22 December 2009


22 December 2009

The Czech Republic has just sent four of the eight last surviving Northern White Rhinos back to a preserve in Kenya in a desperate attempt to have them breed and stave off extinction. They have not bred in captivity.

Why do we care?

These animals are part of the beauty and diversity of life, the heritage that we have inherited and are responsible to maintain. Saving large animals means saving habitat, which happens to be the same natural system that cleans our air and water. Of course, at eight, and a split population, with the four in question showing a disinterest in reproducing, the animal is functionally extinct anyway. The Mexican Wolf was saved from seven, but there was a concerted effort to rebuild the population led by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Now we have almost 400.

The National Geographic article mentions two animals in the USA, living in captivity at the San Diego Zoo.

Like the cases of expropriation of antiquities by the developed world, the removal of animals to zoos is a form of theft, and they should be returned.

My head keeps returning to the question of why we should care about the disappearance of another funny looking animal from the planet. What difference does it make to the average soccer mom driving an SUV.

I guess none….

17 December 2009


17 December 2009

Perchlorate is a rocket fuel additive coursing through your veins, along with a myriad of other industrial chemicals that “bring good things to life.” Though unregulated, it has been determined to be toxic by modern science (always suspect in a corporatocracy.) When the EPA tried to regulate this known toxic In California, where groundwater contamination of this chemical is critical, they were branded unpatriotic by the holy trinity (military, industry, and church.)

Though it’s probably a human nature thing, this willingness to deny fact in favor of ideology and business has become an increasingly disturbing feature in our world. The geometrically magnified impact of population growth, technology, and manufacturing make the ostrich syndrome so dangerous, and yet denial grows. The “climate denial industry” is well known, but in fact industry lobbies against government regulation on most issues of increased cost, whether they be public health issues or not.

Since we are not going to change the minds of the adamant, and they by definition are more vocal than the considerate, and government will always operate on the golden rule, the only answer is for the considerate (those who listen to reason and make informed decisions about how they live their lives) to get vocal and adamant.

It’s time to grab the future.

And a big bravo to the New York Times for its water series. This is media as the fourth branch of government in the best sense.

14 December 2009


14 December 2009

Some things I don’t get: lottery tickets, for instance. Any look at the odds says there is no chance of getting that payoff, but people still buy the things. It says something about the irrationality of our species. Similarly confusing to me is the climate change gamble. I know so many intelligent people that adamantly refuse to believe that humans are having an impact on the climate, in the face of essentially irrefutable evidence. Of course we are all aware of the climate denial industry, but that does not explain it.

Is it perhaps our fear of change? Or fear of loss of indulgences? And similarly, the gamble here is so great; like the future of humankind. And the ante is really so small: moderate changes in our consumption patterns.

Copenhagen talks stalled today, and it would probably be better, as James Hansen argues, if they collapsed instead of producing some ineffective fluff.
And yes, no matter how it’s sliced, the developing world will get the short straw. But oddly, in the developed world we are slipping back from commitment. George Monbiot, in the Guardian, argues that fewer people believe in climate change than two years ago.

And of course, there are still some people out there that believe the world is flat.

10 December 2009


10 December 2009

Our objective was to document the good and the bad: recent victories for the biotic health of the Park, like the preservation of large parcels of land, and scars, like ATV damage and logging devastation. As an artist, my goal is always to make compelling images of issues that will motivate the viewer to question said issues, as well as her involvement. And why do we care about some ATV damage and logging scars?

Glad you asked.

The ball we live on is a big complex machine with many necessary moving parts that contribute to its doing what we need it to do for us to live on it. Large wild spaces: clean the air and water, produce oxygen, provide a home for the animals, which in turn perform a vital role in propagating that life system.

Unsustainable logging/ATV damage fragments the system, introduces invasive species - which usually crowd out the more fragile native species (already weakened by the loss of their habitat), and promotes erosion (loss of topsoil, water pollution, stream silting, lost fish habitat, no fish link in the food chain, etc).

So this stuff is important.

The wind, which had sped us along on the way up, now made our jobs difficult. With the hazy winter light, only certain angles work to produce good images, and as soon as Bob positioned the plane, the wind blew us away, and made getting back to that spot slow, and things happen very quickly in the air anyway.

Ultimately it was a very successful day. Cloudy light can ultimately produce some wonderful results if it lights the areas you want, leaving others darker, but it can do the opposite as well. Sometimes we wait for clouds to move and illuminate, other times we compromise, knowing we have deadlines imposed by fuel, weather and darkness.

Dropping John off in Saranac Lake, we comment on the large hangar that Citibank built so its CEO could park the company jet out of the elements when he came up to his retreat in the Adirondacks, and I reflect on the fact that it must belong to us since we bailed out Citi for just this sort of foolishness. And you can be sure that retired mogul is living large on our largesse. No need to mention his name.

07 December 2009


7 December 2009

The Adirondack Council has taken upon itself the Herculean task of trying to document the ATV damage to roadless areas in the Adirondacks Park. Surprisingly, after being in New York for so many years, only recently have I become familiar with this magical space. My first adventure was with the Northeast Wilderness Trust in an effort to save a large parcel of land from development on the Canadian border, ensuring connectivity between the Adirondacks and northern forests.

