Friday, November 5, 2010

Loving autumn

Here is the most beautiful poem I've ever read about this season. (Another sweet one is Keats'--"Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.")

This gem is by Richard Wilbur.


Though the season's begun to speak
Its long sentence of darkness,
The upswept boughs of the larch
Bristle with gold for a week,

And then there is only the willow
To make bright interjection,
Its drooping branches decked
With thin leaves, curved and yellow,

Till winter, loosening these
With a first flurry and bluster,
Shall scatter across the snow-crust
Their dropped parentheses.

Isn't it glorious?! The little gold parentheses scattered on the snow...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

mini book review: The End of the Long Summer

by Dianne Dumanoski, Crown Publishers 2009, 252 pp.

I love this book. It's a brilliant gem. Basically, it takes the thoughts and premises of most environmental thinkers into the next realm of understanding. Wholistically, Dumanoski looks at the systemic disruption to Earth's metalbolism, while also examining "how our current modes of thinking fuel this emergency." The question, she says, is no longer simply how we can stop climate change, but how we can as a civilization survive it.

This masterpiece includes cultural critiques both detailed and broad, including the pitfalls of globalization, the role of the human brain, the temptations of technofix, our vulnerability to pandemic, and how to shock-proof our human social system.

A new cultural map is needed, Dumanoski says, because "the routine business of our civilization is threatening its own survival."

She wants us to actually THINK differently. I for one doubt that we can, but every bit of my spare time is spent trying to help it happen. What about you?

Monday, September 6, 2010

New York Times Connects the Dots

Wow. Seeing the front page of the New York Times on August 15 brought a sigh of relief (a yelp! of relief) to us hardworking environmentalists. There it was: three big photos of climate change at work: Pakistan floods, Russian wildfires, and unusually wild storms in Chicago, headlined "In Weather Chaos, a Case for Global Warming."

At last, big time media is getting it!

The 8/15 issue came out the second day of my annual two week vacation in Wellfleet, Cape Cod. The juxtaposition of such beauty all around me, with this cultural acknowledgement of the planet's danger, was a jolt to my heart.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Next reading from my eco-thriller Human Scale

Come to my next reading at Out of the Blue Art Gallery on Sept 10 at 8 p.m. (106 Prospect Street in Cambridge). Human Scale, which came out in May (Plain View Press), is making waves with folks who were wondering what it's going to be like on this planet in 2062.

See you there!

Monday, July 19, 2010

I'm back from Gloucester, plus...

Hi folks,

I got back from Gloucester Saturday eve, after a glorious week by the sea. I always stay in Rocky Neck, which is "the oldest working art colony in the United States," in a little unit with kitchenette right on the water. (Literally: the building is on a wharf.)

I'll be back in the swing of giving you my honest opinion about all things environmntal soon. Meanwhile, be excited by the news that my new novel Human Scale just won Honorable Mention in the Hollywood Book Festival contest.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Why I'm a Vegetarian (also: Your Dinner is an Oil Pit)

Once upon a time I was a good meat-eating American girl, who devoured her mom's beef stews and Sunday hams. When I grew up, I too served my kids hamburgers, bacon, and lamb legs. I can still vaguely remember the taste.

But I haven't eaten animals for twenty-five years now. The transformation began when, as an environmental journalist, I learned that farm animals are regularly shot full of antibiotics, mostly because of the unhealthy way they are forced to live. By the time I was writing about the Bovine Growth Hormone controversy in the late 80s, I was no longer eating red meat. Turkey and chicken soon followed.

Right away I began to discover delicious alternatives to meat flavoring--recipes and cuisines that call for a wide array of spices. I was also surprised to learn not only how little protein people actually need, but how many other things contain protein, like beans, lentils, tofu, and even grains.

Beside the fact that it's healthier for you to go meatless, and certainly healthier for the animals, environmental evidence is building about the damaging effects of livestock. In light of the current horrific oil spill, you should know that meat is very fuel intensive. More than a third of all fossil fuels produced in the U.S. goes towards animal agriculture. One calorie of animal protein requires more than ten times the fossil fuel input as a calorie of plant protein. That means ten times the amount of CO2 going into the atmosphere.

