Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Connecting the Dots

Global warming warrior Bill McKibben has a good piece out on his 350.org website about the relationships among all the bizarre weather events we've had in recent months (tornadoes, floods, droughts, blizzards, etc.). I think it's vitally important for us to realize, as McKibben's essay makes clear, that global warming is not only REAL, it's HERE--right now. I hear too many people saying, "oh, IF global warming happens, then we'll do something about it." These people have failed to do what McKibben does: to draw connections among the surface manifestations (that is, the weather) and trace them to their underlying cause (that is, a warmer climate). It's hard to think systemically; I always tell my students that when they prefer to look at isolated cases out of context. But it's what we need to do, right now, if we are ever to get a handle on this global-systemic problem.

Friday, May 27, 2011

From the Archives

I was cleaning out file drawers today and came across this cartoon. It dates back to the 80s, when I originally coined the name "Bell's Yells" for a cartoon series I drew for my college newspaper. I thought I'd resurrect it for a new generation.

Who knows, maybe I should have stuck with the cartooning. Look where that Far Side guy went with it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Feast or Famine

In the world of publishing (at least, in MY world of publishing), it always seems to be feast or famine. I'll go months without getting a nibble on any of the stories or essays I've sent around, then all of a sudden I'll get two or three acceptances in rapid succession.

At the moment, I'm relishing a "feast" phase: I just found out today that my sci-fi short story "Snooping," which was previously published in a now-defunct and unavailable e-magazine, was accepted in the anthology Stories in the Ether, to be published by Nevermet Press. It'll appear (so they say) in print, online, AND audio formats, the last of which is new for me. I just hope they have James Earl Jones or Ian McKellen reading my stuff!

I should also point out, for those who have read this story before, that the editors have asked for some fairly substantial changes, so it'll be a fundamentally new (and, I hope, fundamentally better) story this time around. I will, of course, let you know when it appears.

I wonder whether tomorrow will bring more feast . . . or the beginning of a new famine?

Fantasy Fiction Feast

For those of you who have been famished for a taste of some fantasy fiction (I know I have been), I offer two delightful tidbits: my just-published story, "A Chimaera Story with Four Morals," which appears in Jersey Devil Press; and the promise of more to come, as my story "A Very Small Child Called Eugene" was just accepted for publication by A cappella Zoo. (It should be out in September.) The latter story is a bit of a personal triumph: it's an odd tale, as you'll see when it arrives, and after a dozen or so rejection slips, it was hovering on the verge of retirement. But I had faith in it (a couple of those rejection slips were very encouraging, as rejection slips go), and I'm glad I stuck it out.

So dig in, and enjoy!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Apocalypse Not

So I found out yesterday that my wife and I scheduled our son's eighth birthday party for the day the world was supposed to end.

I'm always the last to know.

Fortunately for my son, who otherwise would have been deprived of various sword-fighting ninja contests and items of Lego merchandise, the prediction of world-endingness was, shall we say, premature. The world did not end--unless, that is, we're living in some weird Twilight Zone episode and we don't realize we're all dead.

I'm really not bothered by people who predict the end of the world. Everyone has to have a hobby.

The only thing that bothers me, I guess, is the evident pleasure the end-of-the-worlders take in everybody else getting royally screwed. That doesn't seem very sporting.

So, for what it's worth, and because (the world not having ended) we're left with time to kill, I offer herewith the following riddle:

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

Answers next week. Unless, of course, the world ends.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Weird World

The world of environmentalism is a weird one, full of surprises, unexpected juxtapositions and reversals, random facts and realizations. Here are three recent examples:

1. I was driving home a few days ago in blinding rain when it occurred to me that what I was seeing (or, actually, not seeing) was the climate I'm going to be living with for the rest of my life. We all know how rainy it's been in the northeast and the south, how strange the weather patterns have been; we remark about it all the time. But it doesn't strike most of us that the reason the weather's so weird is that the climate has changed; we keep waiting for global warming to happen, not realizing it already has. Weather is the veil of climate: it hides the bigger picture we can't see. But at the same time, weather is the sign of climate: it reveals what we can't see. If the weather is weird--and it is--a weird climate lies just behind.