The Adirondacks is a mixture of public and private lands, set up as a park in 1892, after Verplanck Colvin proposed a bill to the legislature.

In the summer of 2008, at a friend’s suggestion, I flew with Lighthawk to shoot the old industrial scars in the park. This fall, I took a group of students into those same sites on the ground. I’m always game to take up sword against windmill, so with Bob Keller, Lighthawk’s indomitable environmental aviator, and John Davis from the Council, we lofted into the wild blue. On these projects, one is always throwing dice with the weather, and we had been trying to do this for a year, only to be clouded out at the last minute each time. This was no exception, and in a call the night before, Bob had expressed concern that an approaching weather front might trap us in the high peaks. Since I had to take a dawn train from NYC to Schenectady to meet him, mine was the longest trip of the day. But given the three previous aborted efforts, I prevailed that we should take the gamble, and we agreed that if his morning weather check sounded ominous, he could call me and I would just detrain and go back to NYC.

When we rendezvoused, the weather looked hazy-to-cloudy and the front was still in southern NJ, so we decided to move with dispatch, and bypass the paper mill nearby on which I had set my heart of adding to my collection.

It was a windy day, but in this case on our rear quarter, so we were quick getting up to Saranac Lake to get John, where we conferred on objectives and route, and groused about the weather. I’m just the idiot picture maker in the gang, and both of them knew the area, so this was their department. After a final bathroom pit-stop, we boarded, straightened out all gear, and took off. Bob, with whom I have flown many similar missions, and who keeps an immaculate plane, had recently burned a flat spot on his tire, which leads to slightly bumpy take-offs and landings, so I took great pleasure in teasing him about it through the day.

Adirondack high peaks (note the striated air pollution)

04 December 2009


4 December 2009

It’s so easy not to think about the ripple effects of our desires. Actually, it’s almost impossible to really know those effects. As an example, our unblemished bug-free fruit and vegetables come at a great cost. At the Union Carbide Bhopal Plant, methyl isocyanate, a deadly component of a variety of pesticides was manufactured, and on Dec 3, 1984, 40 tons leaked out into the surrounding community.

Twenty-five years later, we have forgotten the incident; the culpable company, after paying a fine to the Indian government has been swallowed by a larger conglomerate, and the world goes round. But the community residents have a staggering rate of birth defects, and can’t drink the water. The Indian government dismisses their claims, and we continue to demand our denatured fruit and vegetables.

But, the flap of the butterflies’ wings will eventually cause a storm on our shores.

03 December 2009

The Letter From Green Mountain - Part II

03 December 09

When they asked me to come teach for a week, I suggested that, apart from the classes and lectures, we should take a photographic field trip. Green Mountain College is adjacent to the Adirondacks, and not far from several sites I have documented from the air: Tahawus - an old lead mine, most of which is owned by OSI; Republic Steel - an abandoned mill; IP Paper Mill in Ticonderoga. LightHawk had flown me over these locations last year, which led to a great story in the Adirondack Explorer; still I have always wanted to see these sites from the ground. The weather did not look promising, so we postponed our trip from Saturday to Sunday, and, of course Saturday I came down with the flu. But, there was no way I was going to miss this trip, so I climbed in the van at 5 AM on Sunday, wheezing and whining along the way, which the students all took with magnanimous aplomb. Tahawus, our first site, is in the middle of the high peaks, and involved quite a bit of map study, GPS shaking, and wrong turns. We finally ended up at the actual mines, where a somewhat churlish fellow in old overalls with a can of spray paint in hand informed us that this was not part of the OSI parcel, and no trespassing was allowed. He did not even succomb to the southern accent, so we turned around and navigated to the OSI holdings, which included the old town. There are some really interesting dilapidated buildings, and the students were all over it, but the fever was taking over and I passed out in the van. After a few hours and a bit of meandering, we moved to what I think was an old forge, a large stone oven/chimney with some other graphically interesting decaying metal. I’m always fascinated by these relics and curious about the story behind them.

Sadly, though it was the middle of the day, a lone bat circled the cairn endlessly. The students had all moved on and a couple arrived, the female evincing unease at the despondent presence of the winged mammal. I just wanted to cry thinking there could be no more perfect symbol for a world out of balance and wobbling, like the bat’s erratic flight, toward disaster.

At this point, students with obligations had to motivate for a return to the school while the rest of us proceeded on to Republic Steel, our next destination. Located in Port Henry, this defunct mill fascinated me from the air with its Victorian factory and rusted conveyors climbing dirty white mountains of waste slag. Alas, my fever was rising, so my energy for scrabbling up the mountains, which had a texture like fine sand, was minimal. Ruins of industrial sites, and the progress of the organic world to resorb them intrigue me. Our orientation of profit over planet generates many of them, relics of fashion or depleted resources. Some are highly toxic, some picturesque, others just an eyesore. This one was spectacular, a memento of an industrial age in the USA that we have shipped offshore, thanks to globalization. No longer will the piles of slag sully our shores and contaminate our workers: there are other lands out of sight with resources to burn, workers to carcinate, water to pollute. The day was late, and the clouds that had momentarily parted for a respite had come down so they engulfed the tops of the slag heaps. Time to race back to the school before the cafeteria closed…