I once saw a cartoon of a man being followed by the ghosts of all the animals he'd eaten. It was quite a parade: sheep, chickens, turkeys, cows, and pigs, all floating along after him as he strutted down the street. So I would add to my improved physical health and my socially responsible satisfaction, my spiritual health. In fact, the most important thing to me about being a vegetarian has become the animals not killed for me.

I would take that even one step futher. I am proud that no animals at this very moment are leading miserable lives in order to become my dinner.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

mini review: HOW TO COOL THE PLANET: Geoengineering and the Audacious Quest to Fix Earth's Climate

by Jeff Goodell. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2010. 277 pages.
Goodell also wrote Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future.

Geoengineering is the kind of word that wins spelling bees, or stuns someone you've just met at a party if you throw it off casually enough. A very impressive word.

What it means, in this book at least, is either removing CO2 from the atmosphere by binding it to particles, or deflecting solar rays back into space. Goodell's opinion of it is not high. "Geoengineering," he says, " is about turning the earth into the planetary equivalent of industrial farmland." Perhaps fortunately, none of the schemes come up with so far have much chance of working.

How to Cool the Planet is engagingly written, by a journalist, not an academic, which means it's easy to read. It's not written in journalistic form, however, but is a rumination covering history, utopian ideas, and tech fixes that didn't work, as well as current science. It includes a charming portrait of James Lovelock, originator of the Gaia theory.

Goodell ends with the warning question of who will control geoengineering. What if the military chooses to use it? Human nature may be the greatest risk here. The reader concludes that the author is a good, thoughtful, moral man. His ideas are well worth pondering. But his book can be safely skimmed.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Grieving for the Ocean

Hi folks,

I'm back from two weeks in Greece, and recovered from jetlag. It was breathtaking to witness where our civilization began thousands of years ago. They were amazing, creative people. I would like to think we are as civilized as they.

What would they make of our polluting our ocean with 50,000 barrels of oil a day? We have the amazing technology to dig for it, but not to stop it once it's gushing out. Pretty pitiful.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Breaking News

Check out my new piece on what to expect from climate change, published on NewsBlaze:

Folks, I'm taking two weeks off but will return to entertain and inform you at the end of May.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Military Gifts Mother Earth

Our planet got a present from the American military yesterday, Earth Day. The Pew Project on National Security, Energy and Climate issued a report showing how our armed forces are addressing their carbon emissions. The Department of Defense has set a goal of getting 25% of its electric energy from renewable sources by 2025. The military is also initiating energy-saving measures in all its operations from housing to vehicles.

This makes total sense: The military's purpose is to protect us. What better way than to push towards energy independence? Then all those mothers' sons won't have to go to far off places to get killed or maimed for the sake of access to foreign oil. The only losers here are the makers of prosthetic limbs.

I am proud to say that my father was an army captain in World War II. For three long years he was away from our family. Military spouses, parents, and children should only have to bear that pain of absence and loss for a really urgent reason.

Energy independence means far fewer will have to. It also happens to mean a cleaner Earth.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Future of Energy?

I went to a lecture at Harvard the other day. The speaker, Prof David MacKay, said, "This is a lecture about visualizing life without fossil fuels." Great, I thought. That's what I'm doing in my novels.

MacKay, of Britain's University of Cambridge and their Department of Energy and Climate Change, has just published a book, Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air. It's meant for the layperson, and you can even download it for free.

Delivered in a brisk, dramatic tone, the message of his lecture was very interesting, as far as it went. We heard that Americans use twice as much energy per person as Europeans, that we'll need a 90% cut in this use by 2050, and that even to begin to match today's use through alternates, we'd need so many wind turbines and solar panels, they'd crowd out people. We also got information about technofixes like underwater windmills, solar heat storage and transfer, and smart grids that control demand.

But the visualizing never got around to what life will be like. Prof MacKay did not try to picture for us what our grandchildren face. Perhaps he didn't dare. What a downer it would be! So we were informed and entertained, but not scared out of our wits.

I wonder, does Prof. MacKay ever really visualize the future? I'll bet he does. And I'll bet it keeps him awake at night.

P.S. Using the word "energy" to mean fuel is only about 30 years old. But energy just sounds so much more cheerful and innocent, don't you think?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Let's Drill Offshore!

