Saturday, September 26, 2020

I Am Not a Scientist

 I’m not a scientist. But I work among them. I see my job as interpreting. My words give a voice to the science that could be affecting you right now. And, it is. The world is changing, and I don’t mean politically. It’s about our atmosphere and the ocean and the carbon we’re putting and have put into both. This isn’t my attempt at a lecture. This is an essay about what I see in my everyday work.

I initially laughed a few years ago when a colleague of mine asked: “What’s a different way of saying ‘It’s the hottest ______________ (yr, month, quarter, day) ever?’” That description has been needed so much of late, it has become a cliché. You may have noticed it, too, where you live. Maybe not more heat. Maybe something is different than what it used to be: it’s drier, wetter, colder. Yes, colder. If snows are happening where they didn’t used to, it counts as odd to those who live there. The changes may simply dawn on you one day: This weather isn’t normal; it’s not what I remember.
International Space Station photo over Philippines

Many of the people I work with study these changes. They monitor temperature and precipitation trends, soil moisture, or jet streams. They tally extreme weather events. Some focus on very specific questions and fields of study. They use language and calculations that ordinary people, me included, don’t really have a working knowledge of. What I do comprehend is that we’re in uncharted territory. In a nutshell, the planet is warming. We know because observations of the world have been recorded since before your grandparents were born, even before there was an America ( This information has been handed down and then documented, on paper documents and in computers. Now, we can look at the records and determine where we stand. Where we stand today is a hotter place—global temperatures in some locations are consistently above normal. Carbon levels are higher than they have ever been on record. Independent large scientific organizations across the world agree with these assessment. We are still learning what this means in the long run, for our future in a different climate.
But, what is normal? Well, think of normal as a span of certainty, when conditions fell within a range and didn’t veer too far off center. Except now we’re veering off center, and in same cases dramatically. One place in particular, Alaska, which I think of as the canary in the coal mine, is significantly hotter. It just recorded its hottest year in 95 years, the length of the state’s official records. Alaska’s statewide average temperature last year was 6°F above average; Anchorage recorded its first 90°F day in 2019. Think of this in terms of your own temperature. On average, the average human temperature hovers around 98.6°F (though science says this is also changing). If you were to add a degree, over a short period of time, you’d feel it. Your systems wouldn’t work like they should.
Another cold place that’s bearing the brunt: the Arctic. A scientist I know told a national news reporter this summer he/she wanted to get to the Arctic as soon as the pandemic ended but before the ice melted. He/she had just published a paper that indicates the Arctic could be mostly ice-free in the summer within 15 years.
People in my professional life aren’t full of doom and gloom; they are heads-down engaged in the serious study of changes going on across the globe and in our backyards. In many cases, it is their life’s work. They have been working in their specialties since the beginning of their careers and will keep on, mostly out of the limelight, until they retire. Some of the scientists study things you and I will never actually see: carbon levels in the ocean, drought in South America; or incidence we don’t want to see: unprecedented flooding along our coasts, coral bleaching. They would probably never write an essay like this, not because they couldn’t, but because they are concerned with the science and the exactness of it. My take on things would not be scientific enough. No one from my work endorsed this post; nor did anyone review it. I have to state that because of the nature of my job.
What they aren’t doing is debating among themselves about whether any of these major changes are actually taking place. I could send you to reports that have been a year or more in the making, or monthly charts, or data tables of temperatures and precipitation and ocean conditions, but would those numbers and figures and science-making make a difference to your understanding? I’m not sure they would. That’s why I wrote this essay. To tell you, unequivocally, change is happening. How good are you with change?

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Hey, there. What next?

Maybe we should think of this time as the Great Falling Away. All the stuff that didn't matter, just doesn't matter. And maybe, some of the stuff that we thought mattered, well, just doesn't matter either.

In other words, what aren't you doing or have anymore and do you miss it? Did it add to your life in the first place? Like running around trying to do too much. Or taking care of things for other people or doing stuff so other people thought better of you. Maybe this is just me. Some of those old "must dos" have come to a screeching halt. 

I go out less. I buy fewer things. I ask less of myself, give myself a gentler critique. I don't miss much. I miss people, but not any expectations of how we're supposed to be. I have thought about what could be the answer for our predicament: Love everyone without condition. Could this help? Tall order. I try not to hate, but loving everyone? 

If you have lost your job, or your health, or a loved one, how does loving everyone without condition help? It may not. But maybe someone who cares will be more likely to help.

If you are hurting right now, I care 💙. I hope the cause goes away and the stuff you are enduring is not lasting. If it is, let's dispense with the trite sayings: Things will get better. You'll overcome. What doesn't kill you will make you stronger. All trite and pointless. Pain sometimes sticks around. It is a measure of being human.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Lost: A Verse in COVID

I am/am not okay in superimposed solitude,
my mental seesaw tilts between stability and warp.
One minute I stir sugar in my good coffee,
the next, infinity is not large enough to hold the heaviness.

What is lost? The ordinariness of showers at 7a,
leftovers packed into a foil square, an overstuffed backpack,
a tough choice of 'Which shoes?', a slamming door in a rush,
a hurried drive to a parking space before it's gone.
People pass me on the street to Point B, a few feet apart,
close enough to see a man's whiskers,
to smell a woman's perfume.

My clothes in solitude smell of my body in them for days in a row,
ripe but stagnant, and covered in cat fur. My pants crease from
sitting too long in one place, no need to do anything.

No need -- besides take a deep breath.

Needs were a thing we took for granted
while we passed each other on the street,
aloof to our closeness, unafraid of the proximity.
Why now that tragedy of disconnection seems a luxury.

I always walked overly conscious of myself in the public realm,
comparing my size to the street and the people on it.
Black cat on black shirt.
Black cat on black shirt.
My steps -- straight ahead or to the side -- would be determined
by the others on the path. And now there are none.

What is lost? The maybe-thoughts of not fitting in.
The maybe-thoughts of inferiority.
The maybe-thoughts of aloneness.
What is more alone?

My stay-at-home community is my couch and my cats.
My old black cat sits on my chest right now, interested in the scribbling.
When I reach the end of the sentence and sweep back to the fold,
this cat spreads open its paw a little, somewhat on cue,
as if to settle me down.

Be still. We are in this together.