Category Archives: Earth Matters

Our Indispensable Relationship with Nature

By Paul Wright

How would you describe the state of your relationship with Nature these days? I don’t mean to pry into private matters best kept from nosy strangers. But Nature happens to be “something” all of us have a connection with (you know…Mother Nature, right?), so my apologies if the question seems out of line.

After all, the noted Harvard biologist (and supreme fan of Nature) E.O. Wilson reckons humans have enjoyed a close association with Nature for over 99% of our evolutionary history. It’s what’s happened during the other 1% of our history I’d like to talk about here.

Take Time to Appreciate the World Around Us

When was the last time you gave Nature a close look? I frequently enjoy quiet time on our porch late in the day.  I like to let myself get lost in the complex tangle of the maple tree just beyond our porch railing. My gaze wanders to the St. John’s wort and yarrow dotting the verge down below with splashes of yellow.  I watch the occasional crow cutting a diagonal across the early evening sky, and in the distance the sunset glow of golden hillsides.

our indispensable relationship with nature
We are as much a part of nature as the world outside our door.

Rossmoor, of course, presents a domesticated, skin-deep version of Nature. The genuine article lies just under the surface, including the physical, chemical and biological systems that drive our environment. Consider the wildlife we share this valley with, the cycle of the seasons, the shifting sky overhead (and everything beyond), or the complexity of oceanic tidal action and river flows at work nearby whose effects reach even landlocked Rossmoor. It’s all Nature, baby!

It’s easy to imagine Nature as a movie we watch that’s happening right outside our front door. Bambi? Jurassic Park? The Perfect Storm? Choose your genre and pull up a seat. The problem with this approach is that we’re in the movie, too. Which is where things start to get especially complicated.

Agriculture’s Mixed Blessing

Somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago in various parts of the world, humankind made a revolutionary decision. To feed ourselves, we decided to become farmers, planting crops and raising livestock. Life was never quite the same and the consequences for our species were huge. Our indispensable relationship with Nature began to change. One particularly momentous implication was somehow we humans began to assume we live outside Nature.  Nature became something for us to manage, manipulate and tame where possible. But also to destroy.

our indispensable relationship with nature
As mankind learned to cultivate crops, our relationship with nature began to change. We no longer felt subject to nature’s laws.

Of course, we comfort ourselves that this approach opened the door to “progress.” But our triumphs over Nature have also led to unintended consequences. Although humans may have essentially declared independence from Nature, Nature never received the memo. Natural principles are still at work and natural systems still function. But by perceiving ourselves out of the relationship, we’ve made it harder to appreciate our place in it and easy to underestimate some important guardrails.

Reorienting our indispensable relationship with Nature

Putting ourselves back in the picture raises awkward questions. Questions prompting us to understand our propensity for impinging on systems that actually support us.  Maybe we need to think more about climate change, watershed damage and land overuse. Or to ask where our attitudes toward non-human creatures may lead us (consider the impact of industrial-scale livestock operations). Or to question our assumptions about Earth’s carrying capacity.  How many of us can Earth actually accommodate, now that we’re pressing 8 billion?

All this helps explain recent warnings that our habit of butting up mindlessly against Nature can trigger major disruption – like the current COVID-19 pandemic. Natural systems emit signals that call for attention. Honeybees suddenly die off; 356 elephants fall dead suddenly in Botswana; dozens of gray whales wash up dead on Pacific beaches; the planet heats up. Or a new coronavirus appears. Perceiving ourselves as a part of Nature might encourage us to value these signals more, aware that we’re all on this planet together, a key driver behind sustainability efforts.

Appreciating the gifts of Nature
our indispensable relationship with nature
Seeing Earth from space gives us a new appreciation of indispensable relationship with nature

Our carelessness about this critically important relationship may even have more mystical consequences for us – like how we see ourselves and one another. I suspect this was what the great Russian writer and philosopher Leo Tolstoy had in mind when he observed that “one of the first conditions of happiness is that the link between Man and Nature shall not be broken.”

Several astronauts have described experiencing a moment of epiphany when they first view Earth from space – a very real sense that our planet is a whole system that’s part of something larger, whose fragility calls poignantly for care and protection. From that moment – sometimes referred to as the Overview Effect – they’ve reported tracing a mental shift, a shift in perspective and priorities, a recognition that our lives are intertwined with what we call Nature. Few of us will have the privilege of experiencing our own Overview Effect from space. But we can start now, wherever we happen to be, to recognize our indispensable relationship with nature.