Hey, great idea. Instead of developing wind and solar power and better public transportation, let's dig out all the oil from this stupid old Earth that we can. Pump some more climate killing gasses into the air so we can all choke to death.

No, we don't need all that exotic wildlife out there, like fish and birds. We need to take care of our own, the oil comany honchos who really know what's good for us. A few oilspills here and there, what's the difference? Tell those pinko enviros to stick it, all they care about is nature, you know, the natural world. Hokum. And they are subversives besides. Why else would they want to stop burning gasoline?

Way to go, Obama. Now you're in power you can ignore all those wimpy, suspect folks who worked so hard to put you in office. Keep your eye on short term profit, never mind the future of the human race.

April Fool!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

mini review: 2045: A Story of Our Future

by Peter Seidel Prometheus Books 2009 333 pages

Carl goes into a coma in 2010 and wakes up 35 years later. He's still 40 years old, but the world has drastically changed. The environment has gone to hell, with predictable extreme heat, and eight corporations run the world with undercover police.

It's a good dramatic premise, and Carl's dilemma is believable. But too much explanation distances us from the action. Carl is too often "astounded" and "bewildered." Other flaws include a sometimes pedantic tone and a rather preachy "Afterthought."

Carl's adventures are convincing, but one wishes Seidel had immersed himself more subjectively in this all too probable new world.

My own futuristic eco-thriller, Human Scale, has just been published, by Plain View Press. You'll find it both more engrossing and more chilling than Seidel's.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Age of Stupid: the movie

This film grabs you by the gut. Why?

It's a hodgepodge. A series of video clips from our time showing the behavior and attitudes of the culture causing climate change. Powerful images, from Kenyans who can't find clean water, to a British neighborhood fighting wind turbines, to an affluent Indian building an airline.

It's hard to tell whether director Franny Armstrong had any plan in mind other than cumulative effect. But it works. It's all held together by a grim faced narrator telling the story in 2050. He leans into the camera, right into your face, his unremitting expression of grief and disbelief hauntingly unforgettable.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Yes, Virginia, Global Warming Causes Earthquakes

Two geologists explain.

Ice is extremely heavy, and glaciers are massive sheets of ice. Professor Patrick Wu (Univ of Alberta) says that the weight of the ice suppresses the earthquakes, but when glaciers begin to melt, that pressure is released, and "earthquakes get triggered," as well as tsunamis (which are underwater earthquakes). He adds that melting ice in Antarctica is already triggering earthquakes and "underwater landslides."

Prof. Bill McGuire (Univ. College of London) says, "All over the world, evidence is stacking up that changes in global climate can and do affect the frequencies of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and catastrophic seafloor landslides."

This is only the tip of the iceberg, folks, if you'll excuse the expression. What's happening in Haiti and Chile will be routine news items ten years from now.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Seven Things to Expect with Climate Change

You've been wondering what it'll be like. Whether you fear it or shrug it off, the prospect of an ailing Earth is a bit of a mystery. Even the scientists keep saying the full consequences of global warming are unpredictable.

Here are some things your grandchildren probably can expect:

1. No more personal cars
2. Locally grown food only
3. Small, compact cities; you work where you live
4. Coastline cities flooded and abandoned
5. Unpredictable seasons; hunger and disease
6. Political upheaval. Refugees, power grabs
7. Water wars

My novel What Love Can't Do took you to the 2040s. My next novel, Human Scale, happens in the 2060s. It comes out in April.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

mini book review: Storms of My Grandchildren

Bloomsbury, hardcover $25 277 pages

The subtitle of James Hansen's book is: The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and our Last Chance to Save Humanity. The urgency of this title and his last words, "It's our last chance," are not reflected in the presentation, which is a bit dry. Hansen is a professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia, and director of the NASA Institute for Space Studies. Though he's written innumerable journal articles and papers, this is his first book.

Each of the 11 chapters deals with a facet of climate science, also reporting his many often frustrating attempts to get government to listen to the science.

