Mudfire! May the World Be Good to You

When the early crowd at Pat and Carol’s New Year’s Day Open House invited me to blog about the event, I was thinking of the kind of entries that are tagged “group dynamics” – most of them are pure fun, although they can include a serious subtext which was sometimes made overt and other times left at the level of implication.

Then I met Paris.

Borrowed on a whim from the household library . . .
Borrowed on a whim from the household library . . .

Before Paris asked me if I was concerned with global warming and climate change, I had realized that I might be able to use this blog entry to introduce some new friends (with whom I hope to remain and deepen in friendship) to the serious subject that has recently become the main focus of my blogging.

I imagined that I could make this introduction lightly, ease everyone gently into the most disturbing challenge of human existence. I certainly did not anticipate it becoming an overt topic of conversation. But it did – perhaps this was inevitable. (After all these years I should never be able to forget that this kind of blogging is risky).

We were all getting along so well! I hate to be in the position of spoiler. The conversation with the Curious Skeptic about animal intelligence returns to mind, particularly the example of cheetahs being able to be trained for hunting but not for domestication, because becoming domesticated requires “getting along in confined spaces.” And then there was the part about guinea pigs and rabbits as “meal-sized meat.”

Evolution of Conversation: The Beginning was FUN!

“The time has come when men and dragons must talk.” (Leguin, 2001, p. 112)

It was such a great party! I’d guess 100 people may have circulated through, certainly many dozens. I met a fraction of the folk and had substantive conversations with a handful or two. The potluck offerings were continually refreshed, everything was delicious, the laughter was loud, there was even spontaneous music: a stringed instrument soloist and singer who was accompanied on various tunes by additional voices, invented percussion instruments, and – gee whiz! – a few couples dancing!  The mood of the gathering was so appropriately and wonderfully festive! As my conversations evolved, I could not help but think what a blessing to be part of such a high quality in-the-moment-now experience of social interaction, and how necessary it will become to sustain this capacity in the difficult times that lie ahead.

It happened like this: I arrived to a gregarious atmosphere filled with banter. I haven’t blogged an event like this for a long time; doing so was not even on my mind – too much work in the midst of other demands. But soon the teasing had me passing around my “Invitation: You May Be Blogged” business card and folks got curious. Because we were having such fun, and since I was clearly being invited, I thought, why not? A change of pace, a digression to the olden days, a contribution of my playfulness to the spirit of the day… we discussed the ground rules, first names only or chosen aliases, draft to be sent around for thumbs up/down before publishing, was I taking notes? Did I have pen and paper? I allowed myself to be drawn in and took up the familiar role.

Evolution of Conversation: Overview and Background (Boring?)

“Indeed he did not know what weighed more heavily after all, the great strange things or the small common ones.”  (LeGuin, 2001, p. 109)

Cynthia and John quizzed me for quite a while, which gave me a chance to express my motivations and share some of the history of how I began to blog in this style, what obstacles I encountered, whether/how much uptake I’ve had, etc. I explained how I could look at the Open House as a type of communication scene or situation with similarities and differences with other Open Houses. That how we engage with each other evokes identities, because we share, for instance, pleasure in dancing jigs or knowing the hosts through a particular social activity or type of work, etc. That over the years this blog has been a tool for writing myself into being and becoming more the kind of person I want to be: someone who can share what seems important and still retain relationships that are warm, kind, and loving (or, at the very least, rooted in respect).

Evolution of Conversation: Backdrop (Hilarity!)

The initial authorization to write this blog came from Ecarg (the token Klingon) & partner; Pat & Carol, Angelica, Loretta & Jan (of the gender irregularities), Catherine, Carlotta (who had the first toast and sip of mimosa with Cynthia), and John.  Later the Toadchildren, Bo, a Curious Skeptic, Sparker, and Marcia were brought into the fold. Kira is into criminology and cosmetology (among many other interests), James the Brain wanted me to link to his hacker friend’s blog (the search is on, E.L. aka boogledoo, where are you?) They also recommended seven-year-old melybabyxoxo to me but I was unable to locate her blogs on Tumblr. She apparently maintains several, including one on fashion and another on self-harm. (Did I hear that right?) Geez, can we just play another round of Zonk, please! Or how about a ruckus sledding adventure? A meeting of the Ward-Thayer Street Chicken Advisory Council regarding upkeep of the PWDLCP? There were the red sisters, blue guys, and black folk (by clothing, ignore gender!), a crazy cat lady, and myriad more unrecorded minglings within this diverse assortment of colorful characters.

Evolution of Conversation: The Future depends on our choices, now

“Something is happening,” Tenar said. “A great change in the world. Maybe nothing we know will be left to us.” (LeGuin, 2001, p. 111)


Being liberal is not enough.
Being liberal is not enough.

Who said, “This is a miracle,” when he realized I take climate change for real. “Everything is going to die if we don’t do something,” he said. “We’ve known about this for years, and no one is doing anything.” “Wars are bad and they should stop,” he continued, “but we need to look at a higher level, if there’s no planet…” As we talked, he asked me many times if I “really think” people will do something, now, finally? It’s up to us, I said, to make sure that we do.

The urgency has been weighing heavily on me, especially as I read and become more familiar with the extent of how extremely bad things are (and will thus become), how small our chances are already, and how quickly they will diminish beyond any hope at all. Opening these conversations with friends and chosen family in the weeks since I realized the dire necessity of immediate radical action has been discouraging – the denial and reluctance to uproot our personal comforts are entrenched. However, there are also inspirational voices out there, and the opportunity to live truly meaningful lives has never been greater.

Can we inspire each other to greatness?  Megan Quinn Bachman is on the path: “If we don’t get this right, we won’t get another chance.”




Bill Moyers talked with Yale Professor Leiserowitz explains how human psychology inhibits perception of the threat of climate change simply because the evidence is not immediate to our physical senses. Rather than believing in false hope, and instead of surrendering to the fear-mongering talk of so-called “Doomers,” we can choose to evolve ourselves beyond the limits of these human-created conditions, to deepen how we listen to the natural world and each other so that we can create and spread the motivation, means and methods of resilient survival.

“Indigenous peoples have said that the fundamental difference between Western and indigenous ways of being is that even the most open-minded Westerners view listening to the natural world as a metaphor as opposed to the way that the world really works.”

Aric McBay, Lierre Keith & Derrick Jensen
Deep Green Resistance (2011, p. 58)

From a talk by Kevin Anderson on the slim margin for surviving climate change.

“What is the proper relationship between human beings and the natural world?”

Bill Moyers talks with a Yale professor about six different American “publics” – each public representing a particular orientation to climate change. Professor Leiserowitz explains how human psychology inhibits perception of the threat of climate change simply because the evidence is not immediate to our physical senses. He uses the analogy of a warning sign on a mountain highway alerting drivers to a slippery patch ahead which we are ignoring. Prof Leiserowitz bridges religious and secular views, chastises Democrats and Republicans, and discusses how to address each specific public, emphasizing that it is time to increase the volume on this conversation.

  • the Alarmed (16%) – climate change is happening, it is human-caused, they’re eager to get on with the solutions (but what are the collective solutions?)
  • the Concerned (29%) – climate change is happening, it is human-caused, but distant in time and space – later (e.g., ‘not my lifetime’) and far away (“polar bears” or “islands”, serious but not a priority
  • the Cautious (26%) – still on the fence, paying attention but haven’t made up their minds
  • the Disengaged (8%) – they’ve heard about climate change but don’t know anything about the concerns, causes, or remedies
  • the Doubtful (13%) – don’t think climate change is happening but if it is, it is natural and nothing humans did or can do anything about (Prof Leiserowitz agrees there has been non-human climate change in the past but adds that this time is different and the scientists agree it is human-caused)
  • the Dismissive (8%) – firmly convinced climate change is not happening, may believe this is a government hoax (tend to be well-organized and loud)

“Yes, we can kill the planet.” (Lierre Keith, DGR, p. 61)

In the two-minute video embedded below, Yeb Sano pleads for us to find the political will “to take responsibility for the future we want.” So far, the politicians have not been able to find it. Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco argue that this means we, the people, must revolt.

In the face of devastating and catastrophic news that humanity is about to become extinct, there is some hard talk about the futility of hope. This is not because there definitely is “no hope,” but because the kinds of hope people are expressing are baseless, they are not effectively directed at tangible, material actions to alter the trajectory we are plummeting along.

Popularized versions of hope include fantastic magical thinking — “Technology will save us!” and/or “The planet is infinite!” — or outright avoidance, call it denial or repression or the cultural effects of being trained to consume. Professor Leiserowitz himself engages in motivated reasoning, supposing that we can actually maintain the planet and capitalism. He’s straddling the fence between hope and hopelessness, linking hope with success of the current economy (which is a common confusion).

