Off Season in Cozumel

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Off-Season.”

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In Cozumel, Mexico, off-season means empty streets and empty beaches. Switch the sun screen for an umbrella and you’re good to go.

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During the tourist season, cruise ships bring 25,000 visitors every day, to an island with a population of 100,000. During the rainy months that number drops in half, and many passengers stay on board.

Travel tips for off-season Cozumel:

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Rain? Pshaw.

1. Swim. The water is still warm.

2. Visit San Miguel, where most locals live. Waterfront businesses are priced for cruise ship passengers, but a few blocks inland is a vibrant community of shops and businesses, some willing to bargain.

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Souvenirs, anyone?

3. Visit the national preserve Punta del Sur at the south end of the island. Miles of undeveloped coastline, large lagoons, complete with crocodiles and flamingos, and a great beach for snorkeling. During high season the place is mobbed by visitors tearing up and down the access road in four wheel drives vehicles. When the weather isn’t so nice, the place empties out.

4. Visit Mayan ruins.

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Mayan Temple at San Gervasio. Take the staff up on the offer of mosquito repellent.

5. Sign up for a turtle release party.

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Turtles need protection from vultures, feral cats, dogs, poachers and tourists.

Two species, loggerhead and green turtles nest on the island, and several others migrate through and feed in the vicinity. Nesting season runs from May to November. The Parks and Museum Foundation’s Punta Sur Park Turtle Salvation Program, takes visitors out with turtle brigades (maximum of 15) to assist with release of hatchlings, and for study and guard duty. The City of San Miguel’s Volunteer Turtle Salvation Program, also helps protect nesting turtles. Both groups are in need of volunteers and financial support.

6. Eat. Our two favorite restaurants: Kinta Mexican Bistro and Kondesa, owned by chef Kris Wallenta and his brother Jason. Kinta focuses on traditional Mexican flavors and dishes with an imaginative twist — wonderful sauces, cozy setting. Kondesa’s bar opens to a garden restaurant with a zen theme, and it’s menu features locally caught fish. The guak (guacamole) trio appetizer was fantastic.

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7. Learn about recent history, politics and environmental issues. Visit the museum, learn about the impact of six boa constrictors released from a film set, of resorts on turtle nesting sites, how the island was affected by Hurricane Wilma in 2005, and by the 2008 financial crisis.

8. If all else fails.

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Water Withheld

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Forces of Nature.”

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Rain, evaporating before it hits the ground.

“The planet is fine. The people are f—ed.”
― George Carlin

How’s the weather in your part of the world?

Here in the northwest US, water and snow are in short supply. It’s a big change for us, who are used to winters so rainy that sometimes moss grows in the middle of the streets.

In the Willamette Valley where we live, the warm, dry winter brought a lush spring. Strawberries appeared at the farmer’s market two months early. Apple trees are loaded with fruit, and the roses are already in bloom.

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Apples

On the eastern side of the state, where we visit to watch birds, hike and enjoy the quiet, evidence of the dry winter is everywhere — empty ponds —

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Krumbo pond. Last time we visited, the pond was full of water, and migrating birds..

— Low snowpack.

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Riddle Ranch, South Steens Mountains

One dry year does not an apocalypse make, and, as climate scientists keep reminding us — the weather outside the window isn’t evidence of climate change one way or the other — but California is four years into a drought. Drought could happen here, too.

“Men argue. Nature acts.”

— Voltaire

 

 

John Browne’s Resurrection and Climate Change

Ever heard of Lord John Browne, Baron Browne of Madringly?

In May, 2007, Lord Browne abruptly resigned as CEO of the oil company BP, after he was outed by a tabloid newspaper. With tales of a greedy lover juicing up the media, he decided to throw in the towel. It cost him $30 million in stock options and retirement benefits.

Up to that point, John Browne had been a company man, a lifer, who joined BP in 1966 as an apprentice and worked his way to the top. He was there when British Petroleum became BP, and turned the company into the fourth largest corporation in the world. He stayed out of the limelight, partly to hide the fact that he was gay.

Although professionally respected, Browne was privately the butt of jokes and speculation. He was small in stature, and employees who didn’t like him nicknamed him “elf,” short for evil little f_____.

He was also ridiculed by peers — for embracing climate change.

“Climate change is an issue which raises fundamental questions about the relationship between companies and society as a whole, and between one generation and the next.” John Browne, 2002.

At a time when other executives called global warming a hoax, he rebranded BP as “Beyond Petroleum,” supported the Kyoto climate treaty, vowed to cut BP’s greenhouse gas emissions by 10%, and invested $500 million in solar power.

