Tag Archives: hurricanes

Lettuce for All Seasons

September lettuce, southern California

Half a dozen years ago, I posted a blog entry (“New Year’s Lettuce”) expressing wonder at the lettuce I was able to harvest that year from a local community garden in North Carolina on New Year’s Day. We’d had an unseasonably warm fall, so even frost-tender plants had survived until early January. 

Climate change discussions were becoming more common then, partly because of some strange short-term weather patterns, partly due to a new global accord, the Paris Climate Agreement, that had been negotiated in late 2015. This accord was later signed by countries that produce over 90% of the world’s greenhouse gasses. 

During the Trump presidency from 2017 to 2021, official U.S. policy downplayed the significance of climate change, withdrawing from the Paris Accord and reversing many measures intended to reduce or mitigate U.S. contributions to a global problem. We have now seesawed back toward policies taking the climate issue seriously, though American public opinion remains divided about what exactly the problem is or what to do about it.

 Last year I relocated to the other side of the continental U.S., but I’ve once again found a nearby community garden. The climate here is quite different from North Carolina’s. Longer-term residents tell me that the dryness of our area is intensifying. While much of the U.S. Southeast and Caribbean currently are coping with catastrophic excesses of water from Hurricanes Fiona and Ian, the Southwest is dry as a bone. Both Lake Mead and Lake Powell, key components of the Southwest’s water and electricity generation systems, are below 30% of capacity and risk further declines.

Still, California’s climate is mild enough year-round so that,  with adequate irrigation, multiple lettuce crops are possible. California produces about 70% of the U.S. lettuce crop, with Arizona providing much of the rest. My little plant is an infinitesimal part of California’s crop, an even tinier proportion of the roughly 28 million tons of lettuce-like crops produced globally each year.

I’m trying to get better at water conservation measures,  to shelter my small plot of crop production from the worst impacts of heat and dryness. What will it take, on a much larger scale, for those of us who relish salads and fresh greens (including vast consumption in both China and India) to continue to have lettuce in all seasons? 

The Weather of Mysteries, the Mysteries of Weather

I grew up on mysteries, both televised and in book form. Though I mostly ignored the Nancy Drew series (part of every preteen girl’s book shelf?), by the time I finished high school, I’d been steeped in Agatha Christie and Erle Stanley Gardner. I had vague images of the little English village where Miss Jane Marple solved murders. The Orient Express and a tour boat on the Nile seemed exotic and thrilling places for sleuth Hercule Poirot to twirl his mustache and exercise his little gray cells. Though I didn’t expect Perry Mason ever to lose a case, I enjoyed weekly TV evenings watching Mason and prosecutor Hamilton Burger match wits in courtroom dramas.  

Once I left my family home and moved around the country and overseas, my personal library went through several changes.  Lately, it’s been downsized, but I’m still within range of a public or university library. I’ve consistently gravitated toward the mystery section. Over time, my tastes have evolved. I’ve concentrated more often on women novelists who feature women protagonists and who define their settings in meticulous detail, often including the weather. 

At the suggestion of a friend, I began reading the Susan Wittig Albert series about the fictional Texas hill town of Pecan Springs. Her “cozy mystery” part-time detective and full-time herb and plant store owner/operator China Bayles tapped into a love of landscape that had been dormant in me for a while.   

Not long after I moved to North Carolina in 2007, I came across a holiday story by local author Margaret Maron. Before long, I’d read everything I could find by this self-taught writer, whose fictional East Carolina milieu of Colleton County, presided over by bootlegger’s daughter Judge Deborah Knott, sometimes seemed intriguingly, uncomfortably real. I especially remember Storm Track, a 2000 murder mystery with an Atlantic hurricane built into the plot. 

Now I’m a recent transplant to southern California, trying to find my way in this semi-desert climate partially filled with retirees like me. No hurricanes here. Muted seasonal changes so far. (Luckily) no significant earthquakes since our move. The other bane of this area is wildfires. Locals with longer pedigrees than mine have told me scary stories of past area fires and evacuations. This year’s outbreaks have already set records for size and ferocity.  Therefore, I was only a little surprised when a summer library visit produced a wildfire mystery, Martha C. Lawrence’s Ashes of Aries. The plot was a tad out of my usual range, but the description of a Rancho Santa Fe neighborhood in flames was almost too vivid. 

Lately lots of pundits have spent lots of print and air time expounding on a changing climate that is likely to include an increase in drastic weather events, some unpredicted.  I’ve found a blog post, but not yet an Albert novel about the great freeze-up of February, 2021, when much of Texas discovered the limited reliability of its electric grid under winter stress. I’m sure there are other novels with wildfires, others with hurricanes. Our reality may be approaching or exceeding the weather limits of popular mystery fiction. 

It seems as if the strides made in the past century or so toward being able to predict weather more consistently and reliably are getting undercut. Hurricane predictors talk about “rapid intensification.” States and regions in the U.S. West declare drought emergencies. They try to evolve contingency water resource plans on the fly. Wells run dry. Power grids fail or are shut down to reduce the chance of spark-ignited wildfires.  

It makes sense for those of us who can to get more serious about resource conservation. Per author Jonathan Safran Foer, in his recent non-fiction book We are the Weather, our personal choices do have an impact: we need to eat less meat, do less driving, travel less by air, have fewer children. For me, the child part is over and done, but I’m working on the remaining three issues. 

Once, in the few months I’ve lived in San Diego, I experienced an unexpected dividend of our less predictable weather: a brief but intense rainbow.   

