Category Archives: Quandaries and Rants

Virtual Reality, Deepfaces, 1000 Hours Outside…

Virtual Reality, Deepfakes, 1000 Hours Outside…   —by Jinny Batterson

As a boomer, I notice that my faculties are slowly declining. Also, habits younger folks now have are different from the ones I grew up with. Back in the 1950’s, parents and other adults fretted that we children and teens might turn into zombies from drinking too much unhealthy milk (contaminated by radiation from atmospheric nuclear tests) and watching too much television. Most nuclear testing has by now gone underground. The media landscape has evolved considerably. 

Now we have virtual reality. According to a recent article in Forbes Magazine (https://www.forbes.com/sites/solrogers/2019/06/21/2019-the-year-virtual-reality-gets-real/#3338ad6e6ba9), this technology is rapidly gaining adherents: “Worldwide, VR market volume is expected to reach 98.4 million sales by 2023, generating an installed base of 168 million units with a worldwide population penetration of 2%. Growth is forecast across all regions and countries, with China leading the way.”  Will all of us eventually be festooned with virtual reality headsets that enable us to sense ourselves anywhere, anytime we want?  

A somewhat different concern is the use of artificial intelligence capabilities to produce digitally altered “deepfakes,” seemingly genuine online videos of fictitious scenarios.  Bloomberg News recently raised an alarm:  https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-01-06/how-deepfakes-make-disinformation-more-real-than-ever-quicktake. (It may be relevant to note, in this political season, that Bloomberg’s chair, Michael Bloomberg, is a U.S. presidential candidate.) The same day, Facebook announced that it planned to ban deepfakes from its platforms, though without a lot of detail about how it intended to accomplish this. 

My reaction to the ongoing media onslaught has been to avoid too much media exposure. A generally mild January has aided my effort, kicked off by a “First Day Hike” in a nearby state park. Such hikes started a number of years ago, and last year enticed over 55,000 individuals to take January 1 hikes in parks in all 50 states (https://www.stateparks.org/initiatives-special-programs/first-day-hikes/ ).  

The family walking behind me as I hiked were carrying on a lively conversation about a program for their school-age children called “1000 hours outside.”  Started among home schooling parents, the program is an attempt to counteract the tremendous number of hours most youngsters spend in “screen time.” According to the effort’s website blog (https://1000hoursoutside.com/index.html/), “1,000 hours outside, though daunting, is doable over the course of a calendar year… If kids can consume media through screens 1200 hours a year on average then the time is there and at least some of it can and should be shifted towards a more productive and healthy outcome.”

My childhood eons ago was not as scheduled as that of current-day youngsters, but my recollections are that we spent most of our non-school, non-chore time outside, and had to be called indoors to supper, sometimes protesting vehemently. 

As a former computer professional, I’ve spent many hours of “screen time.” I’ve also benefited from advances in transportation technology to travel widely to natural areas around the globe. Through thousands of hours outdoors in many different weathers and climates, I’ve developed a perspective shared by many farmers, fishers, and foresters: We humans are a small part of creation. 

Though we’ve developed technologies with hugely destructive potential, we’d have a much harder time surviving without the rest of nature than the rest of nature would have surviving without the human race. No advances in virtual reality or deepfakes can change that.

Playing for a Tie

Playing for a Tie…   —by Jinny Batterson

Most of the formal games I play are board games. Competitive athletics were pretty much out of the question for this lifelong klutz. Growing up, my brothers, sister and I got lots of gift games at Christmas to carry us through the cold weather months—classics like Monopoly, Clue, Stratego, plus other “big hits” of the time that haven’t aged as well. Once we got a little older, we were given word games like Scrabble. As my vocabulary grew, I got to be a pretty good Scrabble player in my first language, English. In high school, I played a few casual games in French, but English tile values for letters like “q” and “z” were inappropriate and we never got a French-based set, so the Scrabble fad in French club quickly died out. 

In my twenties, I started playing two-person Scrabble games with my husband, the super-competitor. It rarely mattered if I got better letters. He was much better at word placement, racking up double words and triple letters all over the place. Eventually, he’d beaten me so consistently that I decided I didn’t want to play him any more. Much later, we arranged a truce of sorts—we would still play each other, just not keep score. 

