?
A. I’ve always just been interested in fictional narrative — not just fictional, but feature narrative. A lot of movies are based on true stories, like JFK, and that’s what I love about that form of cinema: you can tell a completely fictional story based on something real. I don’t know what it is about documentaries that I have never felt like going through with. It might be the idea of following something real and taking that risk of never knowing what you’re gonna find. I guess I just like putting together a story that I already have in mind. Also, a lot of stories that deal with environmentalism and nature are already covered in documentaries, and I want to see a lot of them on the silver screen.
Q. Do you get a sense that movies these days tend to have a very dystopian take on the future?
A. Absolutely. This new documentary called Racing Extinction — it was by the same filmmakers who did The Cove — is about this theory that if something is not really done to avert climate change, we could be facing a sixth extinction that’s for the entire human race. So yeah — I do think that is a very prominent theme these days. But what I got from that film in particular was that there really is a huge spark of hope, because more people are being awakened to what’s happening, and that’s how I feel everyday when I just go to different neighborhoods and talk to people.
Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Living
Small Business Steps Up in a Big Way
(PRWeb August 01, 2015)
Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2015/07/prweb12878103.htm
This summer Super-Sod debuted their new zoysia grass by offering a red Adirondack Commemorative Chair with 7 pallet purchases.
(PRWeb July 31, 2015)
Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2015/08/prweb12880405.htm
The Federal Savings Bank shares some tips on what buyers should avoid when it comes to a mortgage.
(PRWeb July 31, 2015)
Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2015/08/prweb12883031.htm
Here’s a hint: It’s probably exactly who was expected. It was a bang up year across the board for products hitting the market, but once again SuperCloset remains victorious in capturing the Best Grow...
(PRWeb July 31, 2015)
Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2015/08/prweb12880471.htm
The Franklin County Visitors Bureau spotlights tourism partner Penn National Golf Course Community for being named as one of the Top 50 master-planned communities in the United States by WTR magazine...
(PRWeb July 31, 2015)
Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2015/08/prweb12882065.htm
Commenting on the recent article, Hi-Tech Printing & Labeling says that while the lack of a rule necessitating that designers include information on textile chemicals may be disheartening to some...
(PRWeb July 31, 2015)
Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/FabricLabels/FabricChemicals/prweb12869180.htm
Organic Coconut Water with lower carbon footprint fits ethos of Vans US Open of Surfing Event
(PRWeb July 31, 2015)
Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2015/08/prweb12882499.htm
On a cold morning last fall at my parents’ house in rural Montana, I stumbled downstairs for a glass of water. I reached for the faucet and saw a deer heart in the sink. My stomach lurched at the sight of the large, maroon organ against stainless steel — a muscle designed for constant motion now sitting still. But I knew what it meant: My father came back from another successful hunt.
This wasn’t Dad’s First Kill. He started at 9, and in the six decades since he’s killed hundreds of animals. There’s a wide variety of life on the Smith cattle ranch, from badgers to weasels to antelope to black bears. All are welcome — even the coyotes that prowl the edges of the fields and yip in the night. Until they are not: That’s when my father’s .300 Savage comes out.
In a voicemail to me, he dutifully listed all his victims by species and respective body count. He’s killed for practical reasons: dying calves in need of mercy; rattlesnakes rattling near his kids. He’s killed for sport: deer, moose, antelope, and elk. He ended the call with: “And then there’s the birds. Do you want to get into the birds?” One of his first kills was a sparrow shot by a bb gun and then roasted by my grandmother. The tiny breasts were about a bite each. For the sake of Jonathan Franzen, I’m not going to get into the birds.
By contrast, unless you count bugs or classify a recklessly driven Honda Accord as a murder weapon, I have killed a grand total of zero animals.
The 8-year-old me would be disappointed to hear this. For much of my childhood, I longed to hunt. I counted down the years until hunter safety classes. I sucked the marrow from bones that came from animals my family had raised or caught.
But as I grew older, our culture’s squeamishness with killing animals for food seeped in, and my own hypocrisy grew. When I was 9, a babysitter put on Bambi for all of the neighbor kids while our parents were out hunting. Moms and dads loaded with fresh venison returned to a room full of tiny anti-hunting advocates. I turned my nose up at gamey family dinners and begged my dad to not shoot does. By age 10, I disavowed my plans to hunt over a greasy slice of pepperoni pizza.