Rather than believing in false hope, and instead of surrendering to the fear-mongering talk of so-called “Doomers,” we can choose to evolve ourselves beyond the limits of these human-created conditions, to deepen how we listen to the natural world and each other so that we can create and spread the motivation, means and methods of resilient survival.

Understanding the Enemy: Civilization and Its Hazards

On acting for human survival in the face of climate change (talk by Kevin Anderson).

Civilization itself is the main hazard.  This is the coldest fact of all. The second chapter of Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet lays out what we are up against. Aric McBay lists twenty-two things “we need to know about civilization [in order to] to defeat it” (p. 33, listed below). Kevin Anderson suggests the Pareto effect demonstrates how the 1-5% who most benefit from industrialized society could mobilize the necessary changes in order to avoid the most calamitous result of complete human extinction. The thin margin of hope hinges on how motivated we can become, and how fast, to sacrifice our present comforts in order to maintain conditions in which human children can live.

The enemy (a.k.a., civilization) depends upon our participation:

  1. Civilization is globalized, its infrastructure and economy is integrated despite political boundaries. (p. 33)
  2. Civilization is mechanized, it requires machines for production. (p. 33)
  3. Civilization is young, according to any meaningful environmental/ecological timescale (no matter that it feels ‘old’ in terms of your own lifetime and family history). (p. 33)
  4. Civilization is mainly urban, promoting and maintaining itself in cities. (p. 33)
  5. Civilization requires division of labor and social stratification, generating a vast middle class who doesn’t want to surrender their privilege. (p. 34)
  6. Civilization is militarized, because of competition and the desire for control. (p. 34)
  7. Civilization is patriarchal, celebrating the masculine expression of power and violence. (p. 34)
  8. Civilization is agricultural, insisting on surplus to feed concentrations of populations in cities and specialized elites. (p. 34)
  9. Civilization is predicated on perpetual growth. (p. 34)
  10. Civilization is characterized by short-term thinking. (p. 35)
  11. Civilization, historically, is defined by collapse. (p. 35)
  12. Civilization is hierarchical and centralized. (p. 35)
  13. Civilization increasingly regulates individual behaviorwhich increases regimentation. (p. 35)
  14. Civilization invests heavily in monumental architecture and propaganda. (p. 35)
  15. Civilization requires large amounts of human labor. (p. 36)
  16. Civilization is capable of making Earth uninhabitable. (p. 36)
  17. Civilization centralizes power and externalizes consequences. (p. 39)
  18. Civilization is premised upon industrial drawdown – it accumulates resources faster than they can be replaced. (p. 42)
  19. Civilization has led to the global food crisis, especially water drawdown and soil loss. (p. 44) [See previous entry on Nance Klehm]
  20. Civilization is causing soil drawdown and desertification: “It takes a thousand years for the earth to create a few inches of topsoil” (p. 45).
  21. Civilization has caused overfishing: “90 percent of the large fish in the ocean have been wiped out” (p. 46).
  22. Civilization is causing deforestation: without  major intervention”…by 2030 only 10 percent of the tropical forest will retain intact, with another 10 percent in a fragmented and degraded condition…hundreds of thousands of species will go extinct; global warming, drought, soil erosion, and landslides will all worsen severely” (p. 47).

Get Off the Grid! Or, Why I’ve been pensive lately

Do you believe in math? Before you decide not to read this blogentry because of my known apocalyptic tendencies – e.g., twenty-five years ago a friend told me she was not surprised that I identified with Kassandra in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Firebrand – think about your scientific and rational training. If you believe in math, and you want to know the real deal, this is it. Perhaps you already know what’s coming, but have not believed in what you know? The following info (based in math and science) kicked my ass from knowing to believing.

“I wanna be an un-fucker!”

I want to be funny and still have fun and enjoy living, while confessing that I am not completely eager. Not panicked or desperate, either – at least not yet. Maybe I’ll stave that off until we’re all gasping for the last molecules of oxygen in the northern hemisphere. Even better, perhaps (with a couple of decades left to practice), I’ll have achieved an ideal state of Tai Chi relaxation and simply cross over. I’ll hope the same for you, too (whenever and however your turn comes).

This information didn’t come to me on purpose; I was not trying to learn it. (Crap!)

Randomly, a last minute request came through to interpret a lecture at UMass. The talk by Guy McPherson was livestreamed, you can view his lecture here (simultaneous interpretation into American Sign Language begins at the 7th minute but it’s hard to make out). Trying to prep before the talk began, as good interpreters tend to do, my colleague asked McPherson about his main point. Guy promptly showed us a music video by Katie Goodman. That’s all we got; it was enough to understand that the news was not going to be particularly cheerful.

“It’s not the temperature that’s going to kill us.”

No, its the ecological effects to the environment that are gonna take out homo sapiens and quite possibly every other living creature with us.

In twenty-five years, give or take a few…. (approximately 35 for the southern hemisphere, lucky dogs.)

2037. ( 2047)

Because the oceans are going to get too warm and acidified for the plankton to survive.

Plankton from the ocean produces half, that’s 1/2, as in 50%, of the oxygen for the entire planet. (Guy said something about a potential for losing all the land plants too and then there goes the rest of the oxygen. Poof.)

I’m not going to reproduce his argument – watch the video linked above or check out the data at his website, for instance, this entry on “What’s Important.”  He’s as entertaining as a person can be, under the circumstances. For instance:

The last time the planet was six degrees warmer there were snakes the size of yellow school buses living in the Amazon and the largest mammal was the size of a shrew…. The last time it was six degrees warmer on this planet there were no humans.

McPherson did emphasize that the essential prediction was made in a United Nations report 22 years ago, “rapid, unpredictable and non-linear responses” leading to catastrophic ecosystem changes. That results from only 1C degree temperature increase. More recent reports (2009, 2010) show 3.5C  and 4C  temperature increases by mid-century.  Tim Garrett’s 2009 paper sums up the current situation: ” the current rate of energy consumption is determined by the unchangeable past of economic production.”

“Economists think you need population and standard of living to estimate productivity,” he says. “In my model, all you need to know is how fast energy consumption is rising. The reason why is because there is this link between the economy and rates of energy consumption, and it’s just a constant factor.”

{Link to a free version of Garrett’s full published study here.}

The only solution is systemic collapse and the resulting decrease in standards of living.

There is no science fiction solution

Telling a friend about the talk soon afterwards, she asked about a technological solution. So did some of the people in the audience. I’ve kept thinking about this because, I too, want to believe someone, somewhere is figuring out the massive (global) retrofit and someone else, somehow is crafting the implementation plan. (And everyone is getting ready to go along with it, no problem!) Well, call me a pessimist in the end, but I haven’t smoked that much pot! Have you noticed how nicely we’re all managing American democracy lately? And we’re supposed to be the good guys? The ones everyone else around the world looks up to and wants to be like? (Seems that was just a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away….)

Guy wasn’t as harsh ast that, he just said there is no politically viable answer. The reason we’re in this mess is because we’ve allowed the system to develop as it has.  We cannot save our lifestyles and ourselves: we have to choose. The other popular question from the audience was, “Why aren’t the climate change scientists talking like this?” Guy’s answer makes sense to me. “They all want to save civilization.”  Dammit!  So do I!  I like being warm and eating all kinds of exotic food and traveling and coming home and not worrying about whether there’s going to be power or water pressure to flush the toilet and SHIT, I’M REALLY GOING TO MISS HOT SHOWERS.

Tim Garrett (quoted above), says we need to be building 2.1 nuclear reactors per day to maintain current energy production/consumption without increasing global warming. Obviously, this ain’t happening. Solar and wind are coming but ever so slowly, and the energy costs of their production contribute to Garrett’s energy consumption constant.

Saving humanity for the next civilization

What there is, however, is hope. Earth’s natural systems can still recover if we simply stop the industrial machine. Unplug. Completely. No more drilling no more unclean power generation of any type. Stop driving stop flying stop with the lights, the internet omg, the factories, the production production production and consumption consumption consumption. I’m thinking of friends who would only attend the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival in a camper or by staying in a hotel. I wish it was different; I wish we/our forebears had had the gumption to stick with limits, stop fighting over everything and figure out how to share. They didn’t and we still haven’t, not enough of us (yet) but we can, because we have to.

There is a choice, hard as it is to imagine. We can persist in denial, waiting waiting for the system to collapse (while wishfully hoping not) and then, when the end comes, however it comes, it will truly be beyond awful. Or we can Do It, start shifting now, mobilizing alone and with friends, neighbors, and at the level of communities and towns to transition to old ways of living. I am not excited, but I am less and less afraid.

Feet in two worlds

I will work “aboveground” – but there are options for radical work underground. Please do not inform me about any underground activities.