So … tell me again about the state of your relationship with Nature.

Courtesy of the Rossmoor News, July 22, 2020. Email Paul Wright at

Survive PG&E Power Outages

By Adrian Byram

All of us living at Rossmoor depend on reliable and affordable electricity.  Many of us depend on electrically powered medical devices. This column focuses on practical actions you can take before this year’s fast-approaching wildfire season – and the looming threat of public safety power shutoffs – to ensure you have a reliable source of electricity, especially for your critical medical devices.

Reliability is important, but so is affordability. Over the past five years, PG&E’s rates have risen 4.3% per year. By 2030, you will probably be paying $200-$450 per month for electricity, 60% more than today. So, this column also suggests ways you can save on your monthly electric bill – and even reduce it to nearly zero, no matter how much PG&E raises rates.

How can you improve the reliability of your electric power?

You need your very own stash of electrical power so when PG&E shuts down, you have hours or even days of electricity to power critical medical devices, or even your whole house. There are two ways to do this.

Option 1: Portable power stations

These are simple devices that can power an oxygen generator or CPAP machine for eight to 12 hours. When you get a power station, you plug it into the wall and plug your critical device into the power station.

Under normal circumstances, the power station routes electricity from the wall directly to your device. However, the instant PG&E power goes off, the power station automatically switches to its internal battery – your critical medical device continues to run without missing a beat and without any intervention on your part.

Portable power stations cost $1,000-$1,200. If you need help setting it up, Rossmoor’s Handyman Service can do the job for you.

Warning: The portable power stations described here are battery-powered and certified for indoor use. Gasoline-powered generators can also supply backup power, but should NEVER be used indoors.  Even outdoors, they are completely unsuitable at Rossmoor because of noise and fire danger.

To learn more about portable power stations and how to recharge them using solar power, check out

Option 2: Whole house battery backup.

This option keeps your whole house running no matter what happens to PG&E. Your house is powered by a high-capacity battery mounted on an outside wall of your manor. During the day, the battery continuously recharges from solar panels on your roof; at night, if the battery is not sufficiently full, it draws power from PG&E.

survive PG&E power outages
A technician testing newly installed solar panels

When a PG&E outage occurs, the system automatically and instantaneously switches to the battery to provide all the power you need. In a multi-day outage, you can live normally, using all your lights, oven and any critical medical devices. (You may need to restrict use of your A/C.) Unfortunately, whole house battery backup systems are not cheap – $25,000-$30,000 including the rooftop solar system (after 26% federal tax credit). However, the system will eventually pay for itself in electricity savings. To learn more, visit www.sustainable

How can you make electric power more affordable?

Here’s one tip to quickly save a few dollars a month on your bill. And one tip to cut your bill to under $20 a month.

Tip #1: If someone in your household depends on a medical device like an oxygen generator, nebulizer or CPAP, then you qualify for a medical baseline discount that’s probably worth $10-$15 a month. Due to COVID-19, you no longer need a physician’s signature to apply; just Google “PG&E Medical Baseline” or go to to find the application form.

Tip #2: The best way to reduce your bill and insulate yourself from PG&E rate increases is to install roof-top solar. When the sun is shining brightly, your solar panels not only power your entire house, they send power back to PG&E – effectively running your electricity meter backwards. During nighttime and cloudy days, you draw power from PG&E, so your meter runs forwards during these times.

Thinking about “Going Solar?”

Over the course of a year, a properly sized solar system sends about as much power back to PG&E as you draw from it, so your average bill drops to about $20 a month. And best of all, when PG&E raises rates, it has to pay you more for the power you send back to it – balancing out the rate increase.

Roof-top solar systems have come down in price. You can get one installed for $9,000-$12,000 after the 26% federal tax credit. (Note this credit drops to 22% at the end of 2020 and expires at the end of 2021.) As soon as you install one, your electricity bill drops to about $20 a month. This means you recover the capital cost of the system in about eight years and enjoy almost free electricity for years afterward.

To learn everything you need to go solar, check out

Courtesy of the Rossmoor News, July 8, 2020. Adrian Byram is chair of the Residential Solar Committee for Sustainable Rossmoor.  Email Byram at

Mobilizing Locally to Act Globally

By Dave and Amanda Casey

In 1941, the world faced unfathomable horror as war enveloped the globe. The United States, an enemy of fascism, was temporarily protected by its isolation from Europe and Asia.  But, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) and Congress recognized the wave of death and destruction coming in the wake of Hitlerism.  They called for Americans to mobilize and unite to help our allies.

