24 November 2009


24 November 2009

A recent report finds a direct link between climate change and African conflict; this on top of previous studies that show an inverse link between rainfall and war. We in the West look on this with nodding interest (if we pay attention at all), and go about our day. But as goes Africa, the rest of the world will soon follow. In spite of the euphemism “global warming,” climate change means unpredictability in the weather. Aside from the certainty of ocean rise (and the concomitant displacement of large populations, who will be hungry), changing weather patterns are a certainty. That means, aside from the hordes of starving people needing food, agricultural production will plummet as weather patterns shift, new pests move northward, and did we forget to mention: we run out of fertilizer.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Enjoy Discover Magazine's new slideshow, featuring Industrial Scars.

22 November 2009

Catalog Choice

22 November 2009

We all roll our eyes upon opening the mailbox to find it bulging with catalogs, only a portion of which we have any notion. I’ve long known of Catalog Choice, but as the grumpy non-shopper, I don’t get any catalogs to speak of. Somehow, though, they find even me, and yesterday I went on and did the magic. What an easy way to strike a blow for the planet, save forests, and stop the pollution caused by paper manufacture. Forests are habitats and carbon sinks, water and air cleaners.

If you have ever asked the question: “what can I do,” here is a good answer: www.catalogchoice.org

16 November 2009

The Letter from Green Mountain

16 November 2009

One of my favorite songs is “Every Grain Of Sand” by EmmyLou Harris. I had the good fortune to meet her, and she reminded me that it was originally a Bob Dylan song. To me, this song is about the importance of every small gesture in the big scheme of things: “The flap of a butterfly’s wings can cause a hurricane on the other side of the planet.”

My work is about getting people to evolve from being consumers to citizens, to question the impact of every dollar they spend, every bite they eat. At one time, I wanted to “win the hearts and minds” of people; now I just want behavioral change. If we all turn out the lights, it will be ok.

I’m doing a week of “artist in residence” at Green Mountain College in Vermont, doing individual critiques and presentations to the student body. This institution strives to “do the right thing” by the environment, the future, and the people here. The students and faculty come here because of the commitment and they obviously care about their “footprint.” Admittedly, they still leave some lights on when they leave the room, still eat ham and cheese, but by and large their wish is for a society of sustaianability. And I see the same thing in the USA, and the world at large: a concern with the current situation, and desire to be part of a change. Even people that until recently refused to acknowledge climate change grudgingly shrug. With that movement in the sentiment of the population, the only question becomes “tipping point.” What is the percentage of electricity buyers turning off the lights in protest of climate change that will be necessary to force the evolution to a more local, sustainable power? I'd wager that it’s not a big number.

Being part, if only for a week, of the intellectual dynamic of this place, and the currents I have seen in the larger USA leaves me with a real sense of hope.

12 November 2009

Music and Industrial Scars Save Mountains

13 November 2009

Monday night, NRDC, Gibson Guitars, EmmyLou Harris, and her manager Ken Levitan hosted an event to raise awareness in the country music community about mountaintop removal coal mining (MTR). The first step in the lengthy trail of devastation caused by the use of coal as a power source, is the practice of blowing the top off of the mountain, dumping the blasted earth into the adjacent valley, extracting the coal, planting grass seed, and repeat.

The goal of the event was to recruit more country musicians to the cause, as they reach a wide audience outside of the “environmentalist crowd.”

Industrial Scars images of MTR were a central part of the event, as were two custom-made guitars with my images of Coal River Mountain, the destruction of which has just begun.

This is the second event Ms. Harris has hosted on this issue, and the list of notable musicians is growing: Randy Travis, Ben Sollee, Big Kenny Alphin, Delbert McClinton, Dierks Bentley, Gloriana, James Otto, J.D. Souther, Matraca Berg, Jeff Hanna, Michelle Branch, Kid Rock, Patty Griffin, and Rodney Crowell were all there.

Bravo to them all, and if you are a fan, send them a note of applause for their work on this horrific issue.

Bobby Kennedy spoke eloquently (as always) about the link between our cultural heritage and the environment, a link that is particularly relevant in this case as the roots of country music are in the Appalachians.
Coal is the source of half of our electricity, and billed as a cheap energy source. But the reason it’s cheap when your electric bill comes is that you have already paid for it with your high taxes that subsidize it. Some of the 2005 coal subsidies (out of your pocket) include:
$1.612 billion in tax credits to invest in new coal power plants
$1.147 billion in tax breaks for coal power plants to install pollution control equipment
$1.8 billion of taxpayer money to help build a new fleet of coal power plants
$1.137 billion of taxpayer money to help make coal power a cost-competitive source of power generation (there’s a joke on us).
$90 million to research ways to sequester carbon dioxide emitted from coal power plants.
And this is just the beginning.

Is this the way you want your money to be spent, to subsidize global warming and mercury poisoning?

10 November 2009

Green Mountain College, VT

11 November 2009

Some people write with facility and grace, words flowing from their fingers seemingly without effort. Others, like myself, struggle, stare, chew the inside of the cheek, and generally suffer until something comes to life.