Several years ago, a mutual friend introduced us to the word game Quiddler, which can be played more quickly than Scrabble and requires less space, using playing card sized letters rather than tiles and a board. Hubby still beats me the majority of the time, but not by the lopsided proportions he used to tally up in Scrabble. I occasionally have a long enough winning streak so I’m willing to keep trying. We’ve adapted the original rules slightly: we play eight rounds per game, starting with a hand of four cards each, adding one card with each successive hand. The close games are more fun than the really lopsided ones—a hand with no vowels or no consonants, especially in a later round, can put you behind so far it’s almost impossible to catch up. 

Winning is fun, losing less so, but the contests I cherish most are the rarest—about once in a hundred games, we wind up with a tie score. Jim doesn’t get as much satisfaction as I do from the ties, but he humors me. 

On a whim, I decided to see if I could get an internet read on what popular physical sports allow tie games. I found the resulting gem via Wikipedia: 

“Ties or draws are possible in some, but not all, sports and games. Such an outcome, sometimes referred to as deadlock, can (also) occur in politics, business, and wherever there are different factions regarding an issue.”

“Tie” and “draw” appeal to me a great deal more than “deadlock,” which sounds unduly negative. All of us will eventually wind up dead. All of us at some point experienced birth.  While we’re in between, we’ll likely experience some wonderfully positive times (weddings, children’s births, signature achievements, reunions with long-absent friends). Other times may make us wish temporarily for death: serious illnesses or accidents, natural disasters, financial reversals, tragedies for loved ones, divorces.  

In these fraught times, when so much of our media environment can seem intent on making our circumstances feel even more fraught, I want to put in a plug for ties. If we live in the northern hemisphere, we’re approaching the winter solstice, the time of year when daylight is minimal and dark is “winning.” Starting on December 22, though, our 24-hour day/dark cycle will tend again toward balance, toward a “tie” at the equinox. Nature provides two such ties per year. 

Ties have a different connotation than deadlocks; ties can be enjoyable, special.  Let’s learn or relearn how to savor them.   

 

 

Selective Memory and Finishing the Work We are In

Selective Memory and Finishing the Work We Are In  —by Jinny Batterson

I can remember parts of events that happened when I was much younger. On Friday, November 22, 1963, I was a Maryland high school student. I remember hearing our school principal start an announcement over the school intercom that day at an unusual time for announcements. I remember coming down the stairwell between the two floors of our building along with many other students changing classes. 

I don’t remember whether the announcement I heard while going downstairs was the first—that President Kennedy had been shot—or the second—that he had shortly afterward been pronounced dead at a Dallas hospital. I don’t remember whether school that day was dismissed early or whether school was canceled the following Monday for his funeral. I don’t remember much about that year’s Thanksgiving the following Thursday. 

Earlier in 1963, there had been a tense standoff between the nuclear-armed U.S.A. under Kennedy’s leadership, and the nuclear-armed U.S.S.R. under Nikita Khrushchev about the positioning of nuclear missiles on the island of Cuba, then led by Communist revolutionary Fidel Castro. I don’t remember whether my dad built a nuclear fallout shelter in our front yard before or after Kennedy was shot.  

Parts of our education when I was a student involved memorizing famous poems and speeches. I can recite most of a short Abraham Lincoln speech from a century earlier, first spoken in November, 1863 at a dedication ceremony for a military cemetery at the site of one of the U.S. Civil War’s deadliest battles:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are …testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and dedicated, can long endure.…The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. …It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us … that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

In the tragic days after Lincoln’s 1865 assassination, his Gettysburg speech was nearly forgotten. Later, the contents of the speech took on more importance. When the current Lincoln Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C. in 1922, the Gettysburg Address was inscribed on one of the monument’s inside walls.  

We are now experiencing another test of the viability of our democratic institutions. Each of us brings different memories to an ongoing impeachment inquiry. Witnesses and questioners interpret incidents differently, partly based on their training and point of view. Our current President ran for office touting the belief that our nation could return to a time when the U.S. was preeminent in global affairs. As an astute businessman, he could “fix things.” Some seem to think his position grants him nearly unlimited license to promote his own interests. Attempts to remove him from office are “character assassination.” Others less charitable to the President point out that our political system is based on checks and balances designed to restrict any one person or political entity from rigging the system to his own benefit, from “fixing things.” 