The Lend-Lease law, enacted in March 1941, formally began the mobilization. Then, the wave crossed the Pacific Ocean. The Japanese killed more than 2,400 Americans at Pearl Harbor.  The U.S. entered the war and all its people doubled down, ultimately defeating the Axis powers.

A Crisis Bigger than World War II

Today, the world faces a different but equally unfathomable horror.  Climate change is enveloping the globe. World War II killed more than 70 million people. Today’s horror, left undefeated, will kill many more than that. Indeed, climate change is already causing more devastation globally than the Axis powers did.  Rising oceans, deadly hurricanes and devastating fires make the damage from Hitler’s Luftwaffe (air force) look insignificant in comparison.

Sadly, our national leadership hasn’t been acting like FDR and Congress did in 1941. Instead, the current government has undermined the Environmental Protection Agency. It has rolled back automobile emission standards, encouraged burning more dirty coal and dropped out of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Mobilizing locally to act globally
Families across the country grew vegetables in “Victory Gardens” during WWII to contribute to the war effort.

It’s the people that really count. In 1941, Americans sacrificed in big and small ways to save this nation and the world. People rushed to fill jobs in the mobilization effort, even relocating across the country. People walked and biked more as gas was rationed. They travelled less and stayed home more. People cut milk and meat from diets, and planted thousands of “Victory Gardens” to take their place.

Shared Sacrifice Led to Shared Gain

The nation’s emergency mobilization brought unforeseen benefits. Progress on racial and gender equality was integral to America’s success. African American men and women were an integral part of the war effort, both at home and overseas. Native Americans transmitted critical battle plans, untranslatable by the enemy. More than five (5) million women joined the workforce for the first time. New jobs were created, and everyone contributed. The U.S. came out of WWII stronger than it was when it went in.

So hope is not lost. In response to the lack of national action, many cities and counties have declared a climate emergency. They are mobilizing to address the clear and imminent danger.

Today, you see signs of the global climate emergency on the nightly news regularly. Yet, you may wonder if the emergency is real, because some leaders and other members of your community not reacting. You may think that it will not affect you or your children and grandchildren.

Indeed, social science experiments have shown that if authority figures ignore an emergency nearly everyone else will, too. However, it’s time for the people to lead and for local action to spur global action. The people defeated Hitler, and we can defeat the climate emergency.

To address the global climate emergency, people need to acknowledge the clear and imminent danger of continued greenhouse gas emissions. We must collectively abandon our “normal mode” of (in)action.  Abandon the leadership of those who ignore the danger, and immediately mobilize as individuals, employees, business owners and voters.

Mobilizing Locally to Act Globally

Contra Costa County’s Sustainability Commission has drafted a Climate Emergency Resolution (CER). If adopted by the Board of Supervisors, Contra Costa will join more than 1,000 local governments around the world declaring a climate emergency. Jurisdictions representing nearly a billion people – from big and medium-sized cities, like London and Sacramento, to little towns like Basalt, Colorado – have joined a massive movement. If passed, Contra Costa County’s CER will put the County on record in support of taking emergency action to reverse global warming. It will also initiate climate mobilization in the County and call for action at state, national and international levels.  View reports about the CER by The Antioch Herald and Contra County Herald.

Mobilizing locally to act globally
Wind and solar energy production reduces reliance on carbon burning energy sources

Climate mobilization calls for rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions no later than 2030, and immediate efforts to drawdown carbon from the atmosphere. It also includes a just transition for residents and workers, as well as accelerated adaptation and resiliency strategies.  Learn more about Contra Costa County’s Climate Action Plan.

Americans need to mobilize to create a just and livable future. We need to exit “normal mode” and enter “emergency mode.” Today, that means residents of Contra Costa must urge their county supervisors and city council members to recognize the emergency and take urgent action. If we mobilize to defeat the climate emergency like we mobilized to defeat the Axis powers, then the U.S. will again come through victorious stronger than it was before.

Courtesy of the Rossmoor News, June 24, 2020.  Email Dave and Amanda Casey at

The Green New Deal

By Karen Perkins

The Green New Deal gets its name from the New Deal programs of the 1930s.  President Franklin Roosevelt initiated a series of programs and policies to reverse the economic devastation of the Great Depression. The “New Deal” programs stabilized the economy. Further, it brought an end to the severe depression and suffering of unemployed Americans.