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Lord John Browne, behind the podium to the right of Tony Blair, 2006 Climate Change conference organized by The Climate Group, hosted by BP. Photo Credit: The Climate Group, courtesy of Flickr.com


Environmentalists were skeptical, saying BP’s green makeover was a cover for an unflattering environmental track record. The $500 million dedicated to solar power, for instance, was dwarfed by the $8.4 billion spent in 2004 for oil exploration and production. The company joined those who lobbied hard to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.
Grizzy bear, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Photo credit: Judith Slein, courtesy of Flickr.com

Grizzy bear, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Photo credit: Judith Slein, courtesy of Flickr.com

Instead of pretending to go green, said others, Browne should have been paying more attention to maintenance.

Above, 2005 explosion at a BP Texas refinery, killing 15 and injuring 170. Also under Browne’s watch: 2006 pipeline failure Prudhoe Bay, which spilled millions of gallons of oil.

BP’s stock value sank. John Browne was exposed, and eased out.

Oil executives were by then acknowledging that the cheap and easy oil was gone, but they weren’t interested in wind and solar. The consensus was that demand would rise ad infinitum, and that the smartest thing to do was invest heavily in the oil that is difficult, dangerous and dirty to extract. Browne’s successor at BP, Tony Hayward, doubled down on fracking, tar sands extraction and deep water drilling.

“Some may question whether so much of the [energy] growth needs to come from fossil fuels, … but here it is vital that we face up to the harsh reality …  we still foresee 80% of energy coming from fossil fuels in 2030.” Tony Hayward at MIT, 2009.
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Deep Water Horizon oil spill. Photo credit: DVIDSHUB, via Flickr.com. After the 2010 Deep Water Horizon spill, BP was banned from bidding on new leases in the Gulf of Mexico for four years.

Meanwhile, John Browne moved on with the same vigor he’d demonstrated at BP. He encouraged gay entrepreneurs and published a book, The Glass Closet. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth, installed as President of the Royal Academy of Engineering. He kept his hand in the oil business too.

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T.V. coverage of protests over fracking by Cuadrilla Resources, of which Browne is Chairman. Photo credit: Gwydion M. Williams, courtesy of Flickr.com

Fast forward to 2015.

The bet on dirty oil was wildly successful. World oil production rose from 85.1 million barrels per day in 2005 to 92.9 million in 2014, and profits were, for awhile, staggering.

But — surprise. Prices today are half what they were a year ago, and may not rise again anytime soon. Energy Information Administration (E.I.A.) predicts “slower demand will continue for the next decade.” One of the reasons? People everywhere are waking up to the threat posed by climate change.

Oil companies have laid off workers. Shell dropped plans for a petrochemical plant in Qatar. Chevron set aside a proposal to to drill in the Arctic seas. Norway’s Statoil changed its mind about drilling in Greenland.

Of course, this could all change if prices climb again. Still, we have a pause, a breather in the mad dash for oil.

And Lord Browne? Whether or not he was serious in 1999, he’s still sounding the alarm about global warming. Climate science is settled, he recently declared, but “this conclusion is not accepted by many in our industry, because they do not want to acknowledge an existential threat to their business.”

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“Resource extraction” in Texas. Photo Source: Amy Youngs, courtesy of Flickr.com

The battles continue. Old school oil executives vilify Browne, as do environmentalists, but my, how things have changed.

Eight years ago, one of the most powerful executives on the planet was trying to hide his sexual orientation, and climate change was mostly relegated to the back section of the papers. Now executives, congressmen and sports stars are proudly coming out; and climate change has moved from the back to the front pages. The world oil market is flooded, partly because — who would have guessed? — demand has slowed.

Is John Browne courageous or opportunistic? Does it matter? More important: Are we finally ready to begin the painful process of weaning ourselves from oil?

Dreaming of Vanuatu

While we in the Pacific Northwest are starting a winter-less spring, and the Northeast is awaiting yet another snowstorm, it doesn’t seem to have hit many Americans’ radar that there are four tropical storms in the South Pacific.

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Photosource: weather.com Four cyclones at once have only been recorded once before.

The biggest, Pam 15, is passing today almost directly over Port Vila, Vanuatu, a category 5 hurricane with winds over 150 miles per hour.

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Photo credit: Grace Whitmore

Six months ago, Vanuatu wasn’t on my radar. We’d never heard of it, not until our daughter, who volunteered for the Peace Corps, received an assignment there. Now, I often dream of Vanuatu — big, colorful, vivid dreams.

