I'll be at Little Green Animals if you need me. Happy Earth Day.
NASA has a page showing how quickly the fire's that started yesterday morning turned into the constellation of
11 14 19 fires raging around Southern California tonight.
Got this off City News Service: "California's major wildfires have cost billions of dollars in insurance losses. The most costly was the Oakland Hills fire in October 1991, when 2,900 structures were lost. That fire resulted in $1.7 billion in insured losses.
The 2003 Cedar Fire in the San Diego area resulted in 2,200 lost structures and $1.06 billion in insured losses. That same year the Old Fire in San Bernardino County burned down 1,100 buildings and cost $975 million in losses, according to the Insurance Information Network of California."
With the Witch Fire near San Diego at 145,000 acres and having destroyed 600 homes, and the Ranch, Magic and Buckweed Fires in Northern Los Angeles County projected to merge into one 80,000 acre blaze by morning [link is to Inciweb -- excellent fire-following resource], it's hard to believe something in the next few days won't top them all.
Okay, those aren't exactly the words the Center for Biological Diversity used in its far more soberingly worded press release today. But it's the basic sentiment: “Whether the blue whales are being disoriented by military sonar, toxic algae or something else entirely," it reads, "the single most effective thing we can do to protect blue whales is to slow down large ships.”
If you live in Southern California and pay any attention at all, you know that three blue whales in less than two weeks have turned up dead in the Santa Barbara Channel here off Southern Calfornia's coast, all of them thought to have been struck by ships. But what you and almost nobody else knows is this: What causes a deftly echolocating ocean beast to collide with a speeding tanker that can be heard three days away? Blue whales, the largest living mammals, can map an entire ocean by sending out their call. How the hell are they plowing into ships the size of small cities?
Could it be that they're suffering from the same toxic algae that disorients dolphins and sea lions, known as domoic acid? The toxin has increased in the seas as they've warmed , say some marine biologists, and the whales have been lingering in a place they typically breeze by. But has domoic acid ever killed a whale before? "They seem awfully big for that," said one biologist I talked to on the phone yesterday. Okay, maybe.
Or could it be that our brave Navy has been blasting noise into the ocean for the last three weeks, noise that could break the eardrums of humans?
On September 11, a federal court told the Navy to go ahead with its mid-range frequency sonar exercises until it makes a final decision about it. Which means that whales have a new obstacle in the already noisy ocean: 235 decibels of screeching noise, as high as a terrier's bark and
400 10,000 billion times as loud. The federal government knows for sure that this exact sonar has killed other whales before: a group of smaller, more elusive beaked whales that came ashore in the Bahamas six years ago. Three of those dead whales had bloodied eardrums, another had bleeding on the brain.
The blue whales lost off our coast, however, were so far gone by the time they were examined that it was pretty hard to tell anything about their eardrums. Said Frances Gulland of the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California, "their organs weren't fresh enough to determine that."
I have a news story coming out about this tomorrow night, but there's way more to be said about this that couldn't be expressed in a one-page news story, including the deep, horrified scream I feel making its way out of my body every time I think about how 235 decibels of mid-frequency noise sounds to an animal who relies on sound for its map of the world. Of course scientists have "no evidence" that sonar confused -- or even killed -- the whales. But they don't have any evidence that it didn't. And to me, it's pretty hard to believe that it didn't.
At any rate, I'm all for slowing down the ships, which the CBD says will reduce pollution anyway. The CBD has thus petitioned both Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez and William Hogarth of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration to "set a speed limit of 10 nautical miles per hour in the Santa Barbara Channel for all vessels 65 feet or larger until the whales have left the channel," noting that the Fisheries service has already proposed this on the east coast to protect the nearly extinct right whale.
I am for this. But I'm also for the most elementary common-sense precaution to protect these rare and astonishing creatures.
Stop Navy sonar testing now, and in all whale migration seasons in the future. It's insane.
Not all of the 48,000 some people who showed up at Burning Man this year are happy. Take this guy, for instance, kissing his girlfriend goodbye as he gets hauled away in handcuffs, presumably for drugs. There's been a fair amount of that.
The man accused of burning the Man on Tuesday morning has become an anti-hero martyr here: An art installation meant to bring Astor Place to the Playa has been plastered with "Free Paul!" graffiti, as have several shade structures. Paul Addis, a playwright from San Francisco, is in custody.
The Man burned fine last night, as did "Crude Awakening," a 90-foot effigy of an oil rig complete with supplicants made of steel. It exploded in a mammoth mushroom cloud of propane fuel. Fossil fuel. Then we danced around it to celebrate its destruction. Contemplate the irony.