Roosevelt’s New Deal Addressed A National Crisis
The Green New Deal
A quarter of US workers were out of work during the Great Depression

Such programs as Social Security, unemployment insurance, the minimum wage and many others, led to the growth of a thriving middle class. One of its key programs was the creation of 15 million government jobs enabling families to keep paying their mortgages and pay their bills. It also saved many from a loss of self-esteem often created from languishing idle while taking a government handout. Just as importantly, it also retrained workers to do all kinds of important contributive work, ranging from such important infrastructure projects as building the Hoover Dam to control the Colorado River, to building the National Parks we now enjoy.

Fast forward to today. We certainly have a lot of unemployed Americans.

The Covid-19 Pandemic Created A New National Crisis

In fact, at the height of the Depression the unemployment rate was 24.9%. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell recently estimated the rate today could get as high as 25%. What can be done to save the suffering of so many workers? Could they be employed to do things that would not only help with the coronavirus crisis we are in, like contact tracing positive test results, but things that would also lessen, even reverse, the catastrophic future of the climate crisis? Scientists tell us we have a limited window of opportunity. We are witnessing more and more dire results from cataclysmic hurricanes, fires and floods.

Unemployed people could “build the infrastructure needed to sustainably meet the challenges of the 21st century.”

The Green New Deal Proactively Addresses the New Crisis and Climate Change
The Green New Deal
New infrastructure is needed to combat climate change

Workers could “dramatically expand and upgrade renewable power sources.”  Such a program could deploy “new capacity, build or upgrade to energy efficient, distributed and ‘smart’ power grids and ensure affordable access to electricity.”   Other workers “could upgrade all existing buildings in the United States and build new buildings to achieve maximum energy efficiency, rate efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort and durability including through electrification.”

Workers in rural areas could “work collaboratively with farmers and ranchers to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible.”  Agricultural programs would support family farming and invest in “sustainable farming and land use practices that increase soil health and build a more sustainable food system that ensures universal access to healthy food.”  Another program could overhaul the transportation systems – it goes on and on.

The Green New Deal identifies these, and many more, ideas in its 14 pages. It is House Resolution 109 and Senate Resolution 59. The House of Representatives passed Res. 109. The Senate, however, voted against Res. 59. It’s easy-to-read. It also explains the need for the Green New Deal. Furthermore, it lists all the ways we can save the human race and all life species to live on a planet with far less environmental, economic and social injustices. With a mobilization like that of the 1930s, it is imperative that we begin right now.  The Sierra Club is one of many organizations with information about the Green New Deal.

Courtesy of the Rossmoor News, May 27, 2020.  Email Karen Perkins at

Tree Huggers Unite

By Bob Hanson

More than once, I have been called a “tree hugger.” Although I’m sure it wasn’t intended as a compliment, I am happy to admit I do love trees. Trees provide homes for wildlife and birds, food for our tables, lumber for our homes and shade for Mother Earth.

Growing up in the windswept flatlands of North Dakota, about the only conifer tree we ever saw was our yearly Christmas Tree. When my family moved to Enumclaw, Washington, suddenly I was in a forest wonderland, surrounded by Douglas Fir, cedar, hemlock and other giant trees. My friends and I made pocket money by going into the woods and stripping the bark off of cascara trees, which we dried and sold at the local feed store. When I went to college, I would have majored in forestry except for the fact that in 1949-50, forestry grads weren’t finding jobs. That changed three or four years later, but by then, I had gone a different direction.

These days, trees and forests are enjoying a wave of popularity. Most folks, except for our president, are concerned about climate change.  Forests are one of the best solutions for holding down the rising level of greenhouse gases – at least CO2.

Benefits of Trees
tree huggers unite
Trees help cool the earth, provide shade and help prevent flooding.

Trees store CO2 as they grow. Capturing carbon certainly isn’t the only solution to global warming – we need to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels – but trees can be a part of the solution. There are two sides to this effort: preventing existing forests from being clear-cut or burned to clear the land for agriculture, and planting trees to establish new forests and replace trees lost to fire, logging and insect damage. A trillion trees planted could store up to 205 metric tons of carbon. That’s two-thirds of the amount humans have produced in the last 100 years.