It’s hard to let go of your children, and really hard when they decide to go far away, even when it’s an amazing, courageous and wonderful thing to do.

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It might be harder though to adjust to the idea that the world she’s just started to get to know, the new friends, the culture and the wonderful people, are all under threat.

The 80-plus islands of Vanuatu are northeast of Australia, and until the 1980’s known to westerners by the colonial name, New Hebrides. It’s the birthplace of bungee jumping, and home to live volcanos. A 2004 “Survivor” series was set in Vanuatu. Ambae, the island where our daughter would live and work as an IT specialist, was the inspiration for James Mitchell’s “Songs of the South Pacific.”

Vanuatu was featured last month in the Bill Weir’s TV series “The Wonder List”, which highlights countries that are just about to be forever changed by westerners.  He described it as Hawaii without hotels.

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Some of Grace’s new friends. Photo credit: Grace Whitmore

Some of the islands are hilly, with villagers protected from rising seas, but many are low-lying and vulnerable.

And all are vulnerable to storms.

It’s impossible to pin any one storm on climate change, but scientists assure us that more storms, and more violent storms are on the way.

The Peace Corps volunteers have been evacuated and are waiting to hear about the fate of the people they have come to know and love.

Above: our daughter’s “little brother” runs away with her kite.

Have you, or has anyone you know volunteered for the Peace Corps? Where? Has that country been affected by climate change? 

Water and Trash on the Sea of Cortez

Do you check out the messy side of the places you visit?

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When we travel, tidy arrangements for visitors are much appreciated on my end, but it doesn’t seem right to go away without lifting the carpet. When we went to Disneyland, it was all I could do not to open the “employees only” doors, to peek behind the scenes. In New Orleans, we took side trips to quiet neighborhoods where people live and work, despite tourist-book warnings about safety.

Life is both glorious and grubby. When a man-made place looks perfect, it means the people who constructed and maintain it are hiding something. Maybe it’s a good something. Maybe not. To uncover the secrets of a place, I generally try to find out (1) where the water comes from and (2) where the trash goes.

In Singapore, surely one of the tidiest countries on earth, we learned there are almost no native sources of water. That’s pretty amazing for a country with 5 million people squeezed into an area about half the size of Los Angeles. How do they do it?

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Botanical gardens, Singapore

Singaporeans are largely dependent on Malaysia for water. They supplement with catchment basins for rain, water recycling, desalination and set aside estuaries for water storage, but for the most part the water has been, at various times, shipped and piped in.

And trash? Very complicated. There is one landfill, on an artificial island.

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Photo source: Singapore NEA

Household recycling is voluntary and complex, since most people live in high rises.

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There are a lot of construction cranes in Singapore.

Some industrial waste is repurposed. Waste that can be burned is sent to incinerators, which generate energy; also pollution, but apparently not very much. The ash is transported to the landfill. Their goal is a 60% recycling rate, which is phenomenal given how most of the rest of the world deals with trash.

But enough about Singapore.

This week we visited a small outpost on the Sea of Cortez. Spectacular. Remote.

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Trash? Most of it dumped, covered with palm fronds, just out of sight of the resort.

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Water comes from the mountains, which also supply Cabo San Lucas, about 4 hours from where we were.

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It is filtered for drinking, and post-use, processed in a septic field. Or so we hope.

Efforts in Mexico are underway to capture trash for recycling, but as anyone who walks along storm tossed beaches can see, that battle is only beginning. In an hour of trash-collecting on the uninhabited island of Cerralvo, we gathered a full bag of plastic: water and soda bottles, tooth brushes, shampoo bottles, shoe soles, umbrella handle, twine, tubing, and many dozens of bottle caps.

If you are traveling to the La Paz area and are interested in minimizing the impact of the trash you leave behind, check out this post by Fives on the Fly.

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What’s going on in your neighborhood in the water and trash departments?

Four Grasses

The other day the newspaper featured a story about two local guys, Charles Wilson and Omar Ellis, who just launched a cricket flour business.

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Not this kind. Photo source: ardanea

Knowing me, and in light of my recent post about the benefits of entomophagy, my husband pre-empted any discussion of the matter, saying if cricket flour appeared in any of our cookies, there would be, well, trouble.

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I’m not running out to buy a bag of cricket flour. Marital bliss takes priority. Also, cricket flour doesn’t sound very appealing.

Still.

We westerners are pretty specialized in our diets. We depend on four kinds of grasses: wheat, corn, rice and millet.

