Althouse | category: environmentalism



an endless succession of beans and nuts.

"We had a guy pull in the other day towing a big boat. He asked us how to get to the launch ramp to the lake. I don’t think he realised he was looking at a lake of solar panels."

From "How solar farms took over the California desert: 'An oasis has become a dead sea'/ Residents feel trapped and choked by dust, while experts warn environmental damage is 'solving one problem by creating others'" (The Guardian).

What solution is not also a new problem? The question is whether the solution is worse than the problem.

These western deserts are vast and contain few residents. Isn't there plenty of space to go ahead and screw up with seas of solar panels?

"This is a story about French liberty and bureaucracy. It is about different visions of the countryside and nature."

"It’s about fire management, fights between neighbors and Brigitte Bardot. But mostly, it is about goats. No one knows exactly how many goats are in Ms. Corbeaux’s herd. From atop her homestead, around 20 miles from Narbonne, Ms. Corbeaux says there are 500. Down in the vineyards below, her neighbors say many have gone wild, and multiplied.... Ms. Corbeaux... grew up in Paris’ gritty 10th Arrondissement, and ran a computer-software company..... She moved [to]... southern France, determined to work as an energy healer. But then she clapped eyes on two baby goats at a medieval fair. 'I was hypnotized,' she said... ... Ms. Corbeaux believed she was bringing back the eco-pasturage tradition. She began receiving European Union grants for the work....  Her neighbors call her irresponsible and a 'pseudo-ecologist'.... The foundation of Brigitte Bardot... offered... 40,000 euros to build a fence... to keep the goats in.... She is grateful that a solution was found, but it brings her to tears. 'I’m in love with my billy goats, frankly. I don’t think we have the right to do whatever we want — not to kill them, nor to castrate them.... We should respect them more than that.'"

French Impressionism explained at long last: It was the air pollution.

From "Scientists confirm long held theory about what inspired Monet" (CNN).

I thought it was going to be cataracts, but, no... air pollution.

"In general, air pollution makes objects appear hazier, makes it harder to identify their edges, and gives the scene a whiter tint, because pollution reflects visible light of all wavelengths" [said Anna Lea Albright, a postdoctoral researcher for Le Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique at Sorbonne University].... 

The team looked for these two metrics, edge strength and whiteness, in the paintings — by converting them into mathematical representations based on brightness — and then compared the results with independent estimates of historical air pollution.

Don't you love it when something you thought was a human being's inspiration turns out to be an outside force, something that happened to him? It's especially demoralizing when it's some malady or misfortune.

[A]rt critic Sebastian Smee has lambasted the study, saying that it confuses "internal creative choices with external stimuli." He argued that increased pollution can't be used to explain the artists' stylistic evolution, and that some of their works are "mythological," rather than a picture of objective reality....

Speaking of myth... what about the myth of the artist as a creative, individualistic genius?

From Smee's essay, "Art history, not air pollution, explains changes in Monet’s paintings
Art isn’t science. A new study clouds the facts"

Monet was famous for his desire to depict the world as he saw it, but you cannot read even his work as a straightforward index to external conditions such as pollution levels. Paintings are not like tree rings or geological studies. They are complex products of human imagination, feeling and philosophy.... 

[T]his latest study... is grossly (and trendily) tendentious. And it ignores whole bodies of exhaustively researched and powerfully argued literature, presumably because that literature falls under the category of the “humanities” rather than the “sciences,” and because no one these days can be made to believe anything that doesn’t have metrics attached.

ADDED: Clicking from the sidebar at the Smee piece, I got to another Smee piece, "How good, really, was Pablo Picasso? The exemplary modern artist died 50 years ago this month, and we’re still trying to clean up his mess":
And yet … questioning Picasso’s greatness is part of a venerable critical tradition. Despite the underlying consensus, there have been many productively provocative naysayers.... [including Hannah] Gadsby’s brief, comedic takedown of the artist in her Netflix documentary, “Nanette.” 

That had a link to Smee's 2018 essay, "How Hannah Gadsby’s evisceration of Picasso helped her change stand-up comedy," which — I was delighted to see — raised the problem discussed above, explaining an artist's work as the product not of individual genius but some mindless malady:

Gadsby recounts how, after giving a performance in which she mentioned that she took antidepressants, a man came up to her, saying: “You shouldn’t take medication because you’re an artist. It’s important that you feel. If Vincent Van Gogh had taken medication, we wouldn’t have had the sunflowers.”

Gadsby absolutely rips into this idea. And I cheered when she did.