There are several good nonprofit groups working to prevent deforestation: Save the Redwoods League, American Forests, the Rainforest Alliance, Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club, just to mention a few. Tree huggers unite: all of these groups deserve our support.

Reforestation Efforts

Researchers in Switzerland determined the planet can support nearly 3.5 million square miles in trees without affecting cities or agriculture. The United States, for example, has over 397,000 square miles available for planting.

Other groups are working on the “reforestation” side of the problem. The World Economic Forum leaders, for example, established a trillion trees campaign at the Davos conference. The United Nations and many other groups are working on the challenge.

tree huggers unite
Forests sequester CO2, protect watersheds and provide habitat for birds and animals.

One encouraging development was announced in December. A U.K. company, Dendra, plans on planting 500 billion trees by 2060 using artificial intelligence and drones. The drones can plant 120 seedpods per minute. The company estimates it would take just 400 teams of two drone operators, with 10 drones per team, to plant 10 billion trees per year. The cost is much less than planting by hand and makes it possible to plant in hard-to-reach places. The drones use pressurized air to fire the seeds into the ground. The seedpods penetrate the earth and start to grow, once activated by water. Wouldn’t this be a better use of our tax dollars than building more nuclear weapons and aircraft carriers?

Closer to home, perhaps the newest committee in Rossmoor is Sustainable Rossmoor’s Tree-Planting Committee. About 20 of us have banded together to see what we can contribute to this world-wide effort. If you would like to join us, send me an email and let me know.

Tree huggers unite! The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago – the second-best time is today.

Courtesy of the Rossmoor News, April 29, 2020.  Email Bob Hanson at

Defiling the Environment

By Dale J. Harrington

The number of articles and letters published in the Rossmoor News concerning how humans pollute the environment, including our own back yard, is astounding. Why are there so many letters and articles related to this subject? Why are we defiling the environment?

We are supposed to be intelligent, yet we often act as though we are ignorant. Part of the problem is we sometimes do not realize the impact plastic has on our environment. Plastic breaks down and forms microscopic particles. Bob Hanson described the process in a profoundly detailed Earth Matters article in the Feb. 19, 2020 Rossmoor News article and reprinted here on April 30, 2020. He wrote, “Studies have shown bottled water samples contain nearly twice as many pieces of micro-plastic per liter than tap water from a glass container. Chemicals from the plastic can leach into the water with serious side effects.” When I read this I immediately thought, “out of sight, out of mind. If I cannot see it, it does not exist.”

The Dangers of Microplastics
defiling the environment
Our profligate reliance on plastic has lead to a world of rubbish

On Feb. 25, there was an article in the East Bay Times titledScientists gather to study risk from microplastic pollution.” The article contained following statement: “’Some of the concern stems from an unusual twist unique to plastic pollution. Because plastic is made from fossil fuels and contains hydrocarbons, it attracts and absorbs other pollutants in the water, such as PCBs and pesticides,’ said Andrew Mason, the Pacific Northwest regional coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s marine debris program.”

Are we defiling the environment because we are insensitive to the damage we are doing? Is it because we do not see the microscopic plastic in our water or the thousands of pounds of plastic floating in streams, rivers, and the ocean it does not exist? It may not exist here in Tice Creek or our pond near the golf course, but if you search the Internet you can find numerous examples of this desecration.

Is Our Reliance on Plastic an Addiction?

We have an addiction to throwaway plastic! Ask yourself, am I an addict? Well, you would probably say “No” because you think of addiction only in terms of drugs or alcohol. I went on the Internet and put in “Definition of Addiction.” Here is what I found: “… the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing or activity.” We are behaviorally addicted to the activity of purchasing plastic things!

defiling the environment
We are the trash we make, are plastic bottles worth the cost?

Since it is behavioral, we can change if we decide to control our behavior. Sometimes it is not easy, but it can be accomplished with focus and dedication. First, we need to acknowledge our behavior. Then we need to examine the impact of our behavior. Then we need to take, possibly one small step at a time, to correct our behavior. I know habits are sometimes hard to change. Especially if we have behaved in a particular way for many years. And most of us living in Rossmoor have had many years of behaving “our way.”

We in Rossmoor are not totally insensitive to the environment. We are making good strides in recycling, composting and landfill. For some of us, living in Rossmoor is a new world, so to speak. Let us all extend this sensitivity to the broader environment for the sake of ourselves and others. Whenever possible, refuse to purchase plastic items.  Refuse to contribute to defiling the environment.