In my early 20s, I spent a year as a vegetarian. My vegetarianism worried my parents, and they brought coolers of beef on visits to Seattle in hopes of tempting me. But I couldn’t justify meat eating on just family trade and tradition. The human race has a rich history of doing bad things and using tradition as an excuse to continue doing them. See: slavery, female subjugation, religious persecution. Cultures can be cruel. Parents are often wrong.
Still, even though the usual vegetarian literature had a large effect on my thinking, I never felt a true aversion to so-called happy meat. The fact that the planet as a whole needs to eat far less (and far better) meat was what put me off the stuff. So when my boyfriend saw the contents of my freezer for the first time and said, “I don’t think we’re vegetarians anymore,” I quietly slipped back into meat eating. I had beef from some of the happiest cows in Montana right there, so what was stopping me? Now that I’m back on the meat wagon, I’ve considered learning how to hunt. But I’m still not sure if I could pull the trigger when the time came.
Here’s the thing, though: If you’re going to eat meat, it’s hard to find a source as ethically and environmentally sound as venison. Deer depend on open spaces for sustenance. We’ve wiped out most of their natural predators to the point that an overabundance of deer threatens the balance of Eastern forest ecosystems. And when it comes to dying, a quick shot is kinder than slow starvation, or the messy violence of the aforementioned Honda Accord.
And death comes no matter what. As hunter Ryan Graves opines in the (excellent) podcast Here Be Monsters, “The fact that most people haven’t seen somebody die — and everybody dies — doesn’t that sound weird? There’s people who haven’t seen an animal die. … It’s frustrating that there’s such a stigma around death. It’s as important as birth.” With venison, the life of the animal is evident in every bite: the toughness of an old buck who spent his life dodging hunters, the tenderness of a fawn who never caught on to the dangers of the world, or the stringiness of a doe who fell during a hard winter.
By contrast, the flavor of farm animals has been bred out. We raise millions of acres of corn to fatten them up. Once our cattle leave the ranch for the Midwest, grassy notes of alfalfa fade out; anyone who has tasted grass-fed beef vs. the supermarket variety can tell the difference. And then there is the cruelty: Male chicks are ground up alive, and some hogs never see natural light. Industrial agriculture denies the animal side of the animal, whether in bland nuggets or in debeaking crowded egg hens. Death is made terrible through a system that erases the individual in favor of factory logic and precision.
Bad deaths in hunting look much different. A few days before my dad’s successful hunt, he shot a buck from a hundred yards in the icy slough on the edge of our property. The animal went down hard, and my father was sure that it was dead or dying. But then the buck tried pulling himself to his feet. His back looked broken. Hooves struck out and slipped. Blood spread on the white ground. In earlier years, my father would have immediately taken another shot to end the awful scene. But now my dad was worried he might just wound the deer again, so he moved quickly on the buck to deliver the killing blow.
Suddenly, the deer was on his feet and gone. This was not the alternate tale of Bambi’s father; the buck didn’t slip off to nuzzle fawns and warn of orange vests. This was a wounded animal in the Montana cold. My father searched the brush for hours. He wanted to finish the death he started. He didn’t find the deer.
If the other Smiths are right and meat is indeed murder, then my father qualifies as a serial killer. But that didn’t keep him from beating himself up. Most hunters pass down a sense of responsibility that’s just as critical as gun safety or jerky recipes. There are exemptions, of course, including poachers who slaughter elk herds and leave them to rot in the meadows. But not my dad: He obsessively described the scene, softened, and tore into himself again. While the deer might have survived, it was still enough to make my father question whether he was too old to hunt.
But last fall’s heart in the sink meant he returned to that field, and he will return this fall. He found a resolution, but I don’t know that I ever found mine. In my memory of that morning, I’m still not sure if my stomach turned from confronting the bloody reality of eating animals, or from knowing I should have been in the field beside my father, quietly learning the importance and trade of a quick death.
I do know this: I’d rather have more in common with the creatures in the woods that maim and kill than with a person who eats factory farmed meat while ignoring the industrial cruelty that enables it. So I’ll seek out those good deaths where I can find them, and turn to vegetables where I can’t.
Speaking of good deaths: My dad dropped the owner of that heart with one shot. Later in the day, we stood in the yard and looked down at his kill. It had been breathing and wild and running hours before. Now it lay gutted and still. My dad said how thankful he was to the animal as blood seeped into the snow in the yard and the dogs looked on longingly.