Guy lists the four things human beings need to survive: clean water, food, shelter that maintains body temperature, and community. Depending on where you live, you’ll have more or less immediate access to any or all of these things. Start thinking about how you’re going to take care of yourself. Better, start talking with people about what to do, identify the important problems and start solving them. How will you get clean water without city plumbing or regular deliveries to the grocery store? I know, it is fantastical to imagine, maybe start by making it a game of What If? 

In the meantime, don’t panic. Keep doing regular things in the world as it is. I’m writing my dissertation, tending my cat, socializing with friends . . . enjoying what each day brings because tomorrow can no longer be assumed to follow today as today followed yesterday. The other popular question audience members asked Guy was along the lines of, “Well, since it’s so fucked up why not just party like it’s 1999? Go out dancing, playing with the band while the ship goes down?” Guy’s answer, again, was laconic: how would we know if Americans became any more hedonistic than we already are?

The point is, there is a chance of evolving beyond our limitations and rescuing humanity (and some of the rest of life on earth) from extinction. We just have to become better than we believe we can be.


Composting Steph

I sucker guests who come to a Solstice or Equinox dinner into making a pledge: “What I will do for the planet this season.” This year I’ll begin supporting the Luna Ring

When the time comes, I will recycle Steph.
She will become a lovely basket
for African violets.

(Fall Equinox, 2010)

Play along?

Winter Solstice Sunrise over the UMass Sunwheel
Winter Solstice Sunrise over the UMass Sunwheel

When the time comes, I will recycle Steph.
She will become a lovely basket
for African violets.

(Fall Equinox, 2010)


I sucker guests who come to a Solstice or Equinox dinner into pledging to do something for climate recovery: “What I will do for the planet this season.”

Their ideas range from the mundane (and highly practical) to the outrageous (contributing to the maintenance of fellowship over time).

My pledge this year is to support the Luna Ring.

Selected Other Pledges

Astronomy lessons for every season
Astronomy lessons for every season
Here’s a sampling of what some people have pledged:

“My aim is to respect food and waste less of it in the next 3 months.” (Spring Equinox, 2010)

“I’m gonna take the bus more often and use my car only when it’s needed.” (Fall Equinox, 2010)

“This 2011AD, I will live 5 minutes from an organic market (and I think organic farm as well), and I will 1) volunteer, 2) organize to improve the recycling system in the neighborhood (the next neighborhood over is seen as a ‘problem’ area & receives less city support).” (Winter Solstice, 2010)

“Environmental goal: recycle Steph and re-create her into [deleted]’s star student. Lacking that, I will save [cat] poop and mix it up with gluten-free dough. And then give it to that star student.” (Spring Equinox, 2011)

Tornadoes and the Deaf Community in Western Massachusetts

This survey generated some interesting data which might be useful in generating hypotheses for future testing and eventually guiding design for better warning systems, improved emergency preparation, and the smooth integration of emergency response service delivery to people with so-called “functional needs” or otherwise requiring “additional assistance” – particularly the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing.

Last spring and summer was windy in Massachusetts: a gust front on May 4th, possible microbursts on May 26-27, and then four people died in the seven tornadoes that tore across Massachusetts in early June.

<center>One in Five (20%) Received Warning through their Town's Special Registry</center>
One in Five (20%) Received Warning through their Town's Special Registry

Using a regional email list to contact a convenience sample, a brief, spontaneous survey was used to gather information about the Deaf community’s experience with the system of Emergency Management in the region. As far as I’m aware, no Deaf people were adversely affected by the tornadoes, which means there are no particular experiences with First Responders to report – good or bad (this time). Nonetheless the survey generated some interesting data which might be useful in generating hypotheses for future testing and eventually guiding design for better warning systems, improved emergency preparation, and the smooth integration of emergency response service delivery to people with so-called “functional needs” or otherwise requiring “additional assistance.”

Demographics and Timing

<center>27 Total Responses (10 Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing, 17 Not Deaf/"Hearing"</center>
27 Total Responses (10 Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing, 17 Not Deaf/"Hearing"

Ten Deaf and seventeen non-deaf (“hearing”) people responded to the survey. They live and work all over the western part of the state (see map). The sample is too tiny for statistical significance, but shows that three times as many non-deaf “Hearing” people learned of the tornado warning before the tornadoes formed, and twice as many Deaf learned of the tornadoes only after they had occurred.

Warnings Reach More Hearing People than Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing
Warnings Reach More Hearing People than Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing

Sources of Warning

Contrary to what one would expect based on Deaf cultural norms, the community grapevine was not effective in alerting Deaf people to the Tornado Warning. While this may be a feature of the relative isolation of Deaf people living in the rural part of the state, it definitely highlights the importance of making sure mainstream messages are also channeled directly and conspicuously in a manner to catch “the deaf eye.”

<center>Deaf not alerted by friends or family: counters common sense...</center>
Deaf not alerted by friends or family? Counters common sense...
<center>Social Media and News beats out Face-to-Face Communication of Warning</center>
Social Media and News beats out Face-to-Face Communication of Warning

People who did receive the Warning were likely to learn about it from several sources. Fifty percent reported learning about the tornadoes from more than one media source. Being ‘plugged in’ to various media might increase the chances that you will receive a Warning in a timely fashion.

As mentioned above, these results suggest directions for further investigation.  In addition to the numbers, several respondents added comments or questions, providing some qualitative hints about where to focus future efforts at improving communication with the Deaf community regarding emergency warnings.

Conflicting Signals

Below, I will post the brief explanations people gave about how they learned about the tornadoes. One story caught my attention because of a similarity with a story from a survivor of the Joplin, MO tornado. The National Weather Service (NWS) Service Assessment reports variations in the perception of risk by residents in Joplin based upon “signals” from the environment. Some of the signals from the business community were in conflict:

…the restaurant shut its doors and refused entry, this resident perceived the threat of severe weather as real and commented during the interview that he did not want to be in his car. Upon arriving at another restaurant close by, however, his perception of threat was diminished because business at this second establishment was carrying on as normal: he was escorted to a table and ordered a meal. (p. 6)

Here is one of the respondents to the survey about the tornadoes in western Massachusetts:

“I went shopping in the town of Hadley… and noticed the darkening of the skies…while I was still in the store.. When I got out.. it was thundering and lightening very badly.. and I went on to shop at 2 more stores.. nearby.. not realizing the tornado was hitting Spfld.”

Hadley is not one of the communities struck by a tornado, so the comparison between the two experiences is not tight. The point about perception and awareness of risk based on signals, however, is crucial:  what is the most desirable role of businesses in regard to public safety?

Confusion, Questions and (some) Clarity

“I knew nothing about what to do in a tornado. In fact at my school (work) there were disagreements about what to do among the school leaders. I heard about the same issues from other people in other work places. New England is prepared for a lot of things but not tornadoes.”

Another person was using the local transportation for people with disabilities:

“PVTA driver appeared not aware of tornado in premise. I was in van and tornado went across road by just right after van went thru. We surprise after my stop and people pointing to tornado.”

Protect Yourself!

The proper physical response:

  1. get indoors
  2. ideally in a basement or bathroom
  3. you should already have an emergency kit prepared for each member of your family and pets!

How to get Warnings?

“I feel it would be easier if we receive a special message like “Deaf Emergency and Weather” so that way deaf people can read the word “Deaf” to help people to prepare quickly to save themselves.”

Deaf people compose a population that has no systematic, institutionalized, reliable means of receiving timely and accurate information about an unfolding disaster.  Suggestions include using pagers, email or text alert to cell phone, video sign mail through video relay operators, and a call-in number for updates. Few respondents to this survey knew how to sign up with their Town for special alerts (most Towns in western MA do not even offer this service), and others were unsure how to confirm their inclusion in such a system:

“Where would it indicate that I have signed up?” (as one survey respondent asked), is a simple question with a long history:

“Of course we all know that the deaf people are few and far apart in rural Western Mass and the hearing authorities hope and pray that somehow the deafʼs hearing friends would notify them. Sadly many hearing people knew nothing also.”

The View from an Emergency Planner

I have been invited and welcomed into some planning, evaluation and review sessions of emergency planners and emergency responders as they have debriefed and critiqued what worked and what could be improved. Overall, the system of emergency response functioned incredibly well: loss of life was minimized and societal processes got ‘back to normal’ in a quick and resilient manner. What I have observed, informally, is a network of strong, respectful, and collegial relationships with built-in capacity and motivation to improve.

First Responders are justified in feeling satisfied that they did the best they could under the circumstances, and – impressively – everyone that I have met to date has the goal in mind to do even better in the next emergency. These tornadoes were a powerful event whose effects will persist, both in terms of personally-experienced tragedy of losing loved ones and recovering from property damage, but also in terms of addressing gaps where preparation, communication and response are still relatively weak.

For instance, Kathleen Conley Norbut, the Medical Reserve Corp Coordinator for Western Massachusetts and School Project Manager for IRAA (Individuals Requiring Additional Assistance) Project in Western MA, reflected on the opportunity during a “School Emergency Preparedness” Conference about three weeks after the tornadoes.