Courtesy of the Rossmoor News, April 15, 2020. Email Dale Harrington at

COVID-19 Blame Is Widespread

By Judith Schumacher-Jennings

Senator Richard Burr, Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has been accused of insider trading because he sold the bulk of his investments shortly before the COVID-19 market crash. However Senator Burr has been thinking about pandemics for a long time. In 2006 he coauthored the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act (PAHPA). Did he have inside information or do we have eyes wide shut?

Democrats are blaming Republicans for the nation’s COVID-19 response.  Republicans are blaming China. Perhaps both views are simplistic and the Covid-19 blame is more widespread.

Global Preparedness Monitoring Board

The United Nations Secretary-General created the Global Health Crises Task Force and Panel in the wake of the 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic. The Task Force established the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB). GPMB urges political action to prepare for and mitigate the effects of global health emergencies.

The Board consists of 15 distinguished experts from around the world. It includes the former Director-General of the World Health Organization, the Secretary General of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Society, the Director-General of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and our own Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci.

GPMP published its first annual report in September of 2019 (two months ahead of the COVID-19 outbreak in China). The title is A World at Risk.

The report outlined a grim situation.

A World at Risk

The world is at acute risk for devastating regional or global disease epidemics or pandemics. Both will cause loss of life, upend economies and create social chaos.

Population growth, increased urbanization, a globally integrated economy, widespread and faster travel, conflict, migration and climate change heighten vulnerability.

Covid-19 blame is widespread
Covid-19 has affected lives throughout the world, and its effects will be felt for years.

The world is confronted by increasing infectious disease outbreaks. For instance, between 2011 and 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) tracked 1483 epidemic events in 172 countries.  Epidemic prone diseases, e.g. influenza, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), Ebola, Zika, plague, Yellow Fever and others, are harbingers of a new era of high-impact, potentially fast-spreading outbreaks, They are emerging more frequently and increasingly difficult to manage.

The Covid-19 blame is widespread. The world is not ready for a fast-moving, virulent respiratory pathogen pandemic. The 1918 global influenza pandemic sickened one third of the world population and killed as many as 50 million people, 2.8% of the total population. If a similar contagion occurred today with a population four times larger and travel times anywhere in the world less than 36 hours, 50 – 80 million people could perish. In addition to tragic levels of mortality, such a pandemic could cause panic, destabilize national security and seriously impact the global economy and trade.

Public Trust and Political Will

Trust in institutions is eroding. As a result, governments, scientists, the media, public health, health systems and health workers face a breakdown in public trust. This is happening in many countries.  It is threatening their ability to function effectively.  Misinformation, communicated quickly and widely via social media, exacerbates the problem and hinders disease control.

Covid-19 blame is widespread
Covid-19 has disrupted lives and economies in ways that are only beginning to be understood

Covid-19 blame is widespread.  The lack of consistent political will at all levels hampers preparedness. National leaders only respond to health crises when fear and panic grow strong enough.  Most countries do not devote the consistent energy and resources needed to keep outbreaks from escalating into disasters.

Preparedness and response systems and capabilities for disease outbreaks are not sufficient to deal with the enormous impact, rapid spread and shock to health, social and economic systems of a highly lethal pandemic. In other words, epidemic control costs would completely overwhelm the current financing arrangements for emergency response.

Laurie Garrett authored The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance, published in 1994.  Last year she wrote an article entitled, “The World Knows an Apocalyptic Pandemic Is Coming, But Nobody is Interested in Doing Anything About It,” for the September 20, 2019 edition of Foreign Policy.

A Changing Climate Plays a Role

According to Garrett, climate change favors outbreaks. For instance,rising heat and humidity spawn surges in populations of disease-carrying mosquitoes. In addition, warming temperatures allow water surfaces to suffocate under toxic algae, fill hospitals and agricultural fields with deadly fungi. Bird and animal migratory patterns are changing, and they, in  turn, carry their microbial hitchhikers to new geographies.

The report contended political will, financial investment and health system improvements lead to results. For example, the Republic of Korea successfully contained a second potential MERS outbreak in 2018. Nigeria also implemented an epidemic preparedness infrastructure. It rapidly controlled Ebola cases during the 2014-2016 outbreak which devastated west Africa. Additionally, recent improvements in India’s health system helped it identify and contain the deadly Nipah virus in May 2018.

In summary, Garrett wrote it’s hard to know what, shy of a genuinely devastating pandemic of killer influenza or some currently unknown microbe, will motivate global leaders to take microscopic threats seriously.

