Grist energy and politics writer David Roberts on global warming sea-level “lock in” versus sea-level rise, and what that means for our coastal cities, and when.
By David Roberts
Humanity’s difficulties dealing with climate change trace back to a simple fact: We are animals. Our cognitive and limbic systems were shaped by evolution to heed threats and rewards close by, involving faces and teeth. That’s how we survived. Those systems were not shaped to heed, much less emotionally respond to, faceless threats distant in time and space — like, say, climate change. No evil genius could design a problem less likely to grab our attention.
This is a familiar point, but some new research on sea level throws it into sharp relief. Let’s quickly review the research, and while we do, keep this question in the back of our minds: “Does this make me feel anything? Even if I understand, do I care?”
Terrain.org’s Summer 2013 issue features a guest editorial — Confessions of a Failed Energy Martyr — by Raymond Welch; To Know a Place on light pollution by Paul Bogard; an interview with Joni Tevis; Fayetteville, Arkansas’ Willow Bend as the Unsprawl case study; nonfiction by Rick Bass, Kurt Caswell, Beth Baker, and Claudia and George Kousoulas; poetry by Wendell Berry, Andrea Cohen, Nathaniel Perry, Melissa Kwasny, Kristi Moos, Jack Johnson, Sally Bliumis-Dunn, Christopher Locke, Clara Changxin Fang, and Jody Gladding (image poems); fiction by Anya Groner and Shannon Sweetnam; ARTerrain gallery of time, erosion, and texture photographs by Luke Parsons; and more.
The future is now, at the Salton Sea.
By Joni Tevis
After World War II, speculators promoted the Salton Sea as a resort destination. At just sixty miles south of Palm Springs, it seemed like a sure bet. Boomtowns like Salton City Beach, Desert Shores, and Bombay Beach—where we’re standing now—grew up along the waters edge. Boaters raced across the water, setting world records. Frank Sinatra and Guy Lombardo played shows at the Yacht Club just down the way. But over the next twenty years, the boom faded, and then the storms hit.
The Salton Sea feels like a pleasure ground that people abandoned years ago, but it’s more than that. Don’t be fooled by the burned-out trailers on the edge of the water, saying this story’s been told. Look more closely. At the water the color of beef broth, so full of salt and herbicides—atrazine, bentazon, diquat, metribuzin—it’s two steps from solidifying, like aspic. I’ve eaten my share of spinach and grapes and strawberries from the Imperial Valley; that runoff is here now, reducing every minute under the powerful summer sun. Look around. This is what happens when the money runs out, and nobody’s left to clean up the mess. This is what’s next.
By Derek Sheffield
A longtime contributor and member of the editorial board, Derek Sheffield recently assumed the role of Poetry Editor at Terrain.org. Issue 32 features a review of his debut collection, Through the Second Skin, by Alison Hawthorne Deming, and here, he recommends a few of the books that have influenced his work.
Angels and demons at the most infamous dive in the city.
By Brent Hendricks
The idea is that things speed up as the world hurtles towards an end point. Not just the felt pace of life and communication, but time itself speeds up as the significant signs of the past crash into the present. Typology and Recapitulation. Old Testament and New Testament. Like you’re swinging from a rope and your whole life flies before you—all the figures of your life, your culture, even history itself. All the signs of the past fire by and then it’s over. And after that someone you don’t know tells a story about it: about you, about the world, about the end of the world…
“She hanged herself,” he says. And it takes a while, but the ground opens up beneath me and I’m falling right through.
The work of landscape photographer Luke Parsons is featured in the ARTerrain Gallery of Terrain.org’s Issue 33. One stormy day last February, Craig Reinbold joined him in the field for a look at his creative process.
By Craig Reinbold
Photographs by Luke Parsons
Luke is out to capture a panorama of this canyon, its steep, seeping walls, the creek’s usual dribble inflamed by this morning’s rain—a 180º sweep book-ended by mountain peaks still beset by the day’s clouds. This panorama involves seven shots of varied exposures. He points out the bubbles caught in a nearby eddy. They seem to hover in the water, going nowhere. With a four-second exposure, a photo reveals the bubbles coalescing into an obvious, milky spiral. “The camera sees in a way we don’t,” I suggest.
With a big slab of impervious granite in the frame, and those peaks too, eroding, but ever so slowly, the water and the clouds breezing through the scene will add a sense of the passage of human time, mere minutes contrasting the millennia that have left this canyon with its present architecture. Luke is out to capture this duality, the speed of weather, the slowness of geology, and the way we often move through landscapes like this so quickly we fail to appreciate the bigger picture. Or we’ve appreciated, and moved on, as we tend to. He wants to stun us into stopping once more.
By Jolie Kaytes
Jolie Kaytes’ essay “Drawing from the Blast Zone” appeared in Issue 31 of Terrain.org. Here, Kaytes writes about a few of the books that have influenced her work: Petrochemical America by Richard Misrach and Kate Orff, River of Memory: the Everlasting Columbia by William Layman, and Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape edited by Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney.