That evening in the living room, I overheard my father on the phone carrying on about the hunt, how his own heart raced when the deer stepped into the field.
“What a beautiful buck,” he said. “I’m sorry I had to shoot the handsome son of a bitch.”
Filed under: Article, Food, Living
It’s music festival season, and since we can’t (nor would we) drive all over the country picking your asses up in our VW bus, we’ve decided to do one better and bring the festivities to you this year. We’ve partnered with our planet-loving friends at Pickathon to bring you this year’s fest — right here — live all weekend long from the Pendarvis Farm in Happy Valley, Ore.
Our dearly departed David Roberts put it best when he called it “a music festival made by people who love music festivals for people who love music festivals.” So, music festival lovers, get your favorite party favors together (don’t worry, we won’t pat you down at the gates), bookmark us, and settle in for a wonderful weekend of music with us right here at Grist.
Here’s your schedule (all times Pacific):
- 12:40-1:40 p.m. – Sam Amidon
- 1:40-2:40 p.m. – Sam Cohen
- 3-4 p.m. – Joseph
- 4:10-5:10 p.m. – Rodrigo Amarante
- 5:10-6:10 p.m. – Happyness
- 6:20-7:20 p.m. – Kamasi Washington
- 7:30-8:30 p.m. – Ryley Walker
- 8:40-9:40 p.m. – Cloud Nothings
- 9:40-10:40 p.m. – Meatbodies
- 10:50-11:50 p.m. – Hiss Golden Messenger
- 1 a.m.-2 a.m. – Wolf People
- 11:20 a.m.-12:20 p.m. – Jessica Pratt
- 12:20-1:20 p.m. – Ex Hex
- 1:20-2:20 p.m. – Kevin Morby
- 2:40-3:40 p.m. – Mandolin Orange
- 3:40-4:40 p.m. – Dom Flemons
- 5:00 – 6:00 pm – JD McPherson
- 6:00 – 7:00 pm – Broncho
- 7:20 – 8:30 pm – Turnpike Troubadours
- 8:40 – 9:40 pm – Shabazz Palaces
- 9:40 – 10:50 pm – DIIV
- 11:20 pm – 12:20 am – Viet Cong
- 12:30 – 1:30 am – Tinariwen
- 11:20 am – 12:20pm – Liz Vice
- 12:30 – 1:30 pm – The Weather Station
- 1:40 – 2:40 pm – Vetiver
- 2:40 – 3:40 pm – Ty Segall
- 4:00 – 5:00 pm – Freakwater
- 5:10 – 6:10 pm – BRONCHO
- 6:30 – 7:30 pm – Ernest Ranglin
- 7:40 – 8:50 pm – tUnE-yArDs
- 8:50 – 10:00 pm – Leon Bridges
- 10:00 – 11:00 pm – King Tuff
- 11:30 pm – 12:30 am – Thundercat
- 1:00 – 2:00 am – Cloud Nothing
Filed under: Living
We know it’s getting warmer here on Earth, and that has some obvious side effects … and some pretty weird ones. This one falls in the latter category: The male Australian bearded dragon will reverse its own sex when it gets hot enough out.
In the latest episode of The Adaptors, Flora Lichtman and Katherine Wells talk to Australian biologist Claire Holleley about the possible fate of these adorable lizards as the planet continues to heat degree by degree. At about 32 degrees C (90 degrees F), bearded dragons that are genetically male will often develop into females. Later, they can mate and pass on their genes to offspring, who will also be prone to this sex reversal.
It gets especially weird when a lot of these genetically male females breed, because their chromosomes are still male. If enough of these lizards breed, the female W chromosome (the dragon version of human’s Y chromosome) could be lost to the population for good. That means climate change could drive these lizards to extinction, in one of the strangest ways we’ve heard of yet.
Listen to the podcast below, or subscribe:
Filed under: Climate & Energy, Science
The New York Inventor Exchange approves the Lighted Gift Box for licensing and trading intellectual property rights.
(PRWeb July 31, 2015)
Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/worldpatentmarketing/lightedgiftbox/prweb12866415.htm
ATRS Recycling to collect 20,000 Beantown Bedding sets during the 2015 Summer Games in Southern California
(PRWeb July 31, 2015)
Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2015/07/prweb12866742.htm