Absent from the immediate debates and questioning are considerations of the impacts of global over-dependence on fossil fuels to human and planetary health. Scientists tell us that both the United States of America and the rest of the world’s nations have only a decade or so to drastically curb our output of the climate-warming gasses produced by burning fossil fuels if we are to maintain a planet capable of supporting human life as we know it.

On another wall of the Lincoln Memorial is his second inaugural, delivered in March, 1865, just over a month before his assassination. We might be wise to remember its conclusion:  

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle… to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations. 

Regardless of the outcome of our immediate political crises, climate change requires all of us to strive on, using whatever tools of intellect, wealth, compassion, and ingenuity are at our disposal, to finish the work we are in.     

Surviving the “Oiligopalypse”

Surviving the “Oiligopalypse”   —by Jinny Batterson

Oiligopalypse—noun: slow-moving global destruction due to the concentrated political and economic power of a small group of fossil fuel interests. 

As Hallowe’en approaches, it seems appropriate to spend time thinking about scary things. Looking around, the oiligopalypse is the scariest thing out there: An oligarchy of oil interests steering us into a slow-motion apocalypse of unimaginable proportions and duration. Even the horrific imagery in the Biblical book of Revelation may not exceed the fires, floods, and wholesale unraveling of ecological and social fabric that we are just beginning to experience.

The oiligopalypse has been many years in the making. The first hints of possible negative impacts on earth’s climate from over-reliance on fossil fuel combustion came over a century ago, during the “Gilded Age” of wealthy industrialists in the late 19th century. In more recent times, concerns focused instead on possible fossil fuel shortages, after a consortium of oil-exporting countries began to restrict supply and to demand higher prices for their crude oil. A difficult period of adjustment led to more efficient use of fuels, innovative ways (like fracking) of extracting more fuel from existing deposits, and greater use of previously discarded “by-products” such as natural gas and methane. 

In the early 1990’s, we experienced both the first Gulf War, to force Iraqi troops out of Kuwait’s oil fields, and a highly publicized global attempt to mitigate human climate impact via the 1992 Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit. Retreating Iraqi troops set fire to hundreds of Kuwaiti oil wells and damaged dozens more, creating a plume of smoke and ash visible from space and fusing about 5% of Kuwait’s surface area into impenetrable “tarcrete.” During the Earth Summit, a binding agreement on biological diversity was signed, along with an initial framework convention on confronting climate change.   

Since then, we’re made halting attempts to address climate change and to rein in our use of fossil fuels, both individually and collectively. Globally, efforts have often foundered on the differences between already-industrialized economies and those still in the process of becoming more fully industrial. Many “developing” nations have bridled at what they view as strictures from North Americans and Europeans to “do as we say, not as we did” without providing needed development assistance to ease global transitions away from fossil fuels.  

Greenhouse gas levels, in the meantime, have reached dangerous heights. Extreme weather events such as prolonged droughts, heat waves, wildfires, floods, and monster storms have been decisively linked to human-induced climate change. Earth’s oceans are warming, sea levels are rising, our warming atmosphere has greater moisture-holding capacity, resulting in more intense rain events. Security officials in many parts of the globe refer to climate change as a “threat multiplier,” increasing the likelihoods of mass starvation, uncontrollable migration, and armed conflict.    

It’s sensible to be scared of an oiligopalypse. What can we humans do to reduce our chances of drowning, burning, dying of hunger or thirst, or of wheezing our way into oblivion? Wringing our hands and/or counting just on improved technology won’t cut it. We’ll need to exhibit more of the human ingenuity that has gotten our species through previous crises, putting our minds, hearts, and material resources into adapting to the changing climate. A few suggestions:

—Get to know your geographical neighbors; set up mutual help networks. When there’s an extreme weather event, far-flung Facebook friends will be of minimal help. You’ll need to give and receive assistance first from those who live nearest you.   

—Simplify your lifestyle and tool set. Find less fuel-intensive ways to get around and to provide food, clothing, and shelter. Walk, bike, use public transportation, optimize your route for a greater proportion of your errands; grow a little of your own food; shop local farmers’ markets and second hand shops; downsize or share living space.  

—Use improved communication channels such as the internet and cell phones to get reliable information about lifestyle alternatives, to broaden your network of climate-savvy friends and acquaintances, and to lobby your elected officials at all levels for better climate stewardship.