On June 1st, a lot of things changed for a lot of people in this region. Some of us [responsible for emergency planning & response] were close to an impact region. Those of us who didn’t lose property, are still being impacted emotionally, physically.  We had a “No Notice tornado” in a region where people by and large don’t believe it can happen…. I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, caught in a pink tule dress. We learned first-hand the havoc that a tornado can wreak….. Brimfield, Monson, Oxford, Springfield, Sturbridge, Westfield and Wilbraham …. We still have a daily reminder of how devastating this natural force can really be.

How fast it unfolded:

  • MEMA issues alert: “we’re watching this thing”
  • called son…. bad connection, told him would try again later
  • “at that point, things had just unleashed, communications became extraordinarily difficult”
  • the town of Monson’s communication center, the EOC, got wiped out – when your response center, the technology, all you’ve practiced, the manuals, everything gets obliterated, it adds complications to what you’ve already considered

Now [afterwards], all the ‘what if’s’ come up – what if it hops ‘here’ or ‘there’, etc. Tornadoes are random, not only is the violence of a tornado awesome – I don’t have words for it, I am awestruck….. it’s path is so random….

  • WHAT IF it happened at school release time?
  • WHAT IF it happened when youth with disabilities are boarding special transportation?
  • WHAT IF it happened after kids are en route home?
  • WHAT IF it happened when there wasn’t a communication system?

In keeping with this mode of “what if” thinking, especially about the timing of an emergency event, an interesting observation was made by one of the survey respondents:

“Most deaf have a pager so that seems to be the best way to reach them – especially during the day. In evenings most people are using computers and watching TV. Local TV stations do a good job of warning the audience so that part is ok. It’s the daytime situation that needs to be looked at.”

Notification Stories

This survey is unique in that it represents a  a collection of experiences from members of the Deaf community in regard to one specific incident. Their particular stories about receiving or not receiving a warning message are familiar to anyone involved with emergency response because these are common experiences shared by people of any and every social identity group.

At the same time, however, there is a distinction regarding communication that requires special and dedicated attention: there are several things in regard to effectively including Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing people within the emergency response system that need to be looked at.

  • “Never knew there was a tornado warning – nor did my friends at work who are hearing. We just got lucky.”
  • “I learned when I turned on TV after I saw dark, rain and hails. Tornado did not happen in my area.”
  • “Not till I got home from work. Saw weather channel tornado already passed”
  • “I did not know about the risk. I only heard about the tornado after the fact. I heard about it when a friend and I stopped to get out of the hail and rain at a small grocery store and my friend told me because she heard someone saying there was a tornado in Springfield.”
  • “Around 3 pm on Wednesday June 1st. I checked through my blackberry pager and that was how I found out.”
  • “I got text message from my bf that he informed me about it.”
  • “When I was in Framingham, I was told there was tornado warning. I wasn’t sure where but I drove back to Ware while tornado already hit Springfield. Me lucky!”
  • “Husband received by weather alert on his cell phone when we were on our way home from a doctors appointment.”
  • Information from this survey was shared at the
    Western Region Homeland Security Action Council‘s
    After Action Review Meeting on October 6, 2011
    Holyoke, MA

    tweaking the turns: resilience is systemic

    Resilience requires, among other things, “distinguish[ing] between those catastrophes we can repair and those that require us to face a new reality” (p.35). I’m interested that “resilience” is typically invoked as a counterpart to crisis, as if it only emerges spontaneously in the face of a sudden unexpected event rather than persisting as a durable property of a system. Resilience is also most commonly described as a characteristic of individuals rather than groups. How we comport ourselves when wounded, however, is a matter of relationship that is fundamentally inseparable from the co-occurring internal psychological struggle.

    Excerpts from Resilience
    by Elizabeth Edwards

    Sixty pages in to this Christmas gift, I found myself enjoying it more than I at first anticipated.  Some malicious news/gossip drifted within the realm of my awareness some months or a year or two ago about Elizabeth Edwards selling out some part of her soul either by publishing this book or – maybe it was going on a talk show circuit afterwards or… I don’t recall the details. It was a reflection of one of those distasteful, distressing tendencies of the media spotlight to grind away at character, seeking and exploiting flaws of integrity, as if there are so many of us who could withstand such scrutiny well.

    Context: Whiteness

    The back cover sports a quote from pp.37-38, in which Edwards admits a preference for avoiding difficult things in life while reconciling herself to the fact that they are going to happen, no matter what. By this point, she has already painted the picture of herself as a person living a dream and believing it could continue unabated. She had noticed tarnish, but not allowed it to dim the glow of her idealized vision, such as (among other things) recognizing “that the color of your skin gave you a whole different, less hospitable country” (p. 15).  Edwards attributes most of her fantasy to growing up in a magical-military lifestyle framed by Armed Services Radio. Seems like a classic example of how lives become meaningful within a context shaped by media.

    It is my interpretation to lay her idyll at the feet of whiteness – not the simplistic version of white skin privilege, but the attitudes and assumptions of whiteness – which can be embedded in any human body of any ethnicity, given enough socioeconomic privilege and cultural conditioning.  You may consider the evidence sketchy, but when Edwards describes how she is changed after the infidelity of her husband (coming very soon after a diagnosis of breast cancer, and some years after the life-altering death of her teenage son), I thought to myself, this is what whiteness shields you from:

    “I was not wounded, not afraid, not uncertain before, and

    now I always will be.”

    Many pages later, discussing a transformation in her Christian faith necessitated by the death of her son, she writes:

    “I had believed that God would intervene to protect the innocent. How, at forty-six, having seen what I had of the world, having walked around the site of the children’s hospital at Hiroshima, near the epi-center of the atomic bomb, having seen injustice and misery reposed among the innocent across the globe, I still believed this, I cannot say. I only know that I did…” (p 110).

    Whiteness enables this kind of magical thinking.

    “What we know is apparently no match for what we need” (p. 70)

    Faith is a kind of map that orders a belief structure, enabling coping mechanisms and strategies for survival and – if accompanied by luck – individual and social thriving. “In my life,” Edwards admits, “the map has almost always been wrong.” She is referring to a saying of her friend Gordon Livingston: “When the map does not comport with the ground, the map is wrong” (p. 32). In lieu of a god who protects the innocent and guards the righteous from random trauma, Edwards comes to believe in a God who “promises only salvation and enlightenment,” continuing:

    “This is our world, a gift from God, and we make it what it is. If it is unjust, we have made it so. If there is boundless misery, we have permitted it. If there is suffering, it came from man’s own action or inaction” (p. 111).

    Later, she adds:

    “I remind myself: This is the world we made; its flaws are our flaws; its shortcomings are our shortcomings; and the degree to which there is injustice or unprovoked suffering is just a reflection of our failures…God gave me this world, and He gave me free will. It is my world, and now, if I am able, I have to fix it” (p. 119).

    Resilience requires, among other things, “distinguish[ing] between those catastrophes we can repair and those that require us to face a new reality” (p.35). I’m interested that “resilience” is typically invoked as a counterpart to crisis, as if it only emerges spontaneously in the face of a sudden unexpected event rather than persisting as a durable property of a system. Resilience is also most commonly described as a characteristic of individuals rather than groups. How we comport ourselves when wounded, however, is a matter of relationship that is fundamentally inseparable from the co-occurring internal psychological struggle.

    a small slice of the middle (or, in-between the turns)

    In the subfield of Communication that studies language and social interaction, one of the things we pay attention to are turns at talking: who talks when, how much, after who, about what, how often, and so on and so forth. Turn-taking is a particularly intriguing subject of study because transitions require a rather complex coordination (rarely thought about because the norms for how to do it are so internalized). Edwards quotes a line from Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem, Interim, about turning the world back a click or two, “just a turn and…” this or that would not have happened, “just a turn and…” we would be living some other reality. Living in the wishfulness of turning something back, however, is not resilient.

    “In time, I learned that I was starting a new story. I write these words as if that is the beginning and the end of what I did, but it is only a small slice of the middle, a place that is hard to reach and, in reaching it, only a stepping-off place for finding or creating a new life with our new reality…” (p. 31-32)

    Perfection is not a requirement (p. 9)

    Effective systems have safeguards and backups in case of normal accidents. It seems like an oxymoron, but accidents do happen. Accidents occur with enough irregularity that they cannot be predicted and controlled, thus any comprehensive system assumes a certain “normalcy” to the fact that accidents will need to be managed. If one adopts the stance that, loosely, accidents are normal, one’s map is already prefigured to minimize damage by building resiliency in. One adapts as best one can, as soon as one can, in the best ways one knows how given the circumstances. This includes recovering from shock, such as Edwards describes:

    “The Greatest Generation from World War II was not simply too humble to take credit for their accomplishments in battle (though they were often that), they were also good men too stunned that what they had seen was now part of their own life story” (p. 27).

