Citizen Deb’s Year-End Recap: The State of the Planet (and My Heart)

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Over and out.

Have I ever mentioned that, a few years ago, as part of a workshop, I created a “possibility” for who I am in the world?

After playing around with various options, I announced to the room:

“I am the possibility of contribution wrapped in fun.”

I often forget that. Or wonder if “contribution” was something I felt I should say. I do like fun, though, and think I’m pretty good at it. And come to think of it, I’m not bad at contributing, either. Some might say that’s an understatement, given my bossy-pants/know-it-all tendencies. At least I can say both come naturally.

I’d already created this blog, as an easily digestable way to help people get their heads around environmental issues, and what to do about them . . . between jobs, dentist appointments, $1 oyster nights at the pub, and so forth. And then I decided to create the book I’m now working on. Which is similar to the blog . . . but longer.

News flash: “Longer” takes longer. But you can read the latest excerpt HERE.

Oh, well, I guess the planet’s not going anywhere. And a new year always feels like a good time to regroup. Especially when December saw your full-time gig end, and your love life go up in flames. (I’ll cover the latter down at the end of this post, if you’re interested. Look for the gas can.)

Meanwhile I’ll take this opportunity to quickly get us all up to speed on the progress, setbacks, and downright insanity of our society’s planetary stewardship (and/or lack thereof), so you don’t have to.

Author’s self-portrait

Maybe due to Covid brain (even though I had a fairly mild case of it, way back in February), I had to Google “what happened in 2022,” ’cause I couldn’t remember nuthin’. (One of the things I didn’t remember was a study on a new Alzheimer’s drug that “significantly slows” progression of the disease. Can I start taking it now?)

Anyhoo, skimming through the year-end lists was quite a ride down memory lane . . .

In addition to another year of Covid Life, we had . . . (take a breath) . . . monkeypox, pig hearts transplanted into humans, a space telescope launched to take very expensive pretty pictures, top secret documents seized at Mar a Lago, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine (contributing to crazy-high gas prices for everyone), a $6 billion opioid settlement against the Sackler family, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the January 6th hearings, plus inflation, more shootings, rising interest rates, a record-setting hurricane in Florida, a historic “extratropical cyclone” that created a crazy-ass winter storm everywhere else (even earning its very own Wikipedia page), and a NASA spacecraft sent to slam into an asteroid to see if we could save Earth should a more menacing one ever head our way.

Top left: “Stellar nurseries.” That’s where stars are born, people. Bottom left: I hope the Little Prince was away from home that night. Above right: I love me some NASA, but this old white guy with the bad fillers and the hair plugs is running the show. Not sure I’m okay with that. Also, I wonder how many billions of dollars it cost us to blow up an asteroid, versus funding renewable energies to slow climate change — because we know that one is happening.

Did anything GOOD go down in 2022? It did!

Ironically, it was actually a decent year for addressing climate change. November’s COP27 in Egypt didn’t get such great reviews, but the fact that Dems controlled the House and the Senate the last two years allowed the Biden-Harris Administration to pass H.R.5376, aka the “Inflation Reduction Act,” in August.

Sexy, right? It is if you like masquerade parties.

50 Shades of the U.S. Congress (featuring George Santos ;-))

Because it’s basically the Green New Deal rebranded with a name that doesn’t freak out conservatives NEAR as much. Just don’t tell them it’s the same thing. Don’t tell them!

Actually, it’s much longer and more active than the Green New Deal of 2019, which was just a short Resolution declaring that the Federal Government should get its shit together and start reducing emissions, creating millions of good (union) jobs for Americans while doing it. On the other hand, the “Inflation Reduction Act” is like, “Here’s the actual money, and here’s what’s gonna happen.” They even put out a Guidebook for it last month.

I think it was pretty ballsy of the authors (headed by the House Representative from Kentucky, of all places) to call it something Republican-friendly instead of, say, the “Tax Credits for People Who Want to Stop Climate Change” Act. Even though I think the latter is quite inspiring, less is more, and right-wingers I’ve come into contact with think the Green New Deal was just the gov’ment “tryna tell ’em what they can’t do.”

To disarm people, the “Committee on Finance” kicked off TITLE I of the Act with this snooze-worthy paragraph on Deficit Reduction:

Except as otherwise expressly provided, whenever in this subtitle an 
amendment or repeal is expressed in terms of an amendment to, or repeal 
of, a section or other provision, the reference shall be considered to 
be made to a section or other provision of the Internal Revenue Code of 
1986...

Zzzzzzzz . . .

Deficit Reduction is followed by Prescription Pricing Reform, which I can’t imagine anyone objecting to other than Big Pharma (e.g., the Sacklers), and that’s then followed by Affordable Care Act Subsidies (ditto).

