Surfing the Ocean in My Sixties

by Barbara Fischkin

(l to r) Jennifer and Barbara Get Ready to Surf 
Photo by Bob Arkow

Deep Water Background

For an opus on surfing, I recommend Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan. I am humbled each time I pick up this book. Four summers ago, at 64, I decided to try to surf. People who do not surf, and even some who do, are impressed when I mention this, as if any day now I will be gliding upright over sky-high waves and onto the shore. The truth: For me this is a very minor undertaking and would not even qualify as a hobby. In other words: It is something to sneeze at. I have yet to stand up on a surfboard.

I can get on two knees, briefly and occasionally crouch on one foot while supported by the other knee. Then splash, I fall backwards into the water. Backwards is the correct way to fall. You can see the board before it bangs you in the head. With any luck you can then grab its rim or use the leash—presumably still attached around your ankle—to pull the board towards you and safely away from other surfers. I congratulate myself for, at the least, being able to fall off a surfboard well.

Finnegan writes that if you want to be an accomplished surfer, you must start by the time you are fourteen, at the latest. The exact quote: “People who tried to start at an advanced age, meaning over fourteen, had, in my experience, almost no chance of becoming proficient, and usually suffered pain and sorrow before they quit. It was possible to have fun, though, under supervision, in the right conditions…”

I agree, with some caveats. Read more »

Looking for the Enlightened

by Marie Snyder

The season finale of The Last of Us sets up a great deontological v. teleological conundrum with the big question (tiny spoiler), which ends up being an episode-long trolley problem: Is it right to kill one person if doing so could save multitudes?

In a utilitarian view, of course we should sacrifice one person to potentially save all of humanity. It would be absurd not to see this and ensure the safety of all! But it doesn’t pass the categorical imperative sniff test. We can’t support intentional harm coming to people, any people, no matter how few, even if it will help many others. 

Kant’s famous rule: “I am never to act otherwise than so that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law, so killing a person to help others is necessarily wrong. It’s not a numbers game since “the moral worth of an action does not lie in the effect expected.” And we have to treat each person as an end in themselves, never as a means to an end. 

Or, as the great Mitchell & Webb make clear, killing some to save others is just plain wrong “because it’s offensive and evil.” 

And people will do absolutely anything to save the children they love if they turn out to be the sacrificial lambs in question. 

Fortunately, the current issues facing us don’t force us to choose. We can help our children and the world at once, so that should be easy, right?!? Unfortunately, our drive to protect our kids is often short sighted. Life is not as cut and dried as a good zombie-like show. We often want our children to be happy today even if it means they end up suffering later. Read more »

The Hazy Politics of Wildfires

by Mark Harvey

Airplane drops fire retardant on wildfire

On the morning of July 22, 2016, an illegal campfire in Garrapata State Park near Carmel, California got out of control. Within a day, the fire grew to 2,000 acres. Within two days the fire grew to 10,000 acres. A month later the fire was at 90,000 acres and still largely uncontained. Ultimately the Forest Service and other agencies deployed thousands of firefighters and spent close to $260 million in an effort to contain it. The fire was finally “contained” three months later in October. During the three months of the fire’s life, bulldozers cut close to 60 miles of roads/firebreaks and aerial tankers dumped about 3.5 million gallons of fire retardant on the flames. The bulldozing and the aerial retardant work had little effect and what really helped put the fire out was October’s cooler temperatures and more humid air.

The fact of the matter is most wildfires go out by themselves.

The effort to fight large wildfires with expensive planes, helicopters, fire retardant, and bulldozers has been likened to fighting hurricanes or earthquakes: it’s costly and mostly futile. While developing fire-resistant lines and fireproofing buildings at the urban-forest interface can be very effective, trying to control massive blazes of tens of thousands of acres is like burning money.

Fighting wildfires is big business. When you stage thousands of firefighters in camps, you need catering services, laundry services, mobile housing, heavy equipment, and fuel. Caterers can gross millions of dollars to support large crews and local landowners make thousands of dollars renting their land and facilities for staging areas. Read more »

Phenology and the Rites of Spring

by Mark Harvey

Out of the blue, between the sea and the sky,
Landward blown on bright, untiring wings;
Out of the South I fly Maurice Thompson

Red-Tailed Hawk

One of my sisters who is a wildlife biologist often leaves the cinema with an entirely different take on the virtues of any particular movie if it’s set on a natural landscape. Be it an epic love story on the plains of Montana or a character-driven film taking place in the Cascade mountains of the northwest, she and her biologist friends see things through a different lens than you or I. While we might be moved by a love story between a cabin dweller scrapping out an existence while courting a fetching lass from an adjoining homestead, they often leave the same film frustrated and grouchy about how badly and unscientifically the natural world is cast.