    We are all living our own life stories, and to varying degrees – depending upon exposure and attention – aware of unspeakable inhumanities being done by human beings to other human beings. We need to be resilient, not just in our own self-centered orbits but as persons in relation with the people whose lives we interact with daily, whether through the products of their work or because of direct contact.

    the fullest breath (p. 17)

    “The only contest we have,” Edwards concludes, “is with ourselves” (p. 212). She is mainly referring to how a parent finds the way to go on after losing a child, but she also means how a spouse recovers from the infidelity of their partner, and how one chooses to glean the most from every moment in the face of a terminal illness. Her answers, she emphasizes repeatedly, are hers alone, and every one must find their own ways to continue living in the face of pain and challenge. Resilience, however, is not only a feature of the the solo, noble human spirit, but of the community and relationships and ways of talking that guide and nurture the spirit through.  Yes, so much rides on single moments, and yet, with each breath, there is a new moment imbued with new possibilities, new paths leading to new and different places.  A friend just taught me this Albanian saying:

    The minute does not determine the year.

    There are, of course, minutes that do change years, moments whose occurrence changes lifepaths irrevocably and forever. Moments that teach “what it means to scream” (p. 17). But any moment, even those that require years from which to heal, does not have to foreclose the future. It may not be the future one dreamed, but it can still be worthy, happy, and whole. In a recent talk on Resilience: Talking, Resisting, and Imagining New Normalicies into Being (Journal of Communication 60, 2010), Patrice M. Buzzanell argues that “resilience is developed, sustained, and grown through discourse, interaction, and material considerations,” and lists five specific communication processes, all of which are evident in Edwards personal story.

    Social relations and ways of talking contribute to individual resiliency but it is still, in the end, the individual who has to learn breathe deeply – either again, or perhaps for the first time.  If Elizabeth Edwards’ life had played out along her original fantasy script, she admits:

    “I don’t know..if…it would have occurred to me that I had never taken the fullest breath I could. It had been diaphragmatic breathing, matching my inhaling and exhaling to some rhythm I wanted, some song that fit my life at the time, or I thought did. I had never had to find my own rhythm, never needed to search for my own cadence…For all of the times that followed those carefree days…for all of the pain I endured, at least I learned … what it meant to breathe for myself.”

    Dedicated to Alec Kent
    and the family who survives him

    It’s the economy AND the environment (stupid!)

    Womensphere with Newsweek
    Global Summit

    Day 1 at NYU: see photos!

    I almost bailed out. My back was out of whack when I woke up the day before the two-day conference. I thought: I need to listen to my body. It isn’t up for this trip. As I lay in bed imagining the five hour bus ride to NYC, the additional hour (or more) to get out to Maria’s in Queens, the intensity of the two-day conference schedule, the return trip on Sunday and subsequent “loss” of the entire weekend in terms of everything else I needed to do, I decided not to go.

    The luxury of a long weekend of “extra time” stretched out before me as I settled into a hot bath and began reading a gift from my former roommate – a partner in the (idea of) my start-up. As far as I know, Joan Borysenko did not attend the Global Summit, but she got me there by reminding me that I am on to something…

    Resiliency (not only Sustainability)

    Leaving aside the question of whether or not human activities have caused global warming, the need for climate recovery is the fundamental context for the current and future societal organization of, by, and for homo sapiens. When Goldman Sachs states that without change the planet will be two degrees warmer by 2030, they signal the seriousness of the matter for every human being on the planet, not just the wealthy. The concept of  sustainability, however, is severely limited:

    a) “sustainability” – as used in the media, politics, business, academia and grassroots movements – can refer to anything (what linguists call an empty signifier), hence is prone to being misunderstood among people using it (what interpreters call a communication breakdown), and

    b) the premise of “sustainability” is continuity: the avoidance of change. Hello? This is not a newsflash: change is already here.

    From a discourse and group dynamics perspective, continuing to use the term sustainability in the current ways is evidence of mass rationalization of reality. During the Community Circle conference review sessions at the end of the first day of the program, Amy, Devon, Cynthia, Judy, Katie, Marika, Jenny, Mary, Teresa, Nancy, and Mr. Manbassador helped me realize there are similar challenges with the term resiliency. As I’ve continued to consider our conversation about Building Green Economies and Enabling Sustainability, what I realized is that we need the interplay of these two terms – conceptually and in practice – if we are really going to recreate institutional systems capable of maintaining and spreading high qualities of human existence.

    “The World Flows on Credit”

    The economy, leadership, and change were consistent themes of the Summit. We learned about the current state of the economy, including historical factors and future projections. Barbara Byrne was, as she said, “in the front car of a railroad train that went off the tracks.” She had worked for Lehman Brothers for 28 years prior to “that Sunday morning,” September 15, 2008, “the morning I no longer had health insurance or job security or anything else…(and) had lost 60% of my net worth just like that.” Barbara emphasized the psychological elements of group decision-making during and after the “12 Standard Deviation Event” that was the unintended consequence of Lehman Brothers being deemed a moral hazard.

    I was particularly intrigued by Barbara’s perspective  because of having watched the Frontline program, Inside the Meltdown, which included an instance of a problematic moment. James Cumming has distinguished group-level problematic moments from difficult interpersonal interactions. During a PM, conflicts in social realities emerge, becoming temporarily evident and available in ways that open possibilities for restructuring hierarchies of relationships within a given sociocultural field. Problematic moments are leverage points for fundamental social change.

    Barbara spoke of the select group of male CEOs gathered with Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson at the White House making decisions according to the restricted focus that characterizes group communication during a crisis. Decision-making during crisis is especially challenging when the group lacks diversity. Barbara argued that society needs guardrails (government regulations), while insisting:  “Business is important. It’s what makes the wheels turn.”  She emphasized the “need (for) diversity in the room,” listing demographic features and knowledge sets so that people can test and push the boundaries of decision-making processes. Ultimately, she argued, “No matter what you think of TARP, [in this instance] government worked,” because Paulson confronted the credit freeze fallout “one piece at a time to open everything up.”

    Time, Timing, History and the Future

    Barbara emphasized the “need for long-term thinking.” This could have been interpreted as a poke at Abby Joseph Cohen of Goldman Sachs, who (earlier) had opened her talk with a joke: “I was just told I have ten minutes to tell you how to fix everything.” Chuckles spread through the room – we’re all looking for the quick fix, the right answer! This is (unfortunately)  not forthcoming.  Abby gave us “the one minute CNBC summary”:

    • There will be no double dip, what we’re experiencing is the continuation of a natural deceleration
    • The slow improvement in the labor force is a big problem that comes from longer-term structural issues – not just the credit crisis or recession (emphasis added)
    • The equity market is priced below value, bonds are priced for perfection

    “Something has happened…”

    Abby described two historical trends in jobs and education. She spoke at the macrosocial, institutional level in the context of global competition, lamenting, “We have not seen this in generations. It goes to the heart of the American dream.” Barbara too expressed concern that Americans are losing our mojo, acting on the basis of fear instead of remembering and celebrating that the US “is fundamentally the most optimistic place on earth.” Abby’s diagnosis was sharp. The problem is the lack of job creation in the United States.

    Abby explained that there has been “an ongoing deceleration of new jobs for a decade preceeding” the credit crisis; a 5% loss in jobs overall, and a 10% loss of blue-collar jobs were evident before the financial crisis erupted into public awareness. “When,” Lynn Tilton asked a short while later, “was there a taint on being blue?” Described by Vanessa Angeles of HSBC as “a private equity rock star,” Lynn minced no words arguing for bottom-up restructuring. Abby described the policy decision about the American economy when we switched to “what you know” from “what you can carry.”  Lynn put numbers on the current fallout: 1 in 5 Americans is unemployed. One in seven American families is below the poverty level.  “Why,” she challenged, “can’t we admit we made a mistake when we decided it is what you know rather than what we make?”

    “What do we want for the future?”

    Dr Mae Jemison (self-described as “the only person on the Star Trek set who had actually been in space”) put the problem in context by defining globalization in terms of two opposing possibilities.

    Jemison: We can design globalization by emphasizing “the ability [of business] to make all markets homogenous,” or we can emphasize “the capacity of business to deliver to people the capacity to do what they want.”

    Tilton: Describing how – contrary to the general historical drift – she had become an industrialist: “Nobody really wanted to rebuild the companies, they just wanted to focus on balance sheets.”

    Cohen: “Our educational system is not keeping pace” with the rest of the world,” there has been “no improvement” in graduation percentages (especially from college) in more than a decade.

    Tilton: “When parents are out of work, children are focused on survival, not education.”