Courtesy of the Rossmoor News, April 1, 2020.  Email Judith Schumacher-Jennings at

Just Say ‘No’ to Bottled Water

By Bob Hanson

When someone offers me a bottle of water, I tell them that I don’t do bottled water. It used to be that this response surprised the would-be donor. These days, more and more hosts understand where I am coming from.

If we lived in Flint, Michigan, or some other parts of the country, bottled water might be justified.

The water we get from our taps comes straight from the High Sierras and often has won awards for purity and flavor. The East Bay Municipal Utility District does a great job.

Bans on Plastic Water Bottles

In 2013, Concord, Massachusetts, became the first city in the country to ban single-serve plastic water bottles.

City fathers cited environmental and waste concerns. Since then a handful of colleges, several national parks and the City of San Francisco have joined the movement. I would support the City of Walnut Creek taking a similar stand.

Americans consumed 13.7 billion gallons of bottled water in 2017.  I’m sure the 2019 amount was more.

Bottle Recycling Isn’t Widespread
just say no to bottled water
The majority of plastic bottles are tossed, instead of being recycled.

About 70 percent of the plastic water bottles bought in the U.S. are not recycled. Most end up in landfills or in a ditch next to the road somewhere. The third most common item picked-up on our beaches on beach clean-up days is plastic water bottles…right behind cigarette butts and plastic food labels.

Ads for bottled water display clear mountain springs. In fact, most bottled water comes out of a faucet somewhere. Studies have shown that bottled water samples contain nearly twice as many pieces of micro-plastic per liter than tap water from a glass container. Chemicals from the plastic can leach into the water with serious side effects.

Bottled Water is Costly

Another negative factor is that every bottle of water sold at our local Safeway or Costco has been shipped by truck from far away. One popular brand comes all of the way from the Fiji Islands. Does that make any sense at a time when we are trying to kick the fossil fuel habit?

Bottle manufacturing uses huge amounts of petroleum. Carting the water around the country also requires a tremendous amount of fuel. Theoretically, we melt down the bottles and reuse the plastic.  In practice, however, plastic recycling is becoming harder and harder to accomplish. China is where much of it is sent, but they are beginning to get fussier and fussier in what they will accept.

Plastic Manufacturing is Harmful

And pity the poor folks who live near a plastic bottle manufacturing plant. Studies show that communities living close to plastic factories suffer from increased levels of chronic illness and birth defects. In Corpus Christi, Texas, where the country’s largest plastic factory is located, birth defects for nearly a decade, from 1999 to 2007, were 63% higher than the rest of the state.

Bottled water is expensive. It can cost between four hundred to two thousand percent (400%-2,000%) percent more than tap water. That’s four times more than an equal volume of milk and three times the cost of gasoline. Mathematicians at Penn State University estimate that spending $20 on a reusable water bottle can save a person up to $1,236.00 a year.

So please join me in “just saying NO” to bottled water. Mother Earth, your health and your pocketbook will thank you.

Courtesy of the Rossmoor News, February 19, 2020 Email Bob Hanson at

Solve the Climate Crisis by Talking

By Paul Wright

I have an exercise to propose to the Rossmoor community: an investigative experiment for convening conversations. Among ourselves. About the climate crisis. Conversations – respectful listening and thoughtful speaking – have always played an important role in my life. Conversations have helped me learn about others,  shape ideas, understand myself better and for collaborating to accomplish goals together. The conversations I have in mind fit into all these categories.

Last year I attended a talk by David Wallace-Wells, author of The Uninhabitable Earth, at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. His book, an unadorned look at the implications of a future dominated by the impact of human-made climate change, has attracted a large following. For reviews of the book: The Guardian and NYTimes.

“Talk about It”

Unsurprisingly, of the many questions he got after his talk was recommendation for the best actions we can take. His answer surprised me. “Talk about it,” he said. He continued emphatically: “Talk about it with friends, neighbors, family members and colleagues. Engage with those around you in speaking about the climate crisis.”

On reflection, his response made perfect sense. Given the stakes and the scale of the problem we face – and the generations coming after us – can we afford not to?  Does anyone ever change his/her point of view without getting new information? So, one way to solve the climate crisis is by talking.

Talking about climate change
Conversations help us understand our world better.

This would probably be a good time for me to put my cards on the table. When it comes to the climate crisis, I should probably call myself a climate fundamentalist. By that I mean I fully embrace the claim that human activity is driving climate change today. In fact, given basic knowledge of science and mathematics, it would be truly strange if it weren’t.

The consequences of ignoring the problem will be enormous and doing nothing will only make it worse.  Our actions, or inactions, will affect the entire planet and all those who inhabit it. What future are we leaving for the young folks in our lives, whether children or grandchildren, and those of our friends? If actions speak louder than words, what are our actions telling them? What can we say, are we saying, to one another?

Why Aren’t People Talking About It?

Of course, getting started with a topic like the climate crisis can seem daunting. The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication surveyed Americans to find out how much they talked about global warming. The survey showed eight percent (8%) of the Americans didn’t talk about it because the subject was uncomfortable. Many other, bigger, reasons that show up in that survey, too. For example, “the subject never comes up” (35%), “we agree” (33%), “(I) don’t know enough” (28%) and “ not interested” (27%). Then there’s the inevitable: it’s “too political” (26%).

Talking about climate change
Chating improves understanding

Further down the response scale, 13% don’t discuss global warming because of disagreement. This is all remarkable since, while about 60% of Americans report that climate change matters to them personally, perhaps only a third actually talk about it from time to time – and 59% rarely or never. After all, we’re not exactly shy about expressing our views. If you’re interested, you can read more about this at Attaining Meaningful Outcomes from Conversations on Climate – Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

Nothing Will Happen If We Don’t Talk About It

I’ll be the first to admit exploring the climate crisis is a journey that can take us to some unexpected places.  I’ve experienced a range of surprising emotions, including grief, pain, anguish and sheer (dumbfounded) anger. It’s an astonishing way to realize what it means to call this planet our home – and begin to really appreciate the simple fact that we share it, and all that that implies.

Talking about climate change
Small group meetings give all participants a chance to contribute.

So back to the exercise I’m proposing: How can we talk together about the climate crisis? Well, by doing it. Organizing ourselves into groups no larger than eight or so, let’s explore the subject with our neighbors in a spirit of goodwill. Maybe we do it once; maybe we do it again, keeping in mind the lessons we learn as we go along. I’m proposing as many of us as possible host a conversation in our homes, or elsewhere, in one of Rossmoor’s many meeting spaces. Let’s begin to solve the climate crisis by talking.

Community Conversations In Rossmoor

Sustainable Rossmoor, which is interested in sponsoring this project, will be happy to arrange a meeting space and refreshments.

I’m also proposing that these be facilitated conversations – with facilitators present prepared to help hosts convene them, explain to participants a few basic ground rules, keep the conversations on track and help everyone to reflect on what they’ve learned along the way.

Talking about the climate crisis won’t solve a problem so hugely complex. But it might let us understand better where to begin, which is with one another.

Note: Given the current impact of the coronavirus (COVID 19) on public gatherings, the exercise described here will be delayed for the time being.

If this experiment interests you, and you would like to participate or serve as a host, please contact me at We’ll follow up once the coronavirus landscape clears.

Courtesy of the Rossmoor News, March 25, 2020. Email Paul Wright at

Reversing Climate Change

By Judith Schumacher-Jennings

Reversing climate change requires political will, practical solutions, commitment and cooperation.

Several months ago, I wrote a column for Earth Matters about the Green New Deal.  It was the most exciting climate news since the Paris Climate Accord.  You may have considered it a “pie in the sky” idea.  After all, it is supported by Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the like.

Turns out, the Green New Deal is not “pie in the sky” after all. I recently discovered a book that spells out how addressing climate change is not an impossible task. Paul Hawken’s Drawdown, published in 2017, takes us step by step through the 100 best ways.

In Drawdown’s preface, Dr. Jonathan Foley explains why reality of climate change is upon us. Dr. Foley is the executive director of the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. He argues climate change is affecting weather patterns, ecosystems, ice sheets, islands, coastlines and cities. It is also affecting our health, safety and security.

Processes Producing Carbon Dioxide and Methane
Reversing Climate Change
Methane and carbon monoxide are produced by multiple sources, not just burning fossil fuels

We release heat trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) when we burn fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. CO2  is also released manufacturing cement, plowing fields and destroying forests. We release methane, an even more potent greenhouse gas, with our cattle, rice fields, landfills and natural gas operations. However, Foley believes we have all the tools we need to reverse climate change. He says, Drawdown is the most important book ever