But the next section is the fun part. At least for meeeee!!! Energy Security.

DOE Secretary Jennifer Granholm cracks up DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg while cruising DC in an electric car.

Technically, this section is all about boring stuff like rebates, tax credits, funding of environmental programs and related Federal Departments — like the Department of Energy and the Bureau of Reclamation (whose name I adore) — plus the admin costs associated with all of the above. But the specifics of what it’s paying for makes me happy happy. Right off the bat, just the title of the first part of this Section makes me feel SO MUCH LESS JADED than I’ve felt in a while:

Clean Electricity and Reducing Carbon Emissions (’cause if we’re not spending our money to fix something this existential, then what are we doing, amiright?)

I love the first sentence, too:

The Act modifies and extends the tax credit blah blah blah for producing electricity from renewable resources, specifically wind, biomass, geothermal and solar, landfill gas, trash, qualified hydropower, and marine and hydrokinetic resources.

I mean . . . producing electricity from (#1) landfill gas and trash? Am I too easily excited? (Don’t answer that.)

Biden’s Senior Advisor on Clean Energy puts it this way:

The Inflation Reduction Act makes a historic commitment to build a new clean energy economy, powered by American innovators, American workers, and American manufacturers, that will create good-paying, union jobs and cut the pollution that is fueling the climate crisis and driving environmental injustice.

— John Podesta

I will not recap the rest of the 187 pages of this “ambitious climate agenda centered on workers, families, and communities.” But I’ll give you the gist. And I’ll share my favorite partsnumbering them as I go (#1 appears above). I bet ya they’re different than Joe Manchin’s.

Basically, the text is filled with stuff like Clean Fuels, Clean Energy and Efficiency Incentives for Individuals, Clean Vehicles, a Superfund of some sort — and getting as far into the nitty-gritty as a Black Lung Disability Trust Fund through (#2) coal taxes, bitches.

FYI, all kinds of Committees wrote different parts of the Act. Like the “Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.” Ah, forestry . . . just the word relaxes me. The crux of their part is funding to the Department of Agriculture (USDA) for programs related to conservation and renewable energy, like:

I hate to use the word “meta” nowadays, but . . .
  • Carbon sequestration (muy importante at this point);
  • The generation, storage, and use of renewable energy in rural communities (storage is everything); and
  • The cost of loans under the Rural Electrification Act of 1936* to resellers to generate electricity from renewable sources

*(This Congressional Act was HUGE in 1936 — it brought electricity to the more remote parts of the U.S., so more people could go see Charlie Chaplin’s “moving pictures.” In fact, if you Google “What happened in 1936?” It’s the first thing that pops up.)

A few other things the Act funds that I like are . . .

Additional support for underserved farmers, ranchers, or forest landowners (as there should be, given the “Big Food” industry these days).

Forest restoration, wildfire prevention, and (#3, even though I don’t know what it is) a “wood innovation grant program.” Sure, I’m in.

It even mentions “tree planting . . . activities” for Indian Tribes. Peace & love, man.


The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) also gets funded for some loans and grants. BUT: the loans and grants have to fund projects that address affordable housing and (#4) climate change issues. I’ll spare you all the zero-emission strategies, etc.

This guy. He hunts hurricanes.

Then a Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation gives us something for my rednecks out there: funding to acquire another (#5) hurricane hunter aircraft. And to develop sustainable aviation fuel (hallelujah), and low-emission aviation technologies (wheee!!).

So all those billionaires can keep taking their private jets to Aspen for the weekend.

Oh, and this is where the act funds the (#6) Bureau of Reclamation — which, it turns out, addresses water supplies during drought. I was hoping the “Bureau of Reclamation” could reclaim our democracy, but I guess it’s just . . . water.

The Department of Energy (DOE) gets funded next, for a variety of programs concerning energy rebates, energy efficiency in buildings, electric transmissions, advanced industrial facilities, etc., etc. Like projects that avoid, reduce, utilize, or sequester air pollutants or greenhouse gases. You really can’t overfund that kinda stuff at this point, right?

Also, the act very explicitly provides funding to the National Park Service to (#7) hire more employees. 🙂

And funding for projects to “cover water conveyance facilities” (sorry: canals) with solar panels. It’s these details that make me feel alive.

This tweet (#8) is from a State Dept rather than the National Park Service, but how great is it?
Solar panels over aqueducts and canals generate clean energy AND reduce evaporation. (This is just a rendering, so don’t get too worked up.)

At some point I start learning not only about new climate-friendly technologies and ideas, but just general stuff I didn’t know. Like what (#9) “Insular Affairs” is. To me, it sounds like what happens at those masquerade parties I mentioned above.

Actually, the United States Insular Areas are American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. And the Act provides funding for technical assistance on climate change planning, mitigation, adaptation, and resilience. And if you can tell me where the Northern Mariana Islands are, you get a prize.