(Photo by Michael Tracey)
The past two days have brought some weather to Black Rock City that has definitely enriched the experience. On Thursday whiteout conditions raged for hours in the afternoon, obliterating many structures and coating everything with a generous coating of dust. I'm writing in one now, in fact, nestled in the relative comfort of the Burning Man Regional Info Center, where there's both bandwidth and friendly people. I can't see farther than four feet in front of me. But I can hear a nice house beat coming from some camp a block down the street.
One big story here, and there are many, is about the corporate influence the Burning Man organization has allowed to seep in to the event. Some people accuse Burning Man of selling out; others worry entrepreneurism will ruin the party's charm. The organization counters that without corporate involvement, Burning Man will become an isolated relic of a moribund party culture, not unlike the hippie movement of the ‘60s.
At a talk today at Otter Oasis, I understood what both sides meant.
First there was Bob Noble, an architect with the San Diego Green Building Council, who assessed the spirit of the moment and went with it: He even got a round of applause when he announced that he’d left his PowerPoints at home. Noble told about new photovoltaic technology, the “thin film” that should be on every RV in the country; he bragged about San Diego’s Solar Forest, which uses the principles of biomimicry to provide both shade and power.
Next was Matt Chiakas [not sure about that spelling, sorry], who facilitates a movement based in Santa Barbara, California to convert the country to 100 percent renewable energy by 2033, “Fossil Free in ’33.” “We’re actually trying to do it by 2030,” he admitted, “but we decided to give ourselves three extra years because it’s a tough thing to do. Plus, it rhymes.”
This is all good and fun: Fossil Free may be a story to follow in the future. But I had gone to the talk hoping to hear Mark Cheney of Renewable Energy MMA, the firm that donated the 30 kilowatt solar array that power the man (which is back up, by the way). Cheney didn't show up; in his stead was a public relations expert who explained the necessity of public relations and talked about "planting memes" to address global warming. "The only reason we haven't solved global warming is that we haven't tried," she said.
At that point, I got up and left. Not because I disagreed with her -- I did, in fact, in a big way. But the talk had started a half-hour late, the guy I'd come to see wasn't there, and I wanted to get over to see Daniel Pinchbeck speak at Entheon Village by 3:30.
"I hope this isn't a protest," the woman said abruptly as I walked away. I assured her it wasn't. "I'm just getting a little paranoid after reading the discussions on ePlaya."
The defensiveness seemed misplaced, as well as a misunderstanding of the environment. People come and go here; they drift in and out, and there's a lot to do: You could be busy every second and not see all you came to see; I always go home with a deep sense of regret over everything I missed. You get tired and overstimulated if you get too ambitious, and the Playa is not the place to sit through a talk out of obligation.
That’s what you do in a corporate environment, though, and that’s one of the hazards of corporate life: Too much has been automated, too much protocol put in place that doesn’t matter. And if that takes hold at Burning Man, it will be a relic for sure.
Whiteout still rages. It’s kind of nice, actually, like a snow day in Minnesota, where I grew up. All I can do is hang out in this shelter until it subsides and see if anyone has a beer they want to share. Or a vodka, or a glass of wine, or . . . I’m not picky.
I'll add links and pics as I can later. It's hell getting a signal.
How did Burning Man founder and self-described "messianic personality" Larry Harvey take the "premature immolation" of the Man during the lunar eclipse early Tuesday morning? Even better the rest of us.
"First of all," he said this morning at a Playa press conference, "it teaches us a lesson. There's a process called 'reification' when you forget the meaning comes from you and not from an object. And lest peop;e thought there was ju ju inherent in the Man," this provided them with an opportunity to learn that there isn't.
It also gave them an opportunity "to see what they haven’t seen in years. People haven’t got to see the building process. It will remind tham that it’s our dedication that makes the city what it is.
"They’ll see us crane it up. They'll be reminded of the dedication that goes into this event. And it reminds us that -- this is a story about redemption, isn't it? When he gets put back on you’re going to hear a howl. It’s a good story."
Harvey also believes that Burning Man will help resolve the old rift between the political activists and the hippie partiers. "If the 60’s had been as structured as Burning Man it might have worked out," he says. "A good party builds community."
(Please forgive technical errors in this post. I'm not high [yet] but the signal is spotty and I'm sitting behind a desk on the Esplanade and it's beautiful and people think I'm an authority figure and ask me all kinds of questions. But the weather rocks. Hot, sunny and STILL.)
(Photo of the fire fighters hosing the man by Dan Garcia.)
Greetings from Burning Man 2007.
Here's the news.
While the full eclipsed moon still floated above the Playa like a smooth orange balloon, the man went up in flames.
In case you haven't been here, this typically happens on Saturday, at the end of the event. Not
Monday Tuesday at 3:00 a.m.