    The Blue-Collar Challenge

    “We have the most extensive collegiate and university system in the world,” Abby insisted. “This is an important form of foreign aid.” International students who come here to earn degrees need to be allowed to stay.

    “We also lose technology,” Lynn reminded everyone, “when we ship manufacturing overseas.”

    Barbara was explicit: “We need to open the borders. We need to let the immigrants in.” Rally for Sanity. Pass the Dream Act (this suggestion is an editorial supplement).

    Lynn argued for subsidized employment as “a better route than welfare.”  “We are a nation that doesn’t have enough jobs,” she repeated, describing institutionalized unemployment as an illness which needs to be attacked at the root. “We can recreate jobs if we revisit the policy not to manufacture.”

    While Lynn emphasized the absolute necessity of bottom-up restructuring, others focused on top-down policy-making that can “align business with social concerns,” as asked by someone in the audience during the lunchtime roundtable on Women & Innovation: Driving Innovation and Creating a Culture of Successful Innovation.

    Later, in the session on The Future of the US and Global Economy: Market Dynamics, Growth, Black Holes & Public Policy, Andrea Feingold described the outdated logic of mortgages, in which people planned to live their lives in a single place, so it made sense to buy in one’s thirties and pay-off by one’s sixties in order to enjoy retirement in a home owned free-and-clear. Overall, however, the top-down discussion about solutions is a muddle. During the same panel, talking about tax incentives, Stephanie Breslow warned that “we can’t wean ourselves off foreign oil and just replicate another kind of dependency.” Joyce Chang described the necessity of ensuring “coordination of regulation or we will just transfer risk to another part of the world.”

    Actionable Solutions

    Although we teased about HVPS, there are known and established facts which can guide the processes of defining problems and creating solutions:

    • investing in women generates greater returns
    • supporting the spread of international law serves to counter injustice
    • defining terms and coordinating language use builds community
    • creating desire promotes motivation to achieve goals
    • considering others’ welfare enhances personal well-being and safety
    • facing fear enables cooperation at new & different levels

    In other words, as Angela Leaney emphasized, “When the plane is going down, its not time to be a jerk. Put your oxygen mask on and help others.”

    Persisting In Place: A strategy of socioeconomic survival

    Dr Arturo Osorio refines Florida’s popular “creative class” model from its static premises, turning the notion of a creative class from a thing (an aggregation of people who fit required characteristics and are rather singularly motivated) to an on-going, interactive, socially-dynamic “process whose potential emergence may or may not be sustained over time.” Osorio pulled an audience of seventeen on a late fall day to listen to him tell a tale of a town where personal actions and associations coalesced into creative class organizing that generated a range of positive consequences for the community that continues, today, to feed back into organizing and interpersonal/professional community ties.

    Isenberg School of Management

    University of Massachusetts Amherst

    Organizational Strategy

    Creative Community Co-Construction

    Tooling around Nantucket over New Year’s weekend, I was struck by the sense of place evident in the care given to the landscape, not to mention our host’s keen interest in birding – a demonstrably popular island activity. Twin ethics of conservation and continuation, combined with a robust sense of humor, reminded me of the work of Dr Arturo Osorio, whose dissertation defense explored the intersection of economic geography, economic sociology, and strategic management as a town re-creates itself as a community of and for artists, composed of members who utilize local resources to co-construct themselves as a creative class.[1]

    Finding_ArtLooking at a place (Easthampton, MA) through an integrated analytical lens, Dr Osorio applied a collaborative multi-firm network theory[2] in which relationships are interdependent with the environment (conceived broadly) and the environment (including the embedded and implicit relationships) is inseparable from any given company, firm, or business. This fluid and dynamic model disallows sharp divisions between, for instance, “the company” and “the market,” or “employees” and “residents” and those whose physical residence is beyond town lines but whose livelihood is firmly founded within the community. While organizations are purpose-driven, the core economic transactions are deeply social – interpersonal, cognitive, cultural, and political. All of the activities of a company and the community that hosts it are intricately intertwined.

    Dr Arturo Osorio refines Florida’s popular “creative class” model from its static premises, turning the notion of a creative class from a thing (an aggregation of people who fit required characteristics and are rather singularly motivated) to an on-going, interactive, socially-dynamic “process whose potential emergence may or may not be sustained over time.” Osorio pulled an audience of seventeen on a late fall day to listen to him tell a tale of a town where personal actions and associations coalesced into creative class organizing that generated a range of positive consequences for the community that continues, today, to feed back into organizing and interpersonal/professional community ties.

    Choosing to contribute to a place

    The most interesting point that I found in Dr Arturo Osorio’s dissertation defense was a question his results raised about why people may tend to identify themselves more on the basis of language than of the place where they live. Such as speaking Spanish, for instance, rather than English. The matter came up in relation to limits on extending Dr Osorio’s findings to more urban, mixed areas, although it caused me to wonder about rates of bi- and multilingualism in/around Easthampton.  Language fluency is a separate indicator than skills – Easthampton has above average concentrations of people with skills that are recognized as creative regardless of industry, as well as an above average concentration of people with skills that are used in industries recognized as cultural or creative. I wonder if diversity of language can contribute to creativity? What Dr Osorio studied are the interrelationships of skilled people who consciously grew a creative culture by recognizing and validating the various skills everyone had to contribute, and interweaving them into a strong and vibrant economic community.

    Unfolding_of_a_Creative_ClassDr Osorio supplements Florida’s depiction of the creative class, which has come in for its own share of criticism. Florida describes the creative class through a lens akin to the hard sciences, as a concrete thing composed of particular elements which, if put together according to the right equation will reliably reproduce the desired end result. Osorio’s view is more nuanced, recognizing the role of variation and emergence in modes of self-organization when elements catalyze in ways that are not necessarily predictable. Because Osorio is focused on the combination of social factors along with economic factors, he is able to highlight the ways in which individuals can cohere positive socioeconomic changes in specific civic locations over measurable spans of time.

    “It takes a community to build a creative class”

    ~ Dr Arturo Osorio

    Dr Osorio conducted an extensive participatory ethnography and a complex social network analysis to demonstrate the relationships among narrowly-defined cultural groupings and broadly-defined socioeconomic structures.  The sociality is not always visible, but operates nonetheless. While the generic public is presented with the closed doors of artists at work, the artists themselves engage each other vigorously on all manner of concerns, including finding common cause and mutual gain with other community groups, such as persons with disabilities. As one might expect, the closest relationships are formed on the basis of homophily – emotional affinities, shared values and perspectives on issues of mutual concern, and enjoyment of similar kinds of people and events.

    DSCN0336 But, a crucial element in generating a creative class, artists in Easthampton reached out beyond these most comforting relationships to learn about the needs and concerns of different artists and other community members in diverse affinity groups. Then they all consciously used this knowledge to proactively strike up alliances and strategize agreements to satisfy everyone’s desire to live/work in a community that promotes their individual, independent ability to be a certain kind of person. One of the novel discoveries of Dr Osorio’s work is that the key question in Easthampton’s successful transformation from an old mill town to a thriving artistic community is that the key question motivating collaboration was not “Where do we want to go,” but rather, “Who do we want to be?”

    The process was not free of conflict or contradiction, however the influence of the artists (a widely-inclusive category in Osorio’s frame) on the economy and standard-of-living in Easthampton is proving to be resilient and sustainable, because – as an organizational process – it was always ground-up, involving multiple instances of grassroots, indigenous effort that culminated in a process that, in retrospect, can be identified by normal science.  Dr Osorio calls it “a fragile plural phenomenon” in order to emphasize both the inherent organic quality of self-organization as well as the necessity of continuous nurturance and commitment if the collective benefits are to be retained over the long term. This can conceivably happen if town planners traditionalize the collaborative approach to problem-solving that has characterized the rise of Easthampton’s creative class to date.

    Sound utopian?

    Mutually_Co-constructing_processesWell, it is a small town in Western Massachusetts rather than a massive urban area.  “The Planning Dept is two people,” explains Osorio, who are “doing mediation not planning.” They accomplish so much, so effectively, “not through dictating policies but by addressing specific problems and issues as they arise and working them through collaboratively – which [is what] generates policy.”  Can this model be extended? I guess those are the experiments we all are waiting for.  Dr Osorio affirms, “…[creative class] cohesion can only be reached, not by dictatorship but by communication.”  An important question is the extent to which western Massachusetts is unique: few other places will meet similar contextual criteria that define this region (such as the proximity of several elite colleges, museums, historical/traditional work in the arts, etc).