“Did you hear that bald eagle?” They’ll say. “That’s not the sound a bald eagle makes! They obviously dubbed the call of a red-tailed hawk over that bald eagle. Who’s going to miss that?”

Well, about 99% of the audience still dabbing their eyes from the happy ending when the homesteaders requite their epic love on the epic landscape.

One thing that seems to really drive my sister and her biologist friends mad is when the director gets the phenology wrong. Phenology, to remind you, is the natural cycle and timing of nature. For example, every spring there is a certain pattern and time frame of flowers blooming, birds returning to the north, insects hatching, and bears coming out of hibernation. So when a film director has the male hero shyly offering flowers to his love interest in one scene and bodice busting in the next, my sister and her crew will cast a clinical eye on the Indian ricegrass and its development between scenes. Read more »

Copout26: Cheap Shots and Red Herrings

by Thomas O’Dwyer

Great Thunberg at COP26
Activist Greta Thunberg at COP26 in Glasgow. Photo: AP

If the recent COP26 Climate Change marathon in Scotland was the last best hope for humankind, where can I reserve a seat on Elon Musk’s flight to Mars? With delegates jetting into Glasgow from around 200 countries, the event started to look like an episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus with a cast of thousands. To a chorus of “Blah, blah, blah!” from Greta Thunberg’s street warriors, the first dispatches out of the media paddock were mostly cheap shots at the idiocies the gathering spawned. Like the giant foot stomping on dissent in a Python sketch, the massive carbon footprint generated by COP26 squashed all previous records for a climate crisis conference. Its emissions of 102,500 tonnes of CO2 equivalent was more than double that of the last UN climate summit. About 60 per cent of that represented the international travel of the 39,000 official delegates to the talks. Many of those attending were bag carriers, aides, professional lobbyists and other hangers-on. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson flew by private jet to Cop26 from London, but after an outpouring of media scorn, he opted for the train on a subsequent visit.

As for cheap shots, a bloated delegation from impoverished Zimbabwe got theirs from a local supermarket, widely photographed loading up carts with hundreds of dollars worth of Scotland’s finest whiskies. They were later filmed celebrating President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s arrival at a raucous party on an Edinburgh beach, accompanied by much derision and anger on social media at home on the theme of, “Why are our leaders there, for whisky and T-shirts?” Many experts considered the event crucial for the future of our planet, but its geeky title remained mostly unrecognised by the public. Vox pop interviews on the streets in Scottish cities revealed that few knew what COP26 meant, and many seemed confused as to whether it was a climate or an environmental conference or what it was supposed to achieve. It’s a fair guess that this low level of public engagement was universal, explaining why many editors of popular media chose to run click-bait stories laden with those cheap shots and red herrings.

COP stands for Conference of the Parties, and it convened for the 26th time during the first two weeks of November. Read more »

Stop The Planet Killers

by Thomas O’Dwyer

Climate protesters cover a square in central London in fake blood and coins last week. They poured blood-red paint across Chartered Bank’s glass facade, to highlight the $31bn they say it had invested in fossil fuels since the Paris climate accords. Photo: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images
Climate protesters covered a square in central London in fake blood and coins last week. They poured the paint across Chartered Bank’s glass facade, to highlight the $31bn they say it has invested in fossil fuels since the Paris climate accords. Photo: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

Before we can save the planet, we need to expose and stop the willful planet killers. They’re not difficult to identify – it’s the usual science-hating suspects and their followers. Shortly after the United Nations released its shocking scientific report on climate change last week, one of my acquaintances who has a sharp eye for ready-made answers to inconvenient truths, forwarded me an email. These Fwd: Fwd: messengers never share their own researched and crafted opinions – there’s an industry that creates cookie-cutter thinking for its email warriors. The report in the news is from the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This UN climate-science organisation, founded in 1988, has 195 member countries and every seven years it publishes a state-of-the-climate update, summarising current, peer-reviewed research on the science of climate change and its effects. To write this latest IPCC summary, 234 scientists read more than 14,000 research papers.