First reports said the neon on the man had shorted out after they turned him off and then back on again in honor of the eclipse (I didn't notice this; I was immersed in the spetacular sky.) Most more reliable reports now say it's arson; two rangers I spoke with told me that at least one person is in custody. Several witnesses apparently saw at least one person climb the structure supporting the Man and set off fireworks. (Some people have also said he hurt himself.)
One man I talked to happened to be in the pavilion under the Man ("The Green Man" Pavilion, in keeping with this years enviro-conscious art theme) when he heard everybody shouting "get the fuck out!" There wasn't a lot of art in there yet.
More on this tomorrow. The official word out of Burning Man officials right now is that pavillion under the man is currently roped pending investigation in the morning,
Other than that, it's beautiful here. Lots of solar-powered art, but still lots of big-ass flame-throwers, too. I'm in the Red Nose District again, and it's awesome.
That nutjob senator from Oklahoma had it wrong: It's not climate change that's the biggest hoax ever perpetrated on the American People.
It's bottled water. Way back at the Bioneers conference in 2005, when I traded my Nalgene bottle for a stainless steel Klean Kanteen, which I fill with filtered tap water, I had reservations about drinking bottled water that had been transported from Australia/Fiji/England/France/Venus in plastic. I was only concerned about my health back then, not so much the planet.
But after reading about plastic in the oceans, plastic in the landfills, the environmental cost of manufacturing and disposing of plastic bottles and this:
[I]n Fiji, a state-of-the-art factory spins out more than a million bottles a day of the hippest bottled water on the U.S. market today, while more than half the people in Fiji do not have safe, reliable drinking water. Which means it is easier for the typical American in Beverly Hills or Baltimore to get a drink of safe, pure, refreshing Fiji water than it is for most people in Fiji.
(From a fine bottled-water exposé on Fast Company ) I've become a tap-water fascist.
I gently lecture everybody who insists that bottled water is the only healthy way to live. I recite statistics about the relative safety and health of municipal water supplies. I remind them that, as a New York Times editorial pointed out last week, if we don't drink our tap water we won't invest in our clean water infrastructure, and we'll all be like Fiji: The only people with clean water are the ones who can pay for it. "The last thing America needs," said the NYT, "is two water streams — one for the rich and another for the rest of us."
But just as this movement was gaining steam, along comes the Metropolitan Water District, hell bent on going through with its four-year plan to fluoridate Southern California's tap water. As of October 29, the MWD will begin adding 0.8 parts per million fluoride to the water of 18 million customers in Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, and parts of San Bernardino, Riverside and Ventura counties. Whether you like it or not. (They call it "adjusting" the fluoride levels in water, because Southern California water already has naturally occurring fluoride concentrations of 0.1 to 0.4 parts per million.)
Why? Because the American Dental Association says so. Fluoride kills decay-causing microbes on contact, and the ADA believes fluoride is a public health necessity, especially for children. Does it matter if those children also get little white spots on their enamel, an undisputed side-effect of preventing tooth decay with fluoride called "enamel fluorosis"? Or if several studies have strongly suggested that fluoridated drinking water may disrupt thyroid function, lower IQs and cause an increase in a rare form of bone cancer, osteosarcoma, in children?
The Environmental Working Group has been arguing for months now that several studies have been released in the last four years that cast doubt on the public-health value of fluoridated drinking water. Even the American Dental Association, in its "Interim Guidance on Fluoride Intake for Infants and Young Children," recommends that infant formula should be mixed with non-fluoridated bottled water to avoid exposing babies to dangerously high levels of fluoride.
This is crazy. The more I read about it, the crazier it gets. Even if it's true that the ingestion of fluoride (as opposed to its topical application) prevents tooth decay, why do we have to have industrial-waste silicofluoride chemicals -- chemicals that have never been FDA-approved for human ingestion -- forced on us in our drinking water? Why can't we choose it in our toothpaste, for example (I, personally, don't)?
Simply because a certain percentage of lower-income families may not choose that toothpaste. "[Fluoridation] is a powerful strategy to reduce disparities in tooth decay among different populations and is more cost-effective than other forms of fluoride treatments or applications," says the ADA.
In other words, it saves money. Intriguingly, even though the URL "fluoridealert.org" belongs to the anti-fluoridation Fluoride Action Network, "fluoridealert.com" will redirect you to an ADA-controlled Web site, where you'll learn that "The average cost for a community to fluoridate its water is estimated to range from approximately $0.50 a year per person in large communities to approximately $3 a year per person in small communities. For most cities, every $1 invested in water fluoridation saves $38 in dental treatment costs."
Given that 108 million Americans have no dental insurance, that dentists often have to fill cavities below cost in rural and low-income urban communities, this represents a cost-savings bonanza for the dental profession. Better that adults should come in to have their teeth capped, bonded and whitened due to enamel fluorosis than that a dentist should have to fill another child's cavity on an Indian reservation in Alaska.