I also think the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) is cool. As I do with anything that has to do with plate tectonics. The Act expands the definition of the OCS, thus expanding the submerged lands that are available for energy leases (like wind, baby!).

Ironically, the Department of the Interior is the one granting leases to develop energy on federal offshore land. Please explain. But as I said above, I’m in for it all.

Oh, except for a section someone stuck in there on Fossil Fuel Resources. It contains my least favorite bit:

The Act limits the Department of the Interior’s authority to issue leases and rights-of-way to develop wind or solar energy on onshore or offshore land for 10 years. Unless they offer a certain amount of land for oil and gas leases. Booo! I guess some fossil fuel robber barons got their way on this one.

I’m running out of time, but this Act goes DEEP. It covers everything from 3D elevation data (spicy!) . . . to hiring personnel for environmental reviews . . . to replacing vehicles like school buses and garbage trucks with zero-emission vehicles . . . to “engaging stakeholders.” Pretty sure the latter is ALL OF US. (#10)

It provides incentives to reduce air pollution at ports. It funds reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollutants at schools in low-income and disadvantaged communities. And it directs the EPA to address hydrofluorocarbons. I was about to tell the gents that there will be no more comb-overs, but HFCs are actually the chemicals used in air conditioners and refrigerators, not in hairspray. Oops. In any case, this Act is epic.

Semi-related to this topic, we also apparently dodged a bullet in 2022 when Bolsinaro lost the presidential election in Brazil, theoretically preventing the Amazon rainforest from being burned to smithereens.

Oh, and I briefly alluded above to COP27 (the 27th annual UN meeting on climate) that went down in November. Part of what they do at these COPs is check up on how the implementation of things like the Paris Agreement are going. Oh, snap, remember the Paris Agreement?? The one Whosie Face pulled us out of when he was in the White House?

But just so ya know, the main accomplishment (albeit a contentious one) of this “Conference of the Parties” was agreeing to establish a fund to help poor, vulnerable countries cope with climate disasters worsened by the pollution spewed by wealthy nations (like ours). It almost didn’t pass; on Sunday at 5 a.m. Egypt time, they were still debating whether those wealthy nations (ours) can be legally held liable for those emissions. Ultimately they decided nope, there will be no legal liability for those countries. Just the ire and scathing tweets of Greta Thunberg.

Now let’s burn it down.

So those are my enviro highlights of 2022.

The lowlight (for me) was much more personal, came at the end of the year, and has nothing to with climate change: my “steady” ended our relationship.

Before Christmas. It had little to do with me. Which doesn’t mean my heart didn’t break.

But from the get-go, I knew he was a flight risk, so I must take responsibility for my choices.

Celebrating 2023 with my brother and my nephew at some hot springs in Idaho.

I chose to be with a man who was processing his own bottomless heartbreak: over the death of his son and the breakup of his marriage, both of which happened within a year of our meeting. But I’d never been in a partnership with someone so kind, so vulnerable, and who made me feel so loved, even though the word was never spoken. So what could I do but take that risk?

I’d post a photo or two of the many, many adventures of our year-and-a-half-ish together—hiking, biking, snowshoeing, stargazing, laughing, Wordle’ing, and long, deep, full-body hugs—but I’m pretty sure I’d have to start popping Tylenol again if I did. (That is partly how I got through the worst of the tearful breakdowns, the nightmares, and the decidedly physical withdrawal over Christmas at my Mom’s, where he had planned to join me for a handful of days of California sunshine: I remembered — from an old “Modern Love” piece — a study indicating that acetaminophen reduces behavioral and neural responses associated with the pain of romantic rejection. What also helped: kick-ass friends, a brother who’s one of the best of them, and a few days of skiing with my hilarious little nephew [both pictured here].)

And now I must move forward.

Even if my steady* and I were to come back together — and were to create something where both of us live our best, most awesome lives — it wouldn’t change the game I’m now playing in the world. The game of an adult.

(*Yeah, that’s the old-school word we used.)

I’ve heard this rumor: I don’t need anything/anyone from the outside world to define me.

Being in that relationship — and now not being in it — is simply a circumstance. He does not define who I am, and my regret is that my temporarily thinking his presence somehow did define me . . . pushed him away. Or he was pulled away by his own issues. Or both.

Thursday shenanigans at the pub.

And while I make peace with this, I’ll have my tears, my mental traps, my parasympathetic nervous system’s raging — that is all part of my being a human. But as an adult, I have a say in my experience. I can still get the whole pub dancing and singing along to “Tainted Love” when my bestie and I do it at karaoke, like last night. Or notice the pain receptors firing less intensely each day. Like today.