The gist of the scoffing email I received was that the UN report was alarmist, exaggerated and too negative. UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ warning that the report was “code red for humanity” was an overstatement. Behind the entire effort was “a political agenda” in which “some” politicians falsely proclaim an existential threat to the world by mixing politics and science. The writer admitted that they had not read the report, only “a couple of articles about it,” but assured us that far from heralding planetary catastrophe, climate change would bring “great commercial opportunities” (which the email did not specify). This vague prediction did contain the grudging admission that climate change is real — a couple of years ago, these emails were in full Trumpian cry proclaiming it a left-wing hoax. Now there’s a shift among the former purist deniers —it exists but it comes bearing bounty (more wealth for the wealthy). Read more »

Irrationality, Artificial Intelligence, and the Climate Crisis

by Fabio Tollon

Human beings are rather silly creatures. Some of us cheer billionaires into space while our planet burns. Some of us think vaccines cause autism, that the earth is flat, that anthropogenic climate change is not real, that COVID-19 is a hoax, and that diamonds have intrinsic value. Many of us believe things that are not fully justified, and we continue to believe these things even in the face of new evidence that goes against our position. This is to say, many people are woefully irrational. However, what makes this state of affairs perhaps even more depressing is that even if you think you are a reasonably well-informed person, you are still far from being fully rational. Decades of research in social psychology and behavioural economics has shown that not only are we horrific decision makers, we are also consistently horrific. This makes sense: we all have fairly similar ‘hardware’ (in the form of brains, guts, and butts) and thus it follows that there would be widely shared inconsistencies in our reasoning abilities.

This is all to say, in a very roundabout way, we get things wrong. We elect the wrong leaders, we believe the wrong theories, and we act in the wrong ways. All of this becomes especially disastrous in the case of climate change. But what if there was a way to escape this tragic epistemic situation? What if, with the use of an AI-powered surveillance state, we could simply make it impossible for us to do the ‘wrong’ things? As Ivan Karamazov notes in the tale of The Grand Inquisitor (in The Brothers Karamzov by Dostoevsky), the Catholic Church should be praised because it has “vanquished freedom… to make men happy”. By doing so it has “satisfied the universal and everlasting craving of humanity – to find someone to worship”. Human beings are incapable of managing their own freedom. We crave someone else to tell us what to do, and, so the argument goes, it would be in our best interest to have an authority (such as the Catholic Church, as in the original story) with absolute power ruling over us. This, however, contrasts sharply with liberal-democratic norms. My goal is to show that we can address the issues raised by climate change without reinventing the liberal-democratic wheel. That is, we can avoid the kind of authoritarianism dreamed up by Ivan Karamazov. Read more »

Goodbye Covid, Hello Climate

by Thomas O’Dwyer

The Egyptian–Hittite peace treaty is the only ancient international agreement for which versions of both sides have survived. This hieroglyphic text, found in 1828, is at Karnak Museum, Egypt.
The Egyptian–Hittite peace treaty is the only ancient international agreement for which versions of both sides have survived. This hieroglyphic text, found in 1828, is at Karnak Museum, Egypt.

Complicated international agreements on managing the planet’s many human and natural resources may seem essentially modern, a consequence of the interdependence between nations that has been growing since the 19th century. Such accords are as necessary as sewage pipes that underpin healthy societies and just as boring. However, we possess copies of the first known international agreement signed in human affairs — and it is 3,300 years old. This treaty for peace and economic cooperation ended conflicts between the Egyptian and Hittite empires. Archaeologists found a copy of the treaty from each side, one in Egyptian hieroglyphics in 1828 and the other in Hittite cuneiform text in 1908. The treaty itself, signed by Pharaoh Ramses II and King Hattusilis, became a model of endurance in the fractious Middle East of the 13th century BCE (plus ça change). The formerly warring states remained friends and allies for nearly 100 years until Assyria invaded and destroyed the Hittite kingdom.

And now we move from possibly the first international agreement in human history to maybe the last — if it doesn’t work, and fast. In November, Scotland will host the most prominent international conference ever seen in Britain, a memorable event with an eminently forgettable title, the 26th Conference of the Parties — COP26. (The United Nations is well known for the tedium of its terminology). A conference of the parties is the supreme governing body of any international convention and includes representatives of all the states involved plus any observers. In UN-speak, a COP aims “to review the implementation of the convention and any other legal instruments that the COP adopts.” The COP descending on Glasgow in six months has the task of saving humanity, no less, for it has to advance the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Most will have been unaware that this conference of the parties has met (almost) every year since the first in 1995 in Berlin. The “parties” are 197 states and territories that signed on to the Climate Change Convention. And what, you may well ask, have these vast gatherings of blathering heads achieved since 1995? The answer, in good British slang, would be “Bugger all!” Read more »