Softening Hearts, Hardening Infrastructure, Widening Perspectives

Softening Hearts, Hardening Infrastructure, Widening Perspectives

                                            —by Jinny Batterson

It’s been a rough couple of months here in North Carolina: two hurricanes (Florence, then Michael), a polarized government, widespread agricultural losses, increasing poverty, damaged schools and infrastructure. 

Yet there’s been heartening news as well. Many established charities such as the American Red Cross have sent disaster recovery teams to the worst impacted areas. Local citizens in areas less damaged by the storms have created both short-term and long-term relief efforts. A neighbor who specializes in local fundraising set up a Sunday-afternoon event at a nearby shopping center and raised over $10,000 in cash plus thousands of dollars worth of non-perishable food and household goods for hurricane relief. Because of the extent of the damage, both in the Carolinas and elsewhere, it will take continued efforts by private donors, non-profits, government agencies, and financial institutions to help promote recovery.  The natural environment will never be the same; repairs, rebuilding, and/or relocation of homes and businesses will take months if not years. 

After hurricane Florence decimated the coastal Carolinas, major roads and interstates were flooded and impassable for over a week, making cities such as Wilmington, North Carolina effectively islands.  Residents who’d evacuated were asked not even to try to return home as soon as the first few roads were reopened—what limited road travel was possible needed to be reserved for emergency and supply crews.  Now that the immediate crises are over, people are starting to grapple with longer-term problems: should rebuilding be limited in areas that seem more and more prone to drastic weather?  Should building codes be changed? How do we adapt our infrastructure to be more resilient? Do we need to pursue alternatives to a predominately road-based transportation network?

Simple solutions seem elusive and likely counterproductive. Perhaps we need to rethink some of the implicit assumptions we’ve made about how the world works.  Rather than considering ourselves outside nature, it may be time to widen our perspectives and acknowledge that we humans are just one piece in a complex, evolving whole.  Among the groups that have challenged some of my existing perceptions are:

Transition networks (https://transitionnetwork.org/), a set of local-global initiatives to work toward more resilient local economies in the face of escalating global challenges

Bioneers (https://bioneers.org/), harnessing scientific knowledge toward solving human problems

Biomimicry 3.8 (https://biomimicry.net/), which looks at other life forms (some with over 3.8 billion years of experience on earth) for innovative ways to re-engineer human-made systems

What partial solutions have you discovered?  What “small/local” actions are you taking to make our future more livable?  Please share some of your thoughts. 

Cycling Toward Resilience

Cycling Toward Resilience    —by Jinny Batterson

bicycling for fun–Jinny fords a small stream in New Zealand

September 22, 2017, according to my wall calendar, marks this year’s equinox, ushering in autumn in the northern hemisphere and spring in the southern. It’s the day when the sun’s arc passes directly over the earth’s equator, when day and night are of nearly equal length. It would seem to indicate a sort of balance. For many of us, balance right now is in somewhat short supply.

Broadcast news these days carries stories and images of catastrophic damage to the U.S. Southeast and American territories in the Caribbean from three different hurricanes so far this season. Parts of Texas and Florida, all of Puerto Rico and most of the U.S. Virgin Islands may never again be the same after Harvey, Irma, and Maria. And hurricane season isn’t even over yet. Meanwhile, swaths of eastern North Carolina have yet to recover from last year’s Hurricane Matthew damage. Parts of New Orleans have atrophied since Katrina’s 2005 onslaught. Five years after superstorm Sandy, houses in New York and New Jersey are still boarded up.

Locally, our town is balancing on the cusp of another municipal election, with multiple candidates in each race this time around. Last night I attended a candidate’s forum co-sponsored by  several non-partisan volunteer groups. The crowd was standing room only, the tone civil, the questions and answers thoughtful and generally restrained—no promises to hold the line on taxes, no shirking from admissions that both infrastructure and population in our community are aging, that revenues since the 2008 recession have not kept up with population growth, that we face challenges.  A couple of incumbents emphasized the need to move away from our current high dependence on private vehicles toward a greater use of walking, cycling, and public transit. 

So I got to thinking about bicycles. A pre-hurricane posting to a San Juan, Puerto Rico website extolled the pleasures of bicycling on recently completed trails around that city. One post-hurricane-Maria clip of the initial stirrings of movement in Puerto Rico showed a few bicycles pedaling the still-watery streets among the cars, trucks, and earthmoving machines. 

Bicycles are an efficient means of transportation, especially in relatively flat terrain. Per an Exploratorium website: “In fact cycling is more efficient than any other method of travel–including walking! The one billion bicycles in the world are a testament to its effectiveness.” (see https://www.exploratorium.edu/cycling/humanpower1.html)   

Unfortunately, persuading the world’s more affluent citizens to give up our cars and use bicycles exclusively is probably not practical. Yet in the Texas city of Houston, Hurricane Harvey damaged or destroyed over a million cars. Houston has been one of the nation’s most car-dependent cities, with nearly 95% of households possessing at least one car. We may not be able to coax ourselves out of our car habits entirely and use bikes as our primary means of transportation, but we can at least make cycling more attractive with bike-share programs, good trails and signage, incentives to bike rather than take the car on shorter trips.

As severe weather events impact more and more of our land area, as densely populated urban centers house higher and higher proportions of humanity, many cities are establishing resilience strategies, often with coordinators that reach across traditional departmental boundaries to integrate efforts. Cycling can be a worthwhile part of such strategies. Before the next big storm hits, let’s start cycling toward resilience.