I would say, don't buy this book, but make sure your library has several copies, so everyone can taste it. The man's integrity and passion shine through, and you find yourself grateful that he lives in your time and cares enough.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

"I Don't Believe in It"

Now and then on the subject of climate change, you hear those words. I usually reply that it's not a religion. It's not a belief system, it's a set of facts. Take the "germ theory." When germs were first discovered in the 19th century, there was widespread resistance and even outrage. But pretty much everybody nowadays accepts that germs bring disease. That's because all the reputable scientists say so, and it's been proven over and over.

So I've been encouraged in recent years that people seem to be listening, taking in the scary news about climate, waking up. The media is paying real attention, reporting the scientific evidence as fact.

But apparently the recent snowstorms in D.C are being touted by tea party types as proof that global warming is "untrue." Blizzards in Washington? Doesn't that sound screwy to you? Most people grasp by now that such extreme weather events, from hurricaines to wildfires, are becoming more and more frequent and violent. It's what's called empirical evidence. But fear does strange things, and denial is seductive and comfortable.

The logical conclusion to avoiding climate chaos is a drastic change in the oil-driven, consumer-worshipping way of life too many people call "American." Let's not face that subversive, disturbing thought at all!
Look, I want to love this world
as though it's the last chance I'm ever going to get
to be alive
and know it.

--from October, by Mary Oliver

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

When we no longer have the fuel to bring our fruits and vegetables from Florida or California, we will have to make do with what's grown in our own region. Remember that only 100 years ago--when my father was born--folks were in the same situation. Here's a recipe using veggies New Englanders can find all winter. It's delicious and exactly suited by Mother Nature to nourish those living in the cold.

Root Soup

1 tablespoon butter
1 each Yukon Gold potato, celery root, leek, parsnip, and carrot, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup water
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock

In a soup pot, combine the butter, vegetables, salt, pepper, water, and stock. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 35 minutes.

Bon appetit!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Spy Pond

"It's a dream!" I cried as tears warmed my face in the cold February wind.

There I was this afternoon, emerging from the tree-embraced bike path, suddenly seeing before me the expanse of Spy Pond--completely frozen over. Dozens of people were skating in the bright sun, alone or in pairs or in family groups, all ages, as far as the eye could see. A few serious hockey practices, a toddler trying out tiny skates, a young man speeding past with a makeshift sail bigger than he was, parents helping kids, a teen helping a shaky mother, lots of laughter, glowing cheeks.

My amazement included these thoughts: Nobody was selling anything! No machines smoothed the smooth ice. No machines of any kind were seen or heard. It could have been a scene here 100 years ag0, 200 years ago. Yes, in 1810 early Americans in their wooden skates probably sailed around with friends and families in just this way.

Connection. Everyone here was connecting to each other in this peaceful beautiful place, and connecting to the generations before.

Shall we dare to hope the scene will be the same in 2112? Spy Pond used to freeze over all winter every winter. Now it's rare. The violent historic snowstorm in Washington DC this weekend demonstrates that climate change continues to gather momentum, disrupting natural balance. In Human Scale, it snows in June.
Mini Book Review

I wrote real reviews in my salary-earning days. Those you'll find here will just be little nutshells meant to give you a quick overview, with a hefty dose of my opinion, of course.

WHAT'S THE WORST THAT COULD HAPPEN? A Rational Response to the Climate Change Debate, by Greg Craven. Penguin/Perigee $14.95
Packaged looking compostable in newsprint-looking paper, this 210 page book delivers its promise. It's as down to earth as it looks, with a sensible tone welcome on this often emotional issue. Craven is a high school teacher and it shows. Which is a compliment. When I wrote my small book, In Your Hands, a Citizens guide to the Arms Race in the 80s, I geared it to a high school audience and it sold all over the world. Craven's work is supremely accessible. I hope all teachers of the subject will use it.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

I'll be sharing my thoughts with you as part of letting folks know about my upcoming novel about climate change, Human Scale. It's a sequel to What Love Can't Do, which came out in 2006 to grand success among environmentalists and those interested in how families cope in chaos. Human Scale offers the same scenario of an immediate future where environmental collapse leads to social and political breakdown as well as terrible hardship, and reveals how love survives.

Human Scale comes out on April 22, Earth Day.

See my web site at

That's it for today.

Think of me as an intellectual Mother Nature.