2. I recently learned of a company, Terracycle, that will turn those pesky juice pouches into kid-friendly products (pencil cases, etc.). If you sign up online, your school gets a few pennies per pouch donated. On the face of it, this sounds like a good thing. But then you have to ask yourself: why are juice pouches manufactured in such a way that they're not recyclable by usual means? And is not the promise to recycle the things into yet another consumer product a way of convincing people to buy non-recyclable items, guilt-free? My advice to anyone who worries about juice pouches being thrown into landfills: don't buy the damn things in the first place.

3. A few weeks ago, I attended an event concerning the Marcellus Shale. One of the speakers delivered a passionate address against drilling; she waxed eloquent about the "poisons we're pumping into our chilren's bodies," and she presented herself as a staunch foe of corporate greed, indifference, and propaganda. After the event, I went to congratulate her on her speech. I found her outside, smoking a cigarette.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Going Local

Yesterday was an environmentally friendly day for me. In the morning, my kids and I helped the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association plant trees; in the afternoon, I switched electricity generators to Viridian Energy, which will supply 100% of my electricity through wind power; and in the evening, I attended a lecture on sustainable agriculture by Anna Lappe, whose new book connects our eating choices to the climate crisis. And, having read recently that the majority of car trips we make are fewer than two miles, I decided to walk the mile and a half to the lecture and back. So there was lots of good stuff, environment-wise.

There was also one depressing moment, when I read the following passage in Michael Shuman's book Going Local:

"Governments will be increasingly inclined to put a tax on oil, as well as on other fossil fuels, to account for the environmental effects of burning them. There is a virtual consensus among scientists today . . . that human progress is warming the planet. . . . By the time the multi-trillion-dollar costs of global warming are clear enough to affect the market price of fossil fuels, it will be too late to prevent it. But political pressures will surely mount on governments to place taxes on these fuels, per unit of pollution (a carbon tax) or per unit of energy (a BTU tax), that will raise their prices and reduce releases of carbon into the atmosphere."

Shuman, writing in 1998, is certain that governments will come to their senses, tax carbon, and thereby level the playing field for the development of renewables. But here we are in 2011, and guess what? We haven't taxed carbon (partly because the scientific consensus Shuman applauds has been attacked relentlessly by climate change deniers); we're investing heavily (in both dollars and infrastructure) in the latest fossil fuel to come down the pike, natural gas; the market in renewables is stagnant; the price of oil is way up, but mostly because of unrest in the Middle East, not because of the environmental costs of burning it; global emissions continue to grow day by day; and the planet's climate is becoming increasingly unpredictable, chaotic, and punishing. At the national and international level, we've utterly failed as a species to take the necessary steps to protect our planet and ourselves.

Which is why, for the foreseeable future, I'm "going local," as the title of Shuman's book recommends. I'll plant trees in my own neighborhood, power my own house with wind energy, walk instead of drive, support local groups like the Nine Mile Run association, and otherwise focus on what I can do in my own community. I'll act locally, and think--or at least dream--of a time the global community will come around.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Thor-oughly Disgusted

For the record, I am royally sick and tired of movies about gods who don't get along with their daddies.

There was Clash of the Titans. And Percy Jackson. And (in a somewhat different register) Tron: Legacy.

And now there's Thor. I saw it today, and while it has some cool special effects (as well as some really chaotically filmed special effects, almost as if the filmmakers didn't want the audience to be able to see whether the effects were any good or not), in the end it boils down to that unbelievably tedious tale of a spoiled little boy who argues with his daddy, but who learns in the end that father knows best.

Director Kenneth Branagh, dabbling in the decidedly lowbrow, must think there are Shakespearean echoes to this silliness. It's Hamlet in Asgard!