A daytrip to James Dean’s Last Stop and the Earthquake Capital of the World.
By Steven Church
If there is a living, breathing earthquake laboratory in North America, a place where the United States Geological Survey and other entities test out their best theories of earthquake behavior, it is this tiny town in the Cholame Valley. I’d read something about an artist who’d relocated to Parkfield and installed a shake-table affixed with 10-foot steel rods that was designed to make seismicity visible and tangible. He was trying to understand earthquakes through art, and I suppose I saw myself as attempting something similar.
I wasn’t sure what exactly I was chasing, but writing seemed to be the way to go after it. And I knew that, on some level, my interest in earthquakes was a continuation of my own interest in apocalypse.
By Nathaniel Brodie
Nathaniel Brodie’s essay “Earth, Rock, and Craft on The Grand Canyon Trail Crew” appeared in Terrain.org’s Issue 32. Here, Brodie shares a few of the books that have influenced his writing: A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean, Teddy Roosevelt and the River of Doubt by Candace Miller, and Crow: From the Life and Songs of the Crow by Ted Hughes.
By Tamie Marie Fields
Tamie Marie Fields’ essay “Hook and Sway” appears in Issue 32 of Terrain.org. Here, Fields writes about a few of the books that have influenced her writing: Bury My Clothes by Roger Bonair-Agard, Entering the Stone: On Caves and Feeling Through the Dark by Barbara Hurd, A Book of Silence by Sara Maitland, and Walk the Blue Fields by Claire Keegan.
By Aaron Gilbreath
Be it sitting on a plane near a screaming baby, or brainstorming ways to organize your office cubicle, crowding touches most everyone’s life, because density is one of modernity’s defining issues. Even if you’ve never tried to articulate it, spatial requirements – of room, of silence, privacy and calm – form part of our definition of “the good life.” How far apart do you need to be from other people to find peace? How far apart do your living room walls need to be to feel comfortable? Even when we’re unaware of its influence, roominess is a condition, and the degree to which we have it determines livability. My book will argue that we need to treat overcrowding with the same gravity as other social and ecological issues, and take steps to manage it in a humane way that minimizes crowds’ dangers while capitalizing on their benefits. In the process, Crowded will test the counterintuitive principle that the smaller our home, the happier our life.
With the story driven by characters, scenes, action and dialogue, and rooted in solid reporting, Crowded qualifies as narrative nonfiction. The book is one urbanite’s vision of human history through the story of the crowd. The problem is: to write the proposal, I needed to do some preliminary reporting, and that required travel, and funding.
A brief essay on what it means to be human.
By Scott Russell Sanders
When I speak with audiences about our responsibility to bear in mind the needs of the generations that will come after us, a century and more in the future, I am often asked why we should care about people who do not even exist. What I realized, as I pondered this challenge from the audience, is that the impulse to care about the fate of unborn generations arises from my sense of taking part in the human lineage. Caring about the fate of unborn generations—strangers who exist, as of now, only in our imagination—is an essential part of what it means to be human.
The Second Cross-Post between Terrain.org: A Journal of the Built + Natural Environments and the University of Arizona Institute of the Environment’s Proximities
Eric Magrane: Rafe, you write and speak about observation, most pointedly in your book Observation and Ecology, with Aníbal Pauchard. I’d like to discuss the way that observation interacts as a hinge between science—and particularly environmental science—as a way of seeing and understanding the world, and art as a way of seeing.
Rafe Sagarin: Absolutely. Observation is at the core of so many things we do, especially art and science. It’s almost so much at the core of science that it’s forgotten how important it is. The primacy that observation has to everything that we know—we’ve almost gotten too clever by half and think we could skip that deep observational step. Of course, all artists implicitly understand that they need to be really good observers of the world first, before they can start translating those observations to something they can appreciate. Sometimes in science we drill down way too far too fast before we understand observationally the whole context of what we’re looking at.
On the Dark Side of the Moon: A Journey Toward Recovery : by Mike Medberry
First: it’s hard to imagine Medberry lying on the hot black lava rock of Craters for 7 hours before a helicopter is able to airlift him to medical care, but that’s where the book starts us. It’s enough to make a person cringe, let alone any EMT or medical student who knows that for brain injury or trauma, a few minutes can be critical to a positive recovery.
It’s fascinating too that the stroke occurs in the very park Medberry will cheer for as President Bill Clinton in November of 2000 signs the proclamation that makes final the expansion increasing the protected land to 737,000 acres, “nearly 14 times its previous size.”
A rallying cry for our dying planet.
By Derrick Jensen
The dominant culture is murdering the planet, and there really isn’t a prayer of stopping this murder so long as so many people continue to value this culture over life on this planet, the life it is murdering. This valuing is almost universal in this culture. Even most mainstream environmentalists say explicitly that they’re attempting to save civilization, not the real world. Here’s an example of this valuing: what do most mainstream “solutions” to global warming have in common? They all take industrial civilization as a given, and the natural world as that which (never who) must conform to industrial civilization. That is literally insane, in terms of being out of touch with physical reality. And it will never work.