    As the committee hurled questions at Dr Osorio, DSCN0341_2it became apparent how momentous is the potential in his work. His chair commented on “the open-endness of what you’re doing” – a comment clarified by Daphne, another Management graduate student: “The ‘creative class’ is an empty signifier, you can fill it up in different ways.” This rather blows Richard Florida out of the water (IMHO). Instead of a precise configuration of ascribed statuses available mainly to the elite and those brilliant few from historically disenfranchised groups who manage to thread the needle and arrive in the top ranks, Osorio brings membership in the creative class within reach of all of us.  We just have to decide to begin working with each other, in specific and targeted ways that are rooted, anchored, and otherwise defined by a real physical place.  This may mean facing down racial antagonisms and divisions constituted by language/identity difference and infrastructural oppression. Dr Osorio’s dissertation research suggests the bridge is to build value and meaning into the physical, geographic place where you live or work.

    [1] Richard Florida, 2007 also Gibson & Kong, 2005:542

    [2] Miles, Snow & Miles 2005

    Bluebirds? “Only in my mind.”

    Nantucket Island

    Due to winter weather, it took us more than nine hours to make I-195 Eastthe drive from New York City to Hyannis. As it happened, at least one of us (STFU) understood the need to be on Nantucket for New Year’s Eve, because such an opportunity truly doesn’t happen too often in a lifetime.  So we managed the drive, caught the fast ferry and arrived to a full panorama of downtown lights only 12 hours after departure. We enjoyed a midnight meal, plenty of good cheer, and a long leisurely sleep to usher in the new year.

    Nearly all of the “new year” accounts I have read express relief for the change of year and also for the turning of the decade. Only one suggests that the future may be worse than the past. Daniel Gilbert writes in a NYTimes Op-Ed, “Ours may be the last generation of Americans to suffer for return — to remember events that took place when place still mattered.”

    How place still matters

    Optimism is reputed to be a survival trait; humor even more basic. I witnessed both in abundance at Nantucket’s annual Audubon bird count meeting on the evening of New Year’s Day. More than thirty serious birders gathered at the UMass-Boston Field Station to report tallies of birds sighted by volunteers who spent the entire day outdoors, scanning island skies, thickets, and beaches for hints of wing. I hardly qualify as even a novice birder, so the sense I make of what I heard is certainly suspect…nonetheless, as I listened to the rote calling out of bird-names and the response in numbers from each designated area’s representative, my attention was captured by the reactions of these hardy experts. An image began to emerge in my mind of an incredible ecosystem of avian life – I would love to see an accurate animation of bird flows over time, specific to geographic regions and types of bird. It would be beautiful, I’m sure. And alarming.

    The concern with place presented by Gilbert has to do with the human ability to fix memories. As individualized shops give over, increasingly, to chain stores promising the same product everywhere, the ability to associate key events with particular places anywhere becomes blurred. We will still remember, he says, but in a displaced fashion:  “… reliving experiences that are located in time but dislocated in space. ” At the bird meeting, someone asked, “When’s the last year we had a bobwhite?” “I keep hoping,” was the scorekeeper’s reply, while someone else answered, “Thirty years.”  It looks like their range is typically south of Massachusetts, although bobwhites have been common here in summer. I was surprised by how many summer birds are in the count, such as 2,328 American Robins! Imagine the double shock when someone commented, “A little lean, that!” and another echoed, “It’s got to be low.”

    “Anyone hear a fish crow today?” “No.” “Well said.”

    I am sure I missed many jokes whose point was based on insider ornithological knowledge. There were more birds named that I have never heard of (especially varieties of ducks and gulls) than those I know I’ve seen, but I was pleased to be familiar with a bunch of songbirds, woodpeckers, and hawks. More than half of the reported bird counts did not inspire commentary one way or the other. Either the numbers were in the range to be expected, or whatever change was apparent did not warrant verbal exchange. Sometimes there was an audible sigh, or a slight deepening of silence. But most of the banter was intended to keep the mood light and you wouldn’t know (unless you know) that there may be cause for concern. Besides, some of the counts were higher than anticipated – evidence of adaptation that will yield its result only as changes (whether of climate or development) continue to unfold.


    Note: this is not a full account of all
    reported birds, only those to which
    there was active response
    from the birders.

    There was “a pile” of black ducks (596), and a “crapload” of coots (@41?). I know there’s quite a developed scientific vocabulary for these things, so I checked technical terms for groups of specific birds. Nope. I was relieved – the whole meeting would not be conducted in jargon I couldn’t understand! “Crapload” would come between a covey of grouse, partridges, ptarmigans or quail and a deceit of lapwings. And “pile” is missing between a peep of chickens and a pitying of turtle doves. Isn’t language marvy?! There were 19 harlequins (“Wow! Nice count!”), and 24 gadwalls (“Holy cow”), but the Old Squaws seemed to have disappeared. “There was no flight this morning – that was weird.” “There were more than 22,000 over Barnstable the other day, where did they go?” “What?! Have you been drinking again??” “That’ll get ’em wondering.” “They’re somewhere, we just don’t know where.”

    Good news first

    There were 190 Lesser BlackBacked Gulls. “Is that a record high?” “First time we’ve had that.” “It’s pretty phenomenal.” “It’s up there!”  Seven Hairy Woodpeckers were spotted: “that’s of a lot of them, a lot for us,” and 91 Flickers: “Seems like a good flicker year.” There were also “a lot of crows here today” (704), and another potential high: 1,026 chicadees. Eleven golden-crowned kinglets. “That’s amazing; they’re kinda scarce.” Someone saw a tundra swan: “Who is that guy?!”

    A murmur greeted the single viewing of a pied-billed grebe, “a rarie” and “good count” for the 46 hornbilled grebes. One bittern: “Wooo, nice.” Eighteen Great Blue Herons was exciting (“Wow!”) There were six blackbelly plovers and a single snipe, “Good job,” and one Glaucus: “Way to go! Thank you!” Two dovekeys were seen, “Yea!” “Exciting!” “So dramatic!” and 252 Razorbills, “Wow!” “Whew!” “Woohoo!” “Sweet!” for seven seen Barn Owls, and another “whoo” for the single Longspur. And so it went, for about an hour, with these highs punctuated by lows intermixed with unremarkable counts in a syncopated rhythm larger than all of us.

    Not such good news

    DSCN0492Not a single killdeer, a fact greeted with a low groan followed by a few seconds of silence. At the news of only three Black Legged Kittywegs, there was a sharp, collective intake of breath. A bird whose name I missed had a very low count: “That’s pretty puny. Horrible.” No ringnecked pheasants had been seen: “Bummer. There are some around.” It was “too much to ask for” a blue wing shoveler, although there was a sole pine warbler: “Good job, they’re scarce this year.” No pippins. “Just thought I’d ask.” There was a veritable protest when no one reported a Kestral. “Ahhhhh!” “I thought we had one!” “It was a rumor.” “Who started that one?!”  Thirty-six redtail hawks, however, was “not so bad.” Overall though, “the songbirds are not strong. This is really weird. Songbirds are really down this year.”  Seven towhees. “That’s low too, isn’t it.” Field sparrow? No. “Oh, just checking.” Eleven savannah sparrows: “Really crummy.”

    About halfway through the meeting, the group had a moment on the edge… there was an eider of a type I didn’t catch but the question was posed, “King or Queen or One Who Wasn’t Sure?” [Seen at the museum the next day: ‘Captain, the lad’s a girl!’ about a sailor who fooled the crew for eight months until she became sick.] Meanwhile,”We had a bird we think’s a hybrid,” regarding which they decided to count “1/2 of each.” Clearly, evidence of a natural drama is discernible between the lines of these birder’s spare and functional statements and dry humor.

    Signs of Change

    Erosion of the island has been occurring at an increasing annual rate for the past several years. Houses have been lost to the sea; others have been relocated to their innermost property line in order to persist as long as possible. Scientists suggest that within 600 years, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard both might be gone. Birds will find other habitats, of course. Unless they lose elements of native habitat required for survival. See “Life in the Boundary Layer” for a taste of what some of these elements might be.

    The Gillmont? “Going once, going twice….count week.” It took me a few follow-up questions to understand the system.  The “week” of the official bird count is centered on a region’s chosen date.  For Nantucket this is January 1, which means the full week for the official, annual birdcount is December 29 to January 4, but because this is an inexact poll, bird species seen during the three days before and after count week can be added to the final tally. Last year, there were 134 species in the literal count and 142 with the additional days before-and-after. This year, so far, only 117 species have been counted during the official week, with another 8 that were seen in the three days prior to the start of the official week, that’s 125 total. If no additional species are seen before January 7th, the overall species count will be down by 17.

    The Faraway Place

    Despite the zero count for Tufted Ducks, “I feel in my bones there is one here. Stay on your toes.” Zero Egrets inspired a pun, “No regrets,” which got quite a chuckle, “It’s so late,” apologized the scorekeeper. No Common Mergansers drew a whistle (of dismay?) and the absence of Ruddy Ducks (“Uh oh”) led to, “We know what we’re looking for tomorrow.” As with many things in life, much comes down to being present at the “right time, right place” in order to see (as did one lucky soul) a Short-Eared Owl.