Also, we’ve got a mind set that insists these crops be grown in a certain way, which is expensive, sterilizes soil, puts bad stuff in water and releases a lot of carbon into the air.

What happens if even one of those four species, is wiped out, despite our best efforts to fertilize, water and inoculate?

Maybe put some money in Cricket Flour stock?

If you try Peruvian chocolate cricket flour, I’ll try it. You first.

 

Farm versus Factory: Battles for open space

Where are the fights over land use in your part of the world?

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Seavey Loop farmland. In the fog: a proposed addition to the city of Springfield, Oregon’s, growth boundary. Agricultural land would be rezoned as industrial.

Cities are required by law to incorporate enough land to accommodate future growth. In accordance with the law, the next town over from mine is proposing expanding its boundary. The proposal swallows up farmland in several regions.

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One of the businesses looking to expand if Seavey Loop property is rezoned. Photo source: No Industrial Pisgah

It has set off a firestorm of criticism, particularly in one area with several small farms, that borders an arboretum visited by about 500,000 people a year.

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Photo source: No Industrial Pisgah

City officials say that the arboretum, waterways and most farmland will be protected. Farmers, hikers and residents cry foul.

Fights like these are going on everywhere.

“We are like people living in the penthouse of a hundred-story building. Every day we go downstairs and at random knock out 150 bricks to take upstairs to increase the size of our penthouse. Since the building below consists of millions of bricks, this seems harmless enough … Eventually — inevitably — the streams of vacancy we have created in the fabric of the walls below will come together to produce a complete structural collapse.

When this happens — if it is allowed to happen — we will join the general collapse, and our lofty position at the top of the structure will not save us.”  Daniel Quinn, “The Danger of Human Exceptionalism”

With economic growth a priority and population growth on a steady upward trajectory, it’s inevitable that we’ll chip away at forests and farmland.

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Still, many are willing to question, and push back.

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Proposed expansion area marked in red. Photo Source: Friends of Buford Park

As discouraging as it may seem, small-scale fights like these help everyone think about and remember how important open space, clean water and the survival of other species is.

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Farm land, industrial land, from Mt. Pisgah arboretum.

Have you been involved in land use planning? Have you worked to save open space, or to change zoning for or against industrial use?

The World According to Me

Do you have a theory about how the world works? Can you boil it down to a few sentences?

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Photo Source: TZA, from flickr

MY THEORY OF THE WORLD: What we think we are:

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 The best creatures anywhere, ever.

What we actually are:

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Image Source: PhOtOnQuAnTiQuE on Flickr

Recently evolved bipeds.

What we think life’s purpose is: IMG_1641a

To improve our lot.

 What our actual purpose is:

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Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. Photo Source: NIAID

To reproduce. Evolve. Host bacteria.

How we think we improve our lot:

Landscape

By rearranging things and making ourselves comfortable.

What we actually do:

Copy nature.

What we think we’re uncovering:

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Secrets of the universe.

What we’re actually learning:

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Photo Source: USFWS on Flickr

Nature does everything better than we do.

We are bit players. Nature is the boss.

We live on a rock in the middle of nowhere. The important stuff — life, air, breath, companionship, joy, consciousness —  is absolutely free. Our own brains are the most complicated things we’ve ever discovered. We have no idea how this happened, or why. It’s a miracle. And geologically speaking, we’ve just gotten here. What’s next? My suspicion is that whatever is coming, it’s going to be a wild ride.

How do you think the world works?

Travel in 2014

Are you a traveler? Where are your favorite places?

This year, as we celebrated thirty years married, we covered a lot of ground.

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January, Museum of Modern Art, New York*

Point Lobo

February, Point. Lobos

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March, Revelstoke

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April, New Orleans

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June, Cozumel

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Come on in. The water’s fine.

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July, Emerald Bay

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August, Willamette National Forest

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September, Guadalajara.  700-year-old tree.

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October, Little Round Top

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November, Migrating salmon. Mapleton, Oregon

What do we get from going places for fun?

For me, travel is a wake-up. A trip bookmarks time and place. It humbles.

It’s good to breathe the air somewhere else, and see for myself how big, and how small the world is.

Travel makes me go outside.

Times and places where there aren’t many people, or things made by people, feel the most important: sunset over water, fish in a stream, fog descending over firs.

What does travel do for you? Are there places you want to see in 2015? Before you die?

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Happy New Year 

May the year’s journeys be everything you hope for. 

 

 *”Interior with a Girl,” Picasso