—Plant trees that will by one future Hallowe’en have grown large enough so someone’s grandchildren can crouch behind them, then jump out with fake menace shouting “boo!” 

The oiligopalypse, a real menace, is coming. Let’s get ready.     

Elders, Natural Debt, Resilience…

Elders, Natural Debt, Resilience…  —by Jinny Batterson

Substantial numbers of my cohort of aging “leading edge boomers” have led charmed lives up to now. Medical advances have permitted us to live longer, with fewer health problems than our forebears’ generations. Technical advances and social policies have helped bring increased economic prosperity to those of us at upper income levels, especially those with inherited wealth and/or advanced formal educations. Yet lots of us are uneasy or depressed. What went wrong? 

As we came of age in the 1960’s, ecologists continued issuing warnings about the impacts of unbridled “growth” on the natural environments that underly all living beings, including humans. Partly due to youthful protests, governments in some economically advanced countries began passing laws to curb or criminalize the most visible environmental abuses. Cleanup funds were established. Our skies became clearer, our rivers no longer stank. Also partly due to youthful protests, American involvement in a costly war in Vietnam came to an official end. We were told there was a “peace dividend” and it was safe to start raising families. We gradually left the streets for the suburbs. 

Outsourcing and automation removed more and more routine, grimy or dangerous jobs to places most of us did not see. Occasional spot disasters like the Bhopal chemical release in India in 1984, the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown in what was then the USSR in 1986, Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana/Mississippi in 2005, or the Fukushima tsunami/power plant disaster in Japan in 2011 briefly caught our notice, but mostly we did not pay attention. Such difficulties would likely never touch us, safely ensconced in our cushy American suburban cocoons. 

Our cocoons are getting pretty toasty, abetted by record heat waves, wildfires, and tropical storms. The statistics are telling: In 2018, the U.S. suffered fourteen weather-related billion-plus dollar disasters. Bills for hurricanes Florence and Michael, already over $49 billion, are still coming in. Out west, a record-breaking wildfire season did more than $24 billion worth of damage. Here in North Carolina, I lived through my first 100 degree October day, after a record-setting dry, hot September generated a new weather label: “flash drought.”  

Fiscal conservatives have long warned of the dangers of burgeoning public debt—the U.S. national debt recently topped 22 trillion dollars, or about $56,000 for every American.  A friend and former colleague raises concerns about the hidden or belatedly recorded costs of “technical debt” (see http://techdebtpolicy.com) such as recovery from previous over-use of asbestos, whose fire-resistant properties made it desirable as an insulator before its human health impacts were fully understood. I’m most concerned about “natural debt,” a term gradually gaining currency for our drawing down of natural resources and our using our planet as a dumping ground, as in a set of posts by an India-based group, downtoearth.org.in. 

It’s not too hard to see why natural debt is a growing concern, one that has many of us elders wakeful on October nights when the air conditioning is still on. Links likely exist between natural debt and increasing instances of human protest and conflict across all parts of the political spectrum and all regions of the globe. 

People my age are closer to the ends of our lives than its beginnings. Our worst nightmares reflect the distress we’ve caused other humans and the natural world we depend on. If our imaginings goad us toward useful action rather than just handwringing, this is not necessarily a bad thing. By now, many of us have bounced back individually from financial, health, and/or family challenges. Beyond individual or family, though, we need to use the rest of our physical lives to help build more species-wide resilience. If we are to claim any prerogatives as an “intelligent species,” we’ll need to get both our individual and collective acts more thoroughly together. A compendium from our youth, The Last Whole Earth Catalog, said it on a back cover, showing a NASA photo of Earth taken from space: “We can’t put it together. It is together.” Together with or without humans, our choice. 

The PRC at 70

The PRC at 70  —by Jinny Batterson

She’s an impressive dowager,
A real rags to riches story–
Rising from the ashes of
A brutal civil war,
After a century of quasi-colonial
Oppression, she turned inward
And recreated herself.

A few convulsions temporarily
Sidelined her progress,
But now she stands proud–
The world’s greatest factory floor,
Flooding our shelves with goods
We couldn’t have imagined
A scant generation ago.