She tells us that Van Gogh was, in fact, being treated with medication, and that this medication — a derivative of the foxglove — has a little-known side effect: it can intensify the user’s perception of the color yellow. So it’s possible, says Gadsby, that “we have the sunflowers precisely because Van Gogh medicated.”

Van Gogh is, of course, the patron saint of all those who romanticize a link between mental illness and creativity. Their thinking is not only erroneous (serious mental illness is more often incapacitating and not at all conducive to high level creativity), it’s pernicious, because it discourages desperate people from seeking relief. Gadsby’s retort is a great way to puncture the myth.

Myth. There's that word again. A myth is what other people believe, according to the human inclination to believe what you want to believe, when you are a person who doesn't want to believe. 

" In one of its most consequential climate decisions, the Biden administration is planning to greenlight an enormous $8 billion oil drilling project in the North Slope of Alaska...."

The NYT reports.
Willow would be the largest new oil development in the United States, expected to pump out 600 million barrels of crude over 30 years.... Environmental activists, who have labeled the project a “carbon bomb” have argued that the project would deepen America’s dependence on oil and gas....

Willow was initially approved by the Trump administration and the Biden administration later defended the approval in court. The project was then temporarily blocked by a judge who said that the prior administration’s environmental analysis was not sufficient....

"People start to re-examine their lives. Let’s do something we can wrap our hands around."

"Knowing how to go into the woods and find a mushroom that you can take home and cook for dinner feels like something solid, or tangible."

The NYT is stirring up travel ideas for East Coast people to go to the West Coast and compete with the locals looking for things growing in the wild. It's the opposite of locavorism... is that the word? I'd like to suggest locavoraciousness... a word I just coined.

I mean, don't the locals treasure their foraging spots? And here's a man who's commercialized what I would think would be carefully shielded lore. Or is that a silly concern when we're talking about the San Francisco Bay area? But isn't this NYT article at least playing with the concept of getting close to nature? That doesn't fit with getting on airplanes and flying thousands of miles! And what about the damage to the environment when you fly? I think you ought to take an on-line class in foraging, and the class should focus on how to forage within walking/biking distance of your home. Bring back "Stalking the Wild Asparagus."

For my Wisconsin readers: Here's what you need to know.

ADDED: A reader shows me that DuckDuckGo returns some earlier uses of "locavoraciousness," so I withdraw my claim of coinage. And I vow to check DuckDuckGo before claiming any coinage in the future. 

"Publicly and privately, signs are growing that the Transportation secretary’s usual Eagle Scout patience is giving way to frustration."

It says here in Politico, in "Buttigieg world frustrated at GOP attacks over train wreck/'Pete Buttigieg has taken a lot of bullets for the president on this,' one senior Democrat said."

I think Politico means this to be taken for serious analysis. 
[O]n Wednesday, Buttigieg’s allies were complaining that he’s taking an unfair pounding over the disaster — all because of his perceived ambitions as a one-time and future presidential hopeful....

Why is it "unfair" to pay extra attention to politicians who have been identified as likely presidential candidates? 

Three people in Buttigieg’s orbit admit to being exasperated by the furor, saying nobody asked him about the derailment in any of the 23 media interviews he conducted during the first 10 days after the accident. Then critics lambasted him for not speaking sooner....

"I continue to be concerned about the impacts of the Feb 3 train derailment near East Palestine, OH, and the effects on families in the ten days since their lives were upended through no fault of their own."

Tweeted Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, after experiencing some criticism from Republicans for his lack of visibility after the disaster. 

Along with wondering about their drinking water, many residents pondered their options as a strong odor of chemicals continued to hang over the town. Some locals said they are considering leaving East Palestine and are frustrated with how little they know about their potential exposure to toxic chemicals.... 
Ohio state officials on Tuesday focused on reassuring residents that the air in East Palestine remains safe to breathe and that those who evacuated last week can live in their homes.... The plume flowing down the Ohio River is being diluted as it moves and is not expected to taint any drinking water.... In addition, fish are not continuing to die... indicating that new contamination isn’t flowing into the local waters.... 
When the train derailed, federal investigators and chemical safety experts immediately homed in on a toxic and highly flammable gas being transported in five of the cars: vinyl chloride. Afraid the train cars would explode, sending shrapnel into neighborhoods, authorities decided the better of “two bad options” was to release and burn the vinyl chloride, [Governor Mike] DeWine said Tuesday. The move sent dangerous gases, hydrogen chloride and phosgene, into the air, but averted an explosion that DeWine said he had been told would be “catastrophic.”... 