I don't buy the conspiracy theory that municipal water fluoridation is just a cheap way for industry to dump its fluoride. But I do believe the ADA, which has been known to suppress the opinions of dentists opposed to fluoridation, has something at stake in the fluoride issue. And it isn't an altrustic concern for public health.
Our results support the hypothesis that cats are highly exposed to PBDEs; hence, pet cats may serve as sentinels to better assess human exposure and adverse health outcomes related to low-level but chronic PBDE exposure.
A new study by the Environmental Protection Agency, et al, "Elevated PBDE Levels in Pet Cats: Sentinels for Humans?" has been making the blog rounds of late, proving, perhaps, that we can muster up more outrage over the suffering of house pets than we can about a world of children. ("That's it. Now I'm really angry," writes Eric de Place on the Grist blog.)
I'm not judging this or criticizing this impulse; in fact I share it.
What do you mean my innocent cats, the ones I raised by bottle since their first day on earth, have been lounging on toxic furniture? That their very fastidiousness, their assiduous grooming, has caused them to ingest more of the flame-retardant chemicals that sully our sofas than do our dirty pet canines?
Wasting away with thyroid disease possibly brought on by exposure to polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), they can have no idea what made them sick or why, and they're powerless to stop it. It's unconscionable.
But as the journal of Environmental Science and Technology points out, we already knew that children have been taking on more PBDEs from household products than adults do in the same househould; in fact, a study published in 2006 found "children's levels 2- to 5-fold higher than those of their parents." In other words, we should have been outraged already.
Doesn't matter, though, really, does it? Whatever wakes us up. And we have no excuse. What matters now is what we do about it. And there's no greater authority on this than author, climber and biophysical chemist Arlene Blum, who in the 1970 worked to get another flame retardant chemical, Tris, banned from children's sleepwear. On the Huffington Post, she writes not only of her cat's battle with (PBDE-triggered?) hyperthyroidism, but also of the ongoing political struggle to ban disease-causing chemicals from our household products, furniture and toys. PBDEs have already been banned in California, but:
The bad news is that the very same Tris, I'd helped remove from kid's pajamas decades ago is replacing them. A handful of companies -- Albemarle, Dead Sea Bromine, and Chemtura -- supply potentially toxic fire retardant chemicals to the foam and furniture industries with assurances of safety. And these fire retardant manufacturers have already spent $1.4 million in Sacramento this year opposing reforms that would protect our health and environment.
As Blum notes, MomsRising.org has a letter-writing campaign going to urge the swift passage and approval of AB 706, the bill working its way through Sacramento that would "require all
seating, bedding, and furniture products to comply with certain requirements, including . . . the requirement that they not contain brominated fire retardants or chlorinated fire retardants," beginning in 2010.
Don't just do it for your cat. Do it for yourself. And your kids.
And, of course, it goes without saying: Do it for future generations of cats.
Last night my fella was catching up on this week's episode of "Entourage," in which that one kid, Turtle, gets pulled over and searched with three girls in the car. The cop who pats him down finds a prescription bottle full of ganja on him -- a precious and nearly extinct strain, as it happens. The cop tells Turtle to get down on his knees -- on a Los Angeles street, by the way -- which Turtle does. The cop hands Turtle the bottle of weed.
To be more explicit about this: Turtle is kneeling on the street right in front of the opening under the curb into which water and dirt flow off the street. The kind of slot that Heal the Bay stencils to remind you that everything you throw down there goes into the ocean. The drain our city planners invented so our streets wouldn't flood.
Then cop tells Turtle to throw the bottle of rare marijuana down the "sewer."
And, really, who wouldn't? I don't even smoke the stuff and I'd be loathe to deposit that little bottle of goods down that slot. Because, after all, it isn't a "sewer," is it?
No, it isn't. It's a storm drain. And you're not supposed to throw your garbage down the storm drain.
"That's really bad public education," I shouted at the TV. "Bad, bad, bad. This is why I hate television."
"Are you going to blog about it?" asked my guy.
"I guess I am," I said.
And so I am.
All that stenciling the sidewalks with the sweet little dolphins in blue paint. All those public awareness campaigns about beach closures and storm drains. The NRDC's announcement last week that the local beaches are dirtier than ever, drought be damned. That story I wrote last year about the lost streams of Los Angeles. Ken Weiss's Pulitzer Prize-winning series on the Oceans for the Los Angeles Times. All this -- and yet some bone-headed television writer lets a police officer refer to our storm drains that water and pollute the ocean as a SEWER?!
Don't those idiots surf?"
Luckily, Turtle really wanted his dope, rare, precious strain that it is. And perhaps he even cared about the ocean enough to not throw shit down the storm drain. So he got down on his knees again and fished it out.