Of course she suffers from arthritis—
Twinges in her toes.
At her other extremity,
A bowl shaped desert
That refuses to be reeducated.

No pigeons or kites flock or weave
Above the scrubbed multitudes
As tanks again roll down Chang An
Avenue. Onlookers wave
Well-choreographed flags.

May she be wise and gracious
In old age. May her poets
Sleep securely in well-thatched
Cottages. Happy Birthday!
People’s Republic. 
 

Children’s Crusades and Adult Enablers

Children’s Crusades and Adult Enablers  —by Jinny Batterson

Early in the 13th century, during the summer of 1212, a pilgrimage known as the “Childrens’ Crusade” headed for the Holy Land. Many details about the crusade are disputed. It seems likely that few, if any, of the participants reached Jerusalem or anywhere close. According to information in the lead paragraph of the relevant Wikipedia article: 

“The traditional narrative is likely conflated from some factual and mythical events which include the visions by a French boy and a German boy, an intention to peacefully convert Muslims in the Holy Land to Christianity, bands of children marching to Italy, and children being sold into slavery. Many children were tricked by merchants and sailed over to what they thought were the holy lands but, in reality, were slave markets.” 

(reference the year 1212 to clarify your search at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Children%27s_Crusade)

Estimates of the number of participants are in the tens of thousands. It’s not clear what roles adults at the time may have played in assisting the young crusaders.   

A more recent “childrens’ crusade” took place in Birmingham, Alabama during May, 1963, when over a thousand students trained in non-violent protest techniques left their schools and marched toward downtown Birmingham to protest Jim Crow laws and ongoing racial discrimination. Their actions and the vicious responses of Birmingham’s law enforcement officials “went viral” over 1960’s-era media, prompting outrage that helped prepare the way for the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  

In the past year or so, we’ve seen the birth of two modern youth crusades: one concerning the U.S. epidemic of gun violence, the other spreading awareness of the need for concerted action in the face of the worsening global impacts of climate change.

After a mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2018, survivors and their families held a candlelight vigil. Several students then sat up for most of the night hatching a social media campaign to help reduce gun violence. Their efforts coalesced around the hashtag #NeverAgain, which has morphed into a national movement advocating for changes in gun laws to help reduce the American gun violence epidemic. In March, 2018, over a million people showed up at events nationwide during a “March for Our Lives.” Lobbying and activism continue. Though legislation at the national level remains stalled, since the Parkland shooting over twenty states and the District of Columbia have strengthened gun violence prevention measures: “red flag laws” to temporarily remove guns from the hands of individuals in crisis, enhanced background checks, waiting periods for gun purchases.  

In August, 2018, teenager Greta Thunberg began sitting outside the Swedish Parliament building holding a sign that said “Skolstrejk för climate” (“School strike for climate”). Over time, her actions drew attention and followers. On March 15, 2019, school strikes, urging adults to take responsibility and reduce climate change, took place in over 2,000 cities worldwide. An estimated 1.4 million pupils from around the world participated. On September 20, 2019, the school strike again went global, with an estimated 4 million children and adults participating in events just before the start of a U.N. Climate Summit in New York City.

In my youth, crusades centered around bringing an end to a war in Vietnam that caused huge human and environmental devastation. Controversy also surrounded the investigation into the actions of a sitting U.S. President who had attempted to “stack the deck” in the 1972 presidential election. Both issues were polarizing and sparked big protests. Afterwards, many of us got off the streets, took jobs, raised families, and left national and global issues mostly to those in positions of putative power. Yet we did not abandon our ideals or our activism, though its form may have changed. We passed on a sense of fairness, of respect for the planet, to our children and grandchildren. We continued to lobby our elected representatives on issues of concern. We changed our personal habits to be more responsible global citizens. 

Those of us who are elders now can take heart from examples of elders and adults who were not the visible images of youth crusades, but who nonetheless furthered efforts toward human rights and planetary citizenship. One elder I hold up is Juanita Abernathy, a civil rights pioneer. Along with other brave African-Americans in Montgomery, Alabama, Ms. Abernathy played a behind-the-scenes role in organizing and furthering a 1955-56 bus boycott to get respectful treatment for the black ridership that provided most of the profits to the then-segregated bus system. She used a typewriter and carbon copies to spread initial word about the boycott in a pre-internet age. As the boycott continued, she helped organize carpools and alternative transportation to get workers to their jobs and householders to needed shopping. For decades, she worked quietly to advance civil rights. She recently died at age 88.  Another (s)hero is Rachel Carson, who died much too soon—a little shy of her 57th birthday. She battled the pesticide establishment of her day along with metastatic cancer to produce her signature work, environmental blockbuster Silent Spring, published on this day in 1962.