If you can't get rid of your gas stove, use the microwave more! Use the "toaster oven, air fryer, Instant Pot... or an electric kettle or hot water heater."

I'm reading "Worried about having a gas stove? Here’s how to limit risks" in The Washington Post.

I think most people with a gas stove are saying they have it because they like it and they're just worried the government will take it away, not looking for workarounds because they can't afford to replace it voluntarily. 

But maybe you'd like to shun your own stove and maximize cooking on the various electric appliances you already have. There's a section of this article that reads like the chirpy women's magazines I read in bulk in the 1970s (because it was my job).

We're told that there are "creative ways" to use these appliances. The uncreative use of the microwaves is to heat foods — that is, "zap cold leftovers." So what's creative? Apparently it's "creative" to "bake (remember mug cakes?), steam vegetables and in some situations even toast, fry or caramelize food." This is the kind of thing I found depressing reading about in the women's magazines in the 70s. The idea that you could feel clever by frying something in the microwave.
By the way, what's a "hot water heater"? Aside from the common silly redundancy that makes a smart ass want to say, Why do you need to heat water that's already hot?, what is this appliance if it's not an electric kettle? You've named the electric kettle, so what are we talking about? An immersion heater?!

Are you suggesting running the tap until it yield hot enough water from the only thing I ever call the "water heater," that thing that gives me a nice hot bath? I thought you weren't supposed to drink that.

You've got me thinking of Glenda Jackson in the 1971 movie "Sunday Bloody Sunday":

I have remembered that coffee-making — and the audience gasping in horror — for over half a century!

"When you ask Americans how they save energy at home, 'turn off the lights' has been at the top of the list since the 1980s."

"But when it comes to actual savings, it doesn’t even crack the top 10. Like most conventional wisdom about how to reduce household energy and emissions, much of what we believe about our homes and appliances is wrong."

Writes WaPo's climate advice columnist Michael J. Coren, in "We still use appliances like it’s 1970. There’s a better way."

I formed the habit, back in the 1970s, of turning off lights as I exited any room and only keeping lights on in rooms that were occupied. I grew up in the 50s and 60s, when it was the norm to have the lights on all over the house in the evening. We didn't think about the pros and cons of leaving them on, but I imagine that we'd have thought it would deprive us of a feeling of coziness and optimism if the house were not lit up at night. From the outside, our house and our neighbors' houses looked warm and happy and alive.

Then the environmentalist movement hit, the meaning of light changed, and I aligned myself morally. I have maximized interior darkness for half a century. Is the climate advisor going to tell me my efforts are misdirected?

Coren's #1 piece of energy-saving advice is not to rinse off your dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. Present-day dishwashers don't need that pre-rinse — just scrape — and they're so efficient that you should go ahead and run them even if they're only half full (or less!). It doesn't save energy to switch to washing them by hand.

The second piece of advice is to get rid of your old refrigerator. It's less efficient, so don't succumb to the American tradition of "second refrigerator" (i.e., the soda and beer refrigerator in the garage)(I've blogged the topic of second refrigerators twice, here and here).

Third, Coren recommends a "smart" thermostat, but oddly enough, he doesn't tell us to set it as low as possible in cold whether and as high as possible in hot weather. It seems to me, that's where you can get the biggest savings.

Finally, wash clothes in cold water and replace old appliances. The new appliances are more efficient, so Coren would have you throw out a 15-year-old washing machine. Personally, I'm attached to my 30-year-old washing machine. And my hot baths. Thanks for not telling me I should be taking cold showers instead.

ADDED: In the comments at WaPo, there is a lot of resistance to replacing appliances:

"What is not taken into account is the energy required to manufacture a new appliance and the cost of disposing the old one. Replacing an old working appliance is not as environmentally sound as you might think."


"So my fridge is 25 years old. Never had a problem with it. I plan to replace it when the ice maker stops working. All I hear from friends with Samsungs and LGs is problems after 5 years. It’s the computer chips. Mine is a Maytag, it’s white, it has no computer chips. I’m keeping it."

My refrigerator — should I say "our refrigerator" (Meade has only lived here for 13 years)? — is 32 years old. It would cost over $10,000 to replace it with the same brand, so I'm incapable of thinking of replacing it unless it's irreparable or we redo the entire kitchen.

If you can't get rid of your gas stove, use the microwave more! Use the "toaster oven, air fryer, Instant Pot... or an electric kettle or hot water heater."

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