Saturday, September 29, 2007

Carbon Crisis -- An Essay From National Geographic

The people around me seem to be living in two different worlds. Most folks seem to recognize that the world is getting warmer, and that something needs to be done. I have seen the average size cars in the parking lot shrink. I am seeing people considering relocating to be closer to work, or looking for jobs closer to home. Nobody brags about their new snowmobiles anymore. I also have small, concerned conversations with people who are worried about the future but unable to figure out the best way to prepare for change or to shoulder their responsibilty.

The essay in the new National Geographic, Carbon Crisis by Bill McKibben, was welcome. When a major source of information about our planet outlines the crisis at our door, it's hard for anyone to write it off as a "political gambit".

Here's how it works. Before the industrial revolution, the Earth's atmosphere contained about 280 parts per million of carbon dioxide. That was a good amount–"good" defined as "what we were used to." Since the molecular structure of carbon dioxide traps heat near the planet's surface that would otherwise radiate back out to space, civilization grew up in a world whose thermostat was set by that number. It equated to a global average temperature of about 57 degrees Fahrenheit (about 14 degrees Celsius), which in turn equated to all the places we built our cities, all the crops we learned to grow and eat, all the water supplies we learned to depend on, even the passage of the seasons that, at higher latitudes, set our psychological calendars.

Once we started burning coal and gas and oil to power our lives, that 280 number started to rise. When we began measuring in the late 1950s, it had already reached the 315 level. Now it's at 380, and increasing by roughly two parts per million annually. That doesn't sound like very much, but it turns out that the extra heat that CO2 traps, a couple of watts per square meter of the Earth's surface, is enough to warm the planet considerably. We've raised the temperature more than a degree Fahrenheit (0.56 degrees Celsius) already. It's impossible to precisely predict the consequences of any further increase in CO2 in the atmosphere. But the warming we've seen so far has started almost everything frozen on Earth to melting; it has changed seasons and rainfall patterns; it's set the sea to rising.

McKibben also does a good job of summarizing the work we need to tackle to fight climate change:
The first question–is it even possible?–is usually addressed by fixating on some single new technology (hydrogen! ethanol!) and imagining it will solve our troubles. But the scale of the problem means we'll need many strategies. Three years ago a Princeton team made one of the best assessments of the possibilities. Stephen Pacala and Robert Socolow published a paper in Science detailing 15 stabilization wedges"–changes big enough to really matter, and for which the technology was already available or clearly on the horizon. Most people have heard of some of them: more fuel-efficient cars, better-built homes, wind turbines, biofuels like ethanol. Others are newer and less sure: plans for building coal-fired power plants that can separate carbon from the exhaust so it can be "sequestered" underground.

These approaches have one thing in common: They're more difficult than simply burning fossil fuel. They force us to realize that we've already had our magic fuel and that what comes next will be more expensive and more difficult. The price tag for the global transition will be in the trillions of dollars. Of course, along the way it will create myriad new jobs, and when it's complete, it may be a much more elegant system. (Once you've built the windmill, the wind is free; you don't need to guard it against terrorists or build a massive army to control the countries from which it blows.) And since we're wasting so much energy now, some of the first tasks would be relatively easy. If we replaced every incandescent bulb that burned out in the next decade anyplace in the world with a compact fluorescent, we'd make an impressive start on one of the 15 wedges. But in that same decade we'd need to build 400,000 large wind turbines–clearly possible, but only with real commitment. We'd need to follow the lead of Germany and Japan and seriously subsidize rooftop solar panels; we'd need to get most of the world's farmers plowing their fields less, to build back the carbon their soils have lost. We'd need to do everything all at once.
I'll be copying this article and bringing it to work. I think I'll also send it to my congressional representative, the one who ll thinks that "the debate is how much has man contributed to (climate change), and what solutions should we try."

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Sandhill Cranes

A pair of Sandhill Cranes, as seen from French Road near the corner of Bodus Rd. Richard tells me they have been in the neighborhood for about two weeks. They are probably resting on their way south.
Posted by Picasa

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Money and Brains

I don't write much about my job dealing at the casino. Much of what I see is a window into the personal, and this town is too small to be telling those stories. in fifteen years I have seen a lot and I see certain patterns about how people think and feel about money and luck.

I ran into an article titled "Your Money and Your Brain" at the dentist's office last week. Although the Money magazine writer was trying to explain the thought processes behind investement decisions, it might just as well be about gambling.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

First Day of Sixth Grade

Anna's first day of sixth grade was yesterday. I was in Leland at the end of the school day, so I stopped by to pick her up. I watched each kid exit Mrs. Lisuk's classroom, waiting for Anna. They sure have grown! But the kids looked oddly self conscious as the exited the classroom one by one.

I had forgotten about Mrs. Lisuk's exit rituals. Sh had stationed herself by the door and would only release each kid when they had told her "Goodbye" using the ritual of the day. On the first day of school it was a simple "Hasta Manana!" Some kids were fine with it, but others clutched when asked to utter the unfamiliar words. On the board were the rituals for the rest of this week. My favorite was "May the force be with you," answered by "And also with you."

In Sixth Grade, although students are still physically in the Elementary wing, they are starting the middle school curriculum. They will spend the year learning about learning. They will each be issued a laptop computer to use at school and at home. They will study learning styles and identify themselves as visual, auditory or kinetic learners. They will learn study strategies for all styles, and then practice by doing a lot of work in groups.

Later on in 7th grade they will investigate possible careers and do job shadowing with volunteers from the community. They will learn how to do internet research and business correspondence by researching and writing to colleges and trade schools that fit with the careers that they are considering. We want them to have enter high school with some idea of what they will do after graduation, and a realistic idea of what they will have to achieve in high school in order to make their plans happen.

In 8th grade they will learn to write resumes, fill out job applications, and how to conduct oneself in a job interview. At the end of the year, every student will go to an actual job interview, walking alone to a business in the village. Our business community graciously participates in this program, but many of the seasonal places snag good summer help this way.

Anna spent last week trying on possible "first day of school" outfits but then finally opted to wear the same plain shorts and tank top she had worn the day before. Mrs. Lisuk's room was filled with monarch butterfly items, including a tank of milkweed with caterpillars and chrysalises destined to become butterflies. Our K-12 school is all one building, but we house 7th and 8th grades upstairs by themselves, the chrysalis, where they can grow into confident, self-directed high school students.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Interview in the Enterprise

Daniel Wilson and me in a photo from the Leelanau Enterprise

I was interviewed in the Leelanau Enterprise for their special issue on odd jobs that people do in this county. I didn't realize until recently that it had been posted on the Enterprise's website. Here it is for those of you who are curious about my casino job.
I was happy about the way it turned out, especially the way he emphasized that we work those crazy hours because it works out well for our families.