How Not to Commemorate 9/11

How Not to Commemorate 9/11  —by Jinny Batterson

Yesterday there were many formal commemorations of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in many parts of the U.S.  Anna Allison, who perished on the first plane to hit the World Trade Center, was someone I’d met only a few days before at a small-scale conference. After she returned home from the conference, Anna deferred for a day a flight to California to visit a client so that she could spend a little more time with her husband and step-daughter in Massachusetts. Tracing back through some of the memorials to her, I came across the following appreciation from her widower: 

“Every day was a new opportunity for her. Because there were new opportunities, there was always hope of doing something good. That’s the way she lived her life.”

I hope that Anna would be pleased with some of the service projects that have sprung up around the country as part of 9/11 commemorations, but I have my doubts that she’d have been happy at a couple of yesterday’s events.

First, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a change in asylum rules proposed by the Trump administration to prevent asylum seekers from entering the U.S. through other countries without initially seeking asylum in those countries. Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg dissented, with Sotomayor writing a rebuke to both the court and the nation:

“Once again the Executive Branch has issued a rule that seeks to upend longstanding practices regarding refugees who seek shelter from persecution. Although this Nation has long kept its doors open to refugees — and although the stakes for asylum seekers could not be higher — the Government implemented its rule without first providing the public notice and inviting the public input generally required by law.” 

Closer to my current home, the North Carolina House of Representatives used the absence of the Governor and many of its Democratic members at 9/11 commemorations to pass an override of a previously vetoed state budget along partisan lines, with just over half of House members present. Opponents of the override cried foul, saying they had been told no votes would be taken on this national day of commemoration and mourning. 

I continue to mourn the loss of fine people like Anna. Even more, I mourn the loss of the sense that as a nation, we are capable of living up to our ideals.  We can and must do better. 

Climate Change Hope

Climate Change Hope  —by Jinny Batterson

It’s been over a generation since I first became concerned that human activity might irreversibly change our planet’s climate. I’ve gradually been revising my lifestyle to reduce my input to the problem. Even now, though, if I pull up an online “carbon footprint” app to measure how many earths would be required to support all humanity in the style to which I’m currently accustomed, my number is a good bit over one. I can feel anxious sometimes.

Over my lifetime so far, I’ve had chances to visit many different world regions, and to notice adaptations in other cultures that help reduce waste and emissions without causing privation. So I continue to adapt, plus I do my best to encourage others to make lifestyle adjustments that are planet-friendly without feeling like deprivation. Some I talk with are enthusiastic; others either ignore me or offer a variety of negative responses, the most common being: 

—It’s not really a problem; see this snowball? (denial)

—It’s somebody else’s problem, I didn’t cause much of it so why should I have to fix it? (projection)

—If governments and corporations won’t fix it, what can one person do? (defeatism)

Like anyone with an opinion, I have what psychologists call “confirmation bias.” Once I’m convinced of a view, I tend to pay more attention to information that supports it and to ignore or discount contradictory information. My current view is that anyone who tries to persuade you that climate change is a simple phenomenon with a single solution has likely not done much research and/or has discounted lived experience.  Do Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy, and/or major increases in the number and severity of wildfires signal global warming? Does a severe winter signal the opposite? I doubt we can ever know for sure. Given the impossibility of certainty, I think it makes sense to err on the side of conserving as much of the planet’s existing climate and species as we can. I try to listen respectfully to those with different views, and to revise my opinions when reliable new information becomes available. Most of the time I’m a “glass half full” sort of person, so I try to pay attention to efforts toward reducing or adapting to climate impacts, to applaud them and, where practical, to follow suit.