“How to Avoid a Climate Disaster”: A fun read about a serious topic

by Ashutosh Jogalekar

Image: Penguin Books

Bill Gates’s book on climate change issues and solutions is exceptionally clear and simply written. Gates has an easy conversational style that makes the book a fun read, and he is clear-eyed about the problem and the solutions. He also stays away from politics, which makes the book a refreshingly apolitical read, especially in these times. Often Gates’s interest as a hardcore nerd shows, for instance when he tours a geothermal energy plant on a family vacation. Gates is also modest; he recognizes well that the world might be skeptical to hear about climate change solutions from yet another billionaire who thinks technology can solve all our problems. The difference though is that that technology *can* contribute substantially to addressing climate change, and unlike almost any other rich person, Gates has shows that he has both the breadth of knowledge and – as shown by his vast philanthropy – the public commitment to tackle this huge challenge.

Gates starts by making the sheer scale of the problem clear: Firstly, there are 51 billion tons of carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere every year, and we need to reduce that number to zero. The useful metaphor he provides is of a bathtub which is full. Even if we reduce the flow of water, the bathtub will overflow at some point. The only two solutions are to turn off the tap and to drain the water.
Secondly, the sheer number of sources that contribute to this number make it very challenging to foresee how we can solve the problem – almost every activity we undertake in our daily life, from brushing our teeth (the plastic in the brush released GHGs when manufactured) to eating (the food we eat releases GHGs when grown with fertilizer and transported). One corollary of this realization is that whenever we analyze a new technology for energy or climate change, we have to undertake a cradle-to-grave lifecycle analysis to gauge whether the tradeoff it provides is truly positive; in my view, a lot of people have this blind spot when they make exaggerated claims about solar or wind power for instance.
Thirdly, we are not working on a static target; the world’s population is not just growing but getting more and more energy-hungry, which means we have to work uphill against this increase in GHG production. These three problems might make us feel pessimistic or even hopeless, but as Gates says, there are many solutions in principle, and a few in practice that we can implement to address the problem.

Read more »

How to think about climate change

by Ashutosh Jogalekar

Throughout history there have been prophets of doom and prophets of hope. The prophets of doom are often more visible; the prophets of hope are often more important. The Danish economist Bjorn Lomborg is a prophet of hope. For more than ten years he has been questioning the consensus associated with global warming. Lomborg is not a global warming denier but is a skeptic and realist. He does not question the basic facts of global warming or the contribution of human activity to it. He does not deny that global warming will have some bad effects. But he does question the exaggerated claims, he does question whether it’s the only problem worth addressing, he certainly questions the intense politicization of the issue that makes rational discussion hard and he is critical of the measures being proposed by world governments at the expense of better and cheaper ones. Lomborg is a skeptic who respects the other side’s arguments and tries to refute them with data.

Lomborg has written two books on global warming, but his latest volume is probably the most wide-ranging. The title of the book is “False Alarm”, and the subtitle is “How Climate Change Panic Costs is Trillions, Hurts the Poor and Fails to Fix the Planet.” The book is about 225 pages, clearly and engagingly written, contains many charts and figures and the last 75 pages are devoted to references and a bibliography. The title sounds sensationalist, and while titles are often decided by the publisher, it succinctly captures the three main messages in the book. The first message is that panic about global warming leads people to think irrationally about it. The third message is that all the vocal fixes proposed for fixing global warming won’t make more than a dent in the actual problem. But the second message is perhaps the most important – that not only would global warming fail to alleviate the problems of the poor but it will make them worse. This puts the problem not just in a political but in a moral perspective. Lomborg’s book should be read by all concerned citizens interested in the subject, whether they agree with him or not. Read more »


by Joan Harvey

If you can get the old voting against state-subsidized healthcare, and the poor voting in favor of cuts to inheritance tax, then democratic capitalism really is workable after all. —Malcolm Bull

As the objective view of the world recedes, it is replaced by intuition as to which way things are heading now. —William Davies

Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine /in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,/a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways  —Maggie Smith “Good Bones”

Photo by Cristofer Jeschke on Unsplash

Mark Twain, in his wonderful Letters from the Earth, nails the essence of human unreason. It’s not just the creation story with a talking snake, but how man has conceived of heaven, at least in Christianity.

[H]e has imagined a heaven, and has left entirely out of it the supremest of all his delights, the one ecstasy that stands first and foremost in the heart of every individual of his race—and of ours—sexual intercourse!