    There will be a tomorrow. As these birders showed me – reinforcing life lessons from friends – how we get there (enduring the weather, teasing each other, sharing passions), and what we make of it once we arrive, is up to us.

    Life in the Boundary Layer

    Dr. Ambarish Karmalkar was careful not to be alarmist as he reported findings on experiments forecasting regional climate changes in Costa Rica and its neighbors. Dr. Karmalkar explains: “The frequency of temperatures in the future is something we have not experienced in the modern period.” In the case of Central America in general, and Costa Rica in particular, he was referring to a probable future increase in the average temperature of 3-4 degrees Celsius (roughly 5-7 degrees Fahrenheit) before the end of this century.

    Geosciences (Climatology)
    159 Morrill South, UMass

    “I just want to congratulate Ambarish on a very nice thesis; I enjoyed reading it.”

    ~ Dissertation Committee Member Dr. Henry Diaz

    I enjoyed the extremely detailed presentation too, but I must confess that chills ran up and down my spine on a few occasions. Dr. Ambarish Karmalkar was careful not to be alarmist as he reported findings on experiments forecasting regional climate changes in Costa Rica and its neighbors. Dr. Karmalkar explains: “The frequency of temperatures in the future is something we have not experienced in the modern period.” In the case of Central America in general, and Costa Rica in particular, he was referring to a probable future increase in the average temperature of 3-4 degrees Celsius (roughly 5-7 degrees Fahrenheit) before the end of this century. If this does not seem like a big deal, compare it to the temperature fluctuation that accompanies El Nino – a mere one degree – and all the weather we (US Americans) blame on that. Then imagine that already species are becoming extinct in the subtropical rain forests. The suddenly extinct (since 1989) Golden Toad, for instance, was once abundant in the Monte Verde Cloud Forest of Costa Rica.

    Climate Change Predictions for Central America:

    A Regional Climate Model Study

    by Ambarish Karmalkar

    Specifically, Dr Karmalkar’s dissertation research involved testing the reliability of the general circulation model that is used for regional climate modeling: PRECIS. He chose the region of Central America for a few specific reasons:

    1. more studies on biodiversity and climate change have been done in Costa Rica than anywhere else (so he has lots of material to compare and contrast in terms of results already collected)
    2. there is severe impact from changes in precipitation in the Yucatan (the ‘top’ or northern edge of Central America, dividing it from North America)
    3. Costa Rica meets the criteria for being a biodiversity hotspot: meaning it has a large number of endemic (local/native) plant species , and has “lost at least 70 percent of its original habitat.”

    Dr Karmalkar’s paper will be published soon enough, I trust, and will give much more detail to those with deep knowledge about this kind of predictive mapping. For now I can only summarize, from a layperson’s perspective, the major points that I gleaned from his analysis. The PRECIS model works at two levels (atmospheric and on-the-ground) to try and predict the impact of climate changes on the selected global region.

    Because PRECIS is measuring a part of the whole (a region of the earth, not the entire planet), it is a limited area model. This means a lot of the work of calculation has to occur at the boundaries – basically, at the edges or sides of the area. This involves figuring out the lateral boundary conditions (air and ground) and also the sea surface boundary conditions (especially its temperature). Dr Karmalkar ran two experiments (each one requiring seven months!) to confirm or deny the validity of PRECIS.  Basically, do its results match up with reality?  First, the baseline test involved validating whether the model could take information from the past and run through its algorithms to turn out a prediction matching what is actually happening now, in the present.  He plugged in 31 years worth of observed data from ongoing measurements made in real time from 1960-1990. Given these values, the PRECIS model successfully generated a ‘prediction’ that accurately described current conditions of temperature and precipitation.

    Changes in Seasonal Rainfall a Serious Concern

    central america wet and dry regions

    I highlight preciptation because I realized that I have been thinking naively about climate change in terms of temperature alone, but it is the combined effect of increasing temperature with changes in amounts of precipitation that is of serious concern. PRECIS simulates surface air temperature correctly, although there was a long discussion about differing warm- and cold-biases of the comparison data sets – CRU and NARR – at low and high elevations. The PRECIS results seem to highlight these biases. Perhaps this information will help designers improve the modeling. Nonetheless, Dr Karmalkar and his advisors agreed, “despite the challenges of a topographically complex region, PRECIS is not doing a bad job simulating temperature.” However, it is the annual cycle of precipitation that most defines the climate of Central America. Historically, there have been two rainy seasons generating peaks of rainfall in June, and again in September-October, with a bit of a dip in-between (July-August).

    PRECIS is underestimating the wet season by 40-50%. A higher resolution model will help improve the simulation, and there may be a problem with how the model simulates storms.  There are many interacting variables in this dynamic system, including mean annual sea level pressure, the subtropical high pressure systems (Atlantic and Pacific), low pressure in the eastern Atlantic NASH (North Atlantic Subtropical High) which defines the direction and speed of trade winds that carry the precipitation, effects from the Borealis force, sea surface temperature, and low level circulation of the atmosphere modified by the topography (mountains, valleys and such).

    Comparing the Baseline and a Future Scenario

    Once the baseline is established as accurate, its trajectory is run out to a point in the future without changing anything.  If things were to continue only along the path that has already been created (nothing added, nothing taken away), then a certain climate can be projected to the end of the 21st century. To actually get at prediction, that extension of the baseline has to be compared with a possible projected future which includes changes we can anticipate (such as percent increase in greenhouse gasses – increasing at a rate of 3% a year since 2000 – more than double the rate in the 1990s).

    There is an official Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that created four different possible scenarios. Dr Karmalkar picked the scenario called A2, which comes with an associated “storyline” – the context of human activity that makes the numbers used in the scenario plausible. The A2 storyline is conservative: of the four choices it is the one that seems the most “like” the way our world really is, now:

    …a very heterogeneous world with continuously increasing global population and regionally oriented economic growth that is more fragmented and slower than in other storylines.

    In this story about our possible future, economic values outweigh environmental values, and regional development is pursued more than global strategies.

    “There’s a cockroach.”

    It is the difference between the two tests – the baseline and the potential scenario – that generates the actual prediction. The finding shows temperature becoming higher and the distribution narrower: the future “lies well outside the present day” and “that,” says Dr Karmalkar, “is a significant result.” Remember that long discussion about bias?  The results for all regions show a cold bias – which means (if I understood this correctly), that the prediction itself is conservative, i.e., that the reality could well be worse than these particular results predict. Warming in Central America is higher than the global average. Not only this, but the wet and dry seasons in Central America are going to be seriously effected. The model isn’t doing as well with precipitation as it is with temperature, but – even limping – what it suggests is grim.  Basically, amounts of rainfall during the wet season are going to decrease, some areas might even lose one of the rainy seasons entirely. In other areas, perhaps the second wet season will be extended and last longer, enabling a small increase in precipitation, but the overall loss of rainfall over the sea will trigger other effects, shifting pressure systems, decreasing sea level pressure and strengthening trade winds – all of which will decrease precipitation.

    Horizontal precipitation

    It gets worse.  Dr Karmalkar did not say that. He would not.  He represented the science calmly, engaging an impressive display of slide jujitsu by answering every question posed during the defense with a quick scroll through his hundred (or more) back-up slides, pulling up the exact one to respond with precision to every query.

    One of the most important sources of precipitation in Central America comes from clouds. The landscape orographic cloud formationincludes tall mountains that touch the clouds: moisture condenses directly onto the vegetation. (This is where the Golden Toad used to live.) Twenty to 22% of the total annual precipitation in Costa Rica comes from this direct source of moisture. Clouds form as a function of relative humidity, which is a function of temperature and pressure. Can you guess?  The temperature goes up, which draws the ‘ceiling’ of relative humidity up too.  Clouds no longer form at the usual altitude, but higher up.  Bye bye horizontal precipitation.  What killed the Golden Toad?  Possibly a phenomenon called moisture stress.

    No Time to Lose

    Again, this is my voice, not Dr Karmalkar’s.  When pressed by his committee whether “it is appropriate at this point to press the alarm and get the word out to conservation organizations and such?” Dr Karmalkar responded:

    “Yes, we do have enough information to, maybe not press the alarm, but enough to say that something needs to be done…the Golden Toad disappeared in 1989, its population dramatically declined after the El Nino phase of 1986-87. If you look at the temperature anomalies of El Nino, they are only of a degree or so. If one degree of change is effecting the species in the area, then certainly four degrees warming is definitely large.

    One of the other important things is that species do adapt to changes in climate. There are cases where plant species have migrated upslope, but that’s constrained by topography. In some cases, I talked of the cloud base heights going up, but another problem is deforestation, which has led to an increase in surface sensitive heat flux. Land surface use alone can drive cloud bases even higher than the highest mountain peak.

    We do have information to make the case that climate change of this magnitude might be serious.”