London’s transportation mix, from what I saw of it on a recent visit, encouraged me. I was amazed at the number of riders of its extensive subway (“underground”) system, plus the volume of bicycle commuters and the widespread availability of dedicated bicycle lanes and monitored bicycle parking areas. Near the rental apartment complex where I was staying was a two-tiered parking lot, for bikes.  Each weekday morning, extensive stands of standardized rental bikes near the major intersections and bridges emptied out, refilling in the evening. During some of my pedestrian sightseeing, I noticed “ULEZ zone” signs posted on major thoroughfares. Via later research, I learned that this acronym is for “ultra-low emission zone,” an area covering much of central London where vehicle traffic is restricted. Only cars, trucks, and buses which meet stringent emissions standard are allowed. The zone was activated on April 8, 2019; drivers who violate it face hefty fines.

In other reading and internet exposure, I’ve come across additional worthwhile suggestions. Given my gender, I was drawn to the recommendation in the collection Drawdown, published in 2017, about the importance of educating and empowering women as a component in reducing or adapting to climate change impacts (ranking 6th best of the 100 partial solutions suggested). Recently, I came across the results of a 2019 study of the possible impact of a massive global tree-planting effort on climate. Thomas Crowther, a climate change ecologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, coauthored an examination of global land use and found enough suitable unused land so that a trillion trees could be planted, reforesting an area equivalent to the size of the U.S. and potentially reducing atmospheric carbon substantially. Another source of encouragement is a talk given by climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, a Canadian who now teaches at Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas, about productive ways of talking about climate reality: “The most important thing we can do about climate change is talk about it,” posted on the TED website in December, 2018. Please let’s keep talking!    

Layered Reality

Layered Reality   —by Jinny Batterson

Sometimes, despite fairly consistent efforts to broaden my circle of friends and acquaintances, it seems as if I’m stuck in an ever-shrinking bubble, quarantined in my own little “liberal-urban-retiree” silo. Recently I had a chance to spend a week with our out-of-town grandchildren, exploring a couple of stunning U.S. national parks via outdoor hikes. My guess is that our son and daughter-in-law had carefully coached the kids to humor grandma and grandpa by not overusing their “screens.” We watched a fair number of breakfast-time morning cartoons, but mostly we wandered outside, free from earbuds, television, or other screens. Cell phone coverage was minimal or nonexistent.

Much of our political and cultural life these days, including mine when not hiking with the grandkids, gets mediated by screens. Screen life can often seem tasteless, colorless, instantaneous, disconnected. I realize I’m getting old and slow, but I doubt this is the only cause for our disconnectedness.

I remember a story my rural sister told me. Typically apolitical, Sal had gotten sufficiently exercised in our recent hyper-charged society that she decided to become more politically active. In 2018, she campaigned for a candidate for U.S. congress in the Maryland district where she lives. She and I live in mirrored political entities—both North Carolina, where I live, and Maryland, where Sal resides, are “poster child states” for extreme political gerrymandering. I live in one of a few districts carved out to the benefit of NC’s minority party (in this case, the Democrats). Sal lives in the one district in Maryland that has been allocated to its minority party (in this case, the Republicans). Though our NC polling sites during early voting and on election day fairly consistently have longish lines, the precinct where Sal stood with her candidate’s literature wasn’t busy. Dribbles of voters came by the area where campaigners were allowed, leaving lots of down time. My sister is nothing if not gregarious, so before long she was talking with the two campaigners for the majority party candidate. Carefully sidestepping the merits of their respective candidates, Sal probed for possible common ground. Pretty soon, the three of them were discussing the uncertainty of sale prices for soybeans; the availability of rental drones for quicker, more thorough analysis of field conditions; the best area bulls for improving dairy herds; the impact of changes in agricultural regulations on small-scale farmers. Although there were certainly political opinions where the three of them likely disagreed, they found a good many areas where their interests overlapped and they could be both civil and informative. Their reality was layered with interspersed agreement and disagreement.

Last year about this time, I was in an area of rural France where human habitation goes back hundreds of thousands of years. I got a tour of an archeological site with over a dozen layers of excavation, ranging from about 40,000 to about 15,000 years ago. Now inactive, the site had been carefully dug during a human generation or so, some layers yielding little in the way of artifacts or information, others rich with both. I believe we need to remember that our social and political realities are rarely either/or, much more often layered with both conflict and agreement. Likewise, we are both independent and interdependent.  Please let’s take a bit more effort toward excavating beyond the tweets and the sound bites—our neighbors may be more layered than we know.