Green Mountain College in Vermont invited me to be artist-in-residence for a week, my destination after the Nashville NRDC/Gibson/Mountaintop Removal event (more on that in a later post). I've just arrived on a brisk November night, had a delicious vegetarian meal in Rutland, and was deposited on the campus. The thought of dialoging with students and describing what I do and why is exciting is weighing on me. The focus of my work is getting people to change behavior, realize the emminent danger, and participate in a new economy. GMC is a college that made the decision to "go green" in the nineties and has not looked back. So, here I will be "preaching to the converted" but we all still have so far to go, and will only get there by constantly refining and tweaking our methods. In spite of the energy audits that have been done here, I'm sitting in a library with lots of lights on, fighting the temptation to turn them off.

Is it possible to change our behavior before the situation gets drastic?

06 November 2009

The Uses of Sarcasm

6 November 2009

Sarcasm is the use of irony to mock or convey contempt.

Some would describe it as an inappropriate method in serious dialog. Our world today is a place that has been pushed to a precipice: continue with the economic and social systems that have evolved from feudal times until now, or creatively tweak our institutions and habits to ensure our wealth and comfort into the future. These changes would be significant, but not draconian. The marshalling issue of the day is climate change; a big problem, simple, but ubiquitous in its causes. Slowing the changes in progress will require immediate action from all of us, and the will to demand legislation accordingly.

Blue-Footed Booby on Galapagos Islands

But, we are still watching reality television. The disconnect is so significant as to be irrational, and thus logical discourse becomes impossible. Solutions to global warming can’t be discussed with someone who has been so misinformed as to deny its existence. When half of our elected representatives refuse to attend the Senate environment committee hearing on global warming, and refer to climate change as “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people,” disbelief is the only response. Sarcasm often follows.

05 November 2009


5 November 2009

"If we don't take urgent and ambitious action, the reality is that some small island developing states will not be around within a couple of decades - certainly not by the end of the century."

So says the UK Climate Secretary Ed Miliband.

I would retort: “Who needs them?”

Chances are we have extracted the resources we want from them, and therefore they are just hanging around, playing the guilt card on us, when really they should be glad we invited them to the party (even if it is just to exploit them). As a matter of fact, I propose we send a few gunboats to ensure that none of the whiners get off before their little rocks are submerged, as they will only come to our shores and stir up trouble. God knows we have enough of it with all of the bleeding hearts wanting universal health care and carbon caps.

When will they learn that might makes right. What’s theirs is ours.

04 November 2009


4 November 2009

Last night, Al Gore introduced his new book, “Our Choice” at the Museum of Natural History. His previous book, “An Inconvenient Truth,” arguably brought the issue of climate change into the mainstream. This tome offers a variety of solutions to the various problems, most of which are hard to dispute. None of this information is new, but what Mr. Gore brings to the table is a reasonableness and diplomacy that are often lacking in the debates on these issues. The main message of his book, that the climate problem is soluble, leads to the essential hurdle, the impasse in the halls of our government in acknowledging, let alone attending to this issue. And the citizenry, who seemingly realizes that there is a problem, possibly serious, continues happily on its way, looking in the daily drivel for hopeful news about action by the duly elected.

Not gonna happen. And we can’t wait for it.

The Republicans won’t even show up at the Senate climate change hearings (Huffington).

If we don’t attend to this problem, we will be harshly judged by our children (if they haven’t done so already). But the lark is that it’s really not so hard, in spite of the dire warnings about economic catastrophe, to set out on the road of sustainability.

03 November 2009

climate Climate CLIMATE

3 November 2009

Germany's Chancellor Merkel is speaking to both houses of the US congress today in an exhortation for the USA to move on climate change. Talk about rain on the ocean, she will be lucky to get a polite hearing. The US congress is so indebted to the hydro-carbon lobby that our chances for substance from that consensus club are negligent. We the people must demand representation. Turn off your lights in support of action on climate change
Morning Haze shrouds a coal-fired power plant outside Baton Rouge, LA

02 November 2009

Another Twinkie please!

The British Journal of Psychiatry released a report finding that a diet high in processed food leads to increased risk of depression. Me, I happen to like my high fructose, food colored diet. Who can deny that Twinkies are the pinnacle of western culinary achievement? If God had wanted us to eat those dirty buggy vegetables, he would have put them on the supermarket shelves in pretty plastic packaging.

Distressed Farmland

I must admit to amusement at this news, as it seems akin to a person’s horror at water damage after the fire deparment has finally controlled the fire that destroyed the house. Industrial agriculture is a curse on the planet, to our bodies, and to the future of our children.The fact that scientists have finally linked processed food to depression just shows the folly of science.

01 November 2009

Beauty and Oil Fires

I have a confession. I’m fascinated by oil fires. They have a mesmerizing beauty like nothing else. Werner Herzog did a great film called Lessons of Darkness about oil wells after the first Gulf War. Did we learn a lesson?

Flare at Plastics Plant

Today there are two big fires, one in Jaipur India, and the other in the Timor Sea, north of Australia. They hardly warrant a blip on our celebrity-obsessed media and consciousness, after all, Mark Sanford’s exploits in Argentina or Brad’s current status with Jen is much more interesting and relevant. And of course the plentiful TV programs about the nice little animals, although gently cautionary about imminent concerns, reassure us that all is well. Because if I can see the pretty polar bears, I know it will all be ok.