It is as if a lost and perishing person in a roasting desert should be told by a rescuer he might choose and have all longed-for things but one, and he should elect to leave out water!

A singing, harp-playing heaven is, as Twain points out, like the most boring church service ever, and for eternity. Yet this was the creative fantasy the main religion of the West landed on, and people for years somehow bought it. (The Islamic version is perhaps closer to what Twain had in mind, but still an extraordinarily shabby version of the imagined possible). If people are going to imagine an afterlife, not only could they be having sexual intercourse as much as they want with whoever they want with no negative consequences, but they could easily take it farther, giving themselves many more sex organs and erogenous zones and pleasures that put orgasms to shame. (I’m sure science fiction writers have gone there with no problem). Throw in some great powder skiing for me between bouts in the sack, and no knee pain. And for those who don’t like sex or don’t want it all the time, let heaven be whatever they like, endless gourmet meals with no weight gain, fantastic chess matches in Turkish baths, conversation with their philosopher heroes, horseback riding on perfect steeds. Read more »

Not so fast, Johnny Bravo

by Thomas O’Dwyer

I, Johnny Bravo, Jair Bolsonaro, won,"
“I won. I, Johnny Bravo, Jair Bolsonaro, won,” Brazil’s president told a news conference.

Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro fired the head of the agency which monitors Amazon deforestation. “Fired” is an unfortunate word here – flames sweep across the country and down into Bolivia. Scientists and environmentalists have been alarmed by how quickly their predictions, that Bolsonaro’s aggressive anti-conservation agenda would boost deforestation, have come to pass. Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (Inpe), publishes monthly deforestation alerts and has reported around 80,000 wildfires in Brazil since January, 40,000 of them in the Amazon rain-forest.

Bolsonaro was incensed as first the local, and then international media started picking up what are publicly-available statistics. “Most of the foreign press has a completely distorted image of who I am and what I intend to do here with our policies and for the future of our Brazil,” he said. “I perfectly understand the level of the poisoning that is done to Brazil by the foreign press.” He declared that the data from the Inpe space research institute was a pack of lies and set off down the well-trodden right-wing Conspiracy Road. Read more »

Is Making Babies Immoral?

by Akim Reinhardt

Image by Per Kolm Knudsen
Image by Per Kolm Knudsen

A wave of friends is having babies. I’m 51 years old so this is nothing new. Friends of mine have been having babies for nearly three decades. However, this time it feels different, and not because I’m now old enough to be a grandfather. Rather, as we approach the year 2020, my ambivalence stems from the indisputable fact that humanity is destroying the planet.

Human beings have initiated a mass extinction. We’re probably closer to the beginning than the ending of the process, but it’s already worse than anything since the dinosaur die-off 65,000,000 years ago. Under normal circumstances, 1-5 animal species go extinct per year. But we’ve so damaged the planet’s ecosystems that on average dozens of species are now dying off every day. Just since 1970 we’ve wiped out 60% of all mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles.

We’re facing a near-future (the mid-21st century) where half of all the planet’s animal species will be gone. And it’s not just animals. Plant extinctions are occurring at a rate 500x faster than we would normally expect, and twice the rate of all mammal, bird, and amphibian extinctions combined. It looks even grimmer going forward. Human activity threatens to render no less than one million animal and plant species, a quarter of all life forms on Earth, extinct.

How are we bringing about this devastation? It’s tempting to point the finger at climate change. But truthfully, to some extent warming temperatures are merely symptomatic of a larger problem. Read more »

Frugality, simplicity, and environmentalism

by Emrys Westacott

Many people today are drawn toward the ideals, values, and lifestyles that fall under the broad concept of “simple living.” ImgresDownsizing, downshifting, embracing radical frugality, building and living in “tiny houses,” going back to the land, growing one's own food, choosing greater self-sufficiency over consumerism, and seeking to preserve or revive traditional crafts: these are all part of this trend. So, too, is the Slow movement, a general term for the various ways in which people seek to combat the frenetic pace of modern life. The movement includes Slow Food, Slow Cities, Slow Sex (all originating in Italy), the Sloth Club (Japan), the Society for the Deceleration of Time (Austria), and the Long Now Foundation.[1]

According to some, the millennial generation (roughly those born between 1980 and 2000) are helping to boost this trend Compared to their elders, they are less interested in home ownership, happy to share cars rather than buy them, and savvy at using technology to save money and keep things simple through using companies like Zipcar (transport) Airbnb (accommodation), and thredUP (clothes).