So I am declaring to whoever’s reading this that I am able — and willing — to create my world anew. And to relate to this creation as something that’s possible . . . even if I don’t see it clearly yet. (Maaaybe it’ll have something to do with helping our planet?)

I do know this: It’ll be wrapped in FUN. Game on??

xo,
Deb

p.s. Thoughts? Comment and/or subscribe to this blog below. Why not? 🙂

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Happy Holidays, citizens

Well, my Christmas cards are mailed (not), presents wrapped (also not), and I’m all packed for Christmas with the extended family (not either, although I do have a load of laundry in*, which is a start). I did go to three holiday parties this weekend—Friday, Saturday and Sunday—which may explain some of the above.

But the book is coming along! Especially since my 2-week full-time freelance gig (which turned into a year and a half) is finally over. But you don’t need to know about that. In fact, instead of complaining, why don’t I give you a wee excerpt from the chapter I’m working on? That would be the Climate chapter.

This section is fairly close to the beginning of it, so you can just jump right in . . .

“GHGs.” Raise your hand if you don’t even know what that is. Or if you do know that it stands for greenhouse gases, which make things warmer—but you just want to take a nap.

Maybe some of you are like, If things are heating up, what happened to “global warming”? Why did that term get the kibosh?

And how does [climate change / GHGs / eating cheeseburgers] bring on hurricanes that level entire towns in Florida, flattening trailer parks; and fires in California that annihilate—I’ll just say it—a lot of really nice wine?

Like, is climate change really that bad? How hot exactly is it gonna get, and why I can’t I just enjoy the warmer winters?

All valid questions, I think.

Because this is where it’s all at. The real-life “Is the human species going to survive?” front-page story. It truly is an existential crisis putting future generations in a real pinch.

Trouble is, we can’t keep our eye on the ball, because whenever people around here start to realize it’s become an important enough issue to actually do something about, other people suddenly do stupid shit that pulls focus away from this super-important issue onto other super-important but shorter-term fires that need to be put out. Like a handful of randos in fancy robes taking away women’s reproductive rights. Or folks dismantling our democracy, gathering up the pieces, and pitching them into a giant incinerator. Or firing them into a classroom. Shit like that.

But your girl here has you covered. I’ma explain to you what this science-y, bodiless, scary but easy-to-ignore dull roar in the background actually IS, how it started, whose fault it is, and how we’re gonna stop it so your cute nephew (in my case) doesn’t end up wandering around a real-life Mad Max landscape looking for grubs to stuff into his hungry face. You think I’m kidding.

That said, there are widely differing possible scenarios, depending on a) what we do now as a species; and b) who’s reporting the scenario.

Last week, I saw two conflicting stories:

The first story reported that “Thanks to real progress, we’re headed toward a less apocalyptic future.” Does anyone find “less apocalyptic” . . . comforting?

The headline on the second story was “Climate Pledges Are Falling Short, and a Chaotic Future Looks More Like Reality.”

So . . . the future is less apocalyptic . . . but a chaotic future is more of a reality? Is “apocalyptic” farther down on some scientific flowchart than “chaotic”? Does it go, like, “utopian,” “awesome,” “getting by,” “kinda shitty,” “chaotic,” “apocalyptic”?

And by the way, the two stories were published on the same day. Both in the New York Times. Also, climate activists are throwing mashed potatoes on Monet paintings as I write this, and some guy GLUED HIS HEAD to Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring.”

I’m so confused. And on so many levels.

I’m the cat. (Courtesy FatCatArt.com)

That’s it for now. Like I said, a wee excerpt. My plan is to do a year-end environmental recap here next week . . . so don’t give me anymore eggnog until I’m done with that.

xo,
Deb

*(I just realized I forgot to put the load of laundry in. Will do that now . . . )

Saving the planet…with a carnival?

My tiny attempts at trying to save the planet are still ongoing, but lately, rather than working on my book pitch for my agent, or writing droll blog posts for you all to commiserate with (*see p.s. below), I’ve switched gears a bit. I’ve been writing press releases. And social media content. And emails back and forth with a graphic designer, and a printer, and a committee of fellow environerds as we plan . . .

[drum roll, please]

A carnival.

A climate carnival, to be exact.

What is a “climate carnival”? Well, in my world, it starts with a crap website housed on a low-tech county Google site. And an acquaintance sending it to me along with the note, “Hey, Deb, you might be interested in this event in July.” Followed by my saying, “Please let me help you.” And their saying, “Okay.”

Which leads to my spending many, many more hours than I intended helping a very grateful committee get this thing on the map. I gotta say, it’s pretty gratifying seeing our press coverage grow, and people following the social media accounts I set up, and more people wanting to participate in the carnival itself as that all happens. I mean, we’ve now booked a juggler. A juggler, people.

Read More…