Well, actually, no, it's more like Ferris Bueller's Day Off with frost giants.

I mean, come on. Can't anyone think of a more original thing to do with gods and monsters? Does every story have to be so boringly Freudian? Couldn't we have a story where dad and son actually got along, so we could explore something more interesting about them?

Fathers and sons do have conflicts, sure. I have plenty with my own dad. But I hardly believe these petty squabbles are of Olympian or Asgardian proportions. I'm not so delusional as to believe the heavens quake every time my dad and I piss each other off.

On the horizon, I see there's a movie coming out called Immortals, a Greek mythological mishmash with Theseus (but no minotaur that I can tell) fighting on the gods' behalf against a corrupt mortal king.

Let's just hope it doesn't turn out that Theseus bears a grudge against Papa Zeus. I'm not sure I can take any more.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Ruffling Feathers

A letter to the editor I recently published has angered some people (which is not surprising, of course; that's what letters to the editor are supposed to do). This time around, however, the people I've angered happen to be my friends.

It goes like this: in my letter, I question the wisdom, and the impartiality, of the environmental group Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future (Penn Future for short) in its stand on the natural gas issue. Penn Future has been promoting natural gas as a clean alternative to coal, and I find this problematic, for obvious reasons. Hence the letter.

But I've got friends in Penn Future. I've attended their conferences, supported them financially, met with individuals in the organization socially. So this seems, I guess, like a betrayal.

And maybe it is. But that may be the best reason it had to be said.

At root, my problem with Penn Future's stand on natural gas is that the organization is too much of an insider to see the issue objectively. Penn Future prides itself on being pragmatic and politically savvy, which means it focuses on lobbying politicians and working with state and local governments, as well as industry, to achieve its objectives. That's fine, and it may produce some positive results. But it also places severe strictures on what the organization can say and do.

You won't get radical critique, visionary thinking, or even impolite discourse from Penn Future. What you'll get is tame, middle of the road, compromise measures. The organization's slogan says it all: "Every environmental victory grows the economy." That's about as centrist a position as you can take.

But the environmental crisis, in my view, will not be solved by centrists; it'll be solved by radicals. Centrism gets us nowhere on important social/political issues. It got us nowhere on slavery, Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement. Every environmental victory may grow the economy--but it needs to be said that growing the economy is the root of the problem, and we can't solve the environmental crisis by continuing to promote the behavior that produced it. We can't overcome our addiction to fossil fuels by consuming them. Neither can we "bridge" the gap to a non-fossil fuel future by investing astronomical sums of money and building exorbitant new infrastructure as we are doing with natural gas.

Penn Future can't see this, or at least, they can't say it. If they did, they'd lose their ability to influence the political process. But from my perspective, it's not worth influencing the process if, in so doing, one becomes merely another failed part of it.

Penn Future has its approach to natural gas, and I have mine. I can't stop them from pursuing their approach; no more can they stop me from pursuing mine. If they want to criticize my position, they're free to do so, just as I'm free to criticize theirs. And if a few friends get their feelings hurt--I'm sorry, but this issue is too important to let that stand in the way.

So for the record: I'm sorry I upset people. But I'd be even sorrier if I let my fear of ruffling feathers interfere with the work I believe needs to be done.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Jumping Ship

Here's my latest anti-fracking cartoon. This one pertains to the practice of "forced pooling," whereby landowners who have not sold their rights to the drilling companies can nonetheless have their lands drilled into from adjacent sites. (Remember, fracking wells move horizontally as well as vertically.) This practice obviously rigs the system in favor of the drillers; a real-life prisoner's dilemma, it pits landowner against landowner, with each individual thinking, "if I don't sell my land but any of my neighbors does, I'll be faced with the negative impacts of the drilling while my neighbors make off with the profits."

For what it's worth, Corbett has come out against forced pooling. But then, he's also come out in favor of college campuses leasing their lands to gas companies as a way of compensating for the budget cuts to education he himself proposed.