A lot of people live frugally out of necessity, of course. But there are also philosophical arguments in favor of simple living. In a venerable tradition stretching that goes back to ancient thinkers like the Buddha, Socrates, and Epicurus, two lines of argument have been especially prominent.

1. Simple living is associated with moral virtue. E.g. It keeps us physically and spiritually pure, fosters traits like resilience and independence, cultivates sound values, and is typically viewed as a sign of integrity (think Gandhi).

2. Simple living is the surest path to happiness. E.g. It helps us be content with what we have, enhances our enjoyment of simple pleasures, allows us more leisure time by enabling us to work less, keeps us closer to nature, and generally promotes peace of mind.

In recent times an additional reason for embracing simplicity has come to the fore: namely, the environmentalist argument.

Read more »

Some of the People All of the Time (On Trump’s Legion)

by Akim Reinhardt

You can fool all the people some of the time
and some of the people all the time,
but you cannot fool all the people all the time.

Lincoln quotesFor example, some people will always believe that Abraham Lincoln first uttered this famous aphorism, even though there is no record of him ever having written or said those words.

A French Protestant named Jacques Abbadie authored an early incarnation of the adage in 1684.

In 1754, the French editors Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Alembert helped cement its popularity.

The phrase doesn't show up in American letters until some Prohibitionist politicians started using it in 1885. Twenty years after Lincoln died.

Until recently, I simply took at face value the common claim that these were Lincoln's words. It's not a very important issue, so what would push me to question it?

My decision to title this article.

A little healthy skepticism is all it took. After all, lots of famous quotes are misattributed to famous people, ergo the Yogi Berra line: “I really didn't say everything I said.” Which he really did say.

So before titling and publishing this essay, I looked up the maxim at a reputable site with citations, just to be sure. And presto: suddenly I am, at least in this regard, all of the people some of the time, and not some of the people all of the time.

You really don't want to be some of those people who get fooled all the time. Which brings us to Donald Trump.

He's very good at fooling people. At the moment, he's successfully fooling millions of Republican voters into thinking he'd be a good president generally, and more specifically, that if elected he could actually do many of the outlandish things he's claiming, like getting Mexico to pay for a wall.

Thus, the question lurks forebodingly: Are we living through “some of the time?”

Is this the moment when Donald Trump fools all of the people, or at least enough of the ones who call themselves Republicans, that he lands the GOP's presidential nomination?

Read more »

Divining Water


By Maniza Naqvi

“Say: Just think: If your water were to dry up in the morning who will bring you water from a fresh, flowing stream?”

A sunflower yellow plastic container caught my attention as my cab weaved its way through morning traffic in DC. Exactly the kind carried every day of the year on the backs of camels, mules, women and children from Addis to Lemo to Jijiga to Woldia to Mekele-and all the places east, south, west and north of them. The kind like a jerry can used for selling cooking oil and recycled by millions to fetch water often over long distances and difficult terrain. I walked back later in the day in search of it. There it sat, just around the corner from the White House gracing the ledge outside a vending kiosk. The yellow color, radiant and hopeful in the sunshine set against the chrome exterior, of the tiny shop. There perhaps, as a memory or a talisman, or an offering. Inside, the kiosk, an Ethiopian woman selling hotdogs and chewing gum– and bottled water from New Zealand to passersby.

Thousands of miles and days later in Addis, my eyes focus on the yellow container strapped to the back of a slow moving woman in the crowd milling about a construction site, my eyes train on her, she is pregnant. Hundreds of dilapidated and messy kiosk sized houses, cafes, businesses have been removed, to find livelihoods elsewhere on the outskirts of attention, to make way for organized, tall and sprawling shiny corporate sized realities. Inside, one such air conditioned conference room, where I sit gazing out the window, the speaker has been talking about climate change—the rising temperatures, more rains, more floods and more droughts: this subject will lead all others from now on, he says, and will be the new theme for attracting financing for those whose business it is to reduce poverty. The answer is charismatic carbon— programs which have the potential to attract financing to support food for the poor through dispensing carbon credit to growth industries.

Someone whispers in my ear: “New theme? Nothing new at all! It seems like hostage taking of the poor by holding their condition up for their own ransom. We won’t create the conditions to allow people to grow their own food—and we won’t stop polluting or thinking only about growth and we’ll keep shoveling food aid at people whose weather risk we’ve increased because of our pollution. We’ll keep thinking of indebting further, credit this and credit that—now can you believe this? Carbon credit! Charismatic carbon! Burning up our planet–drying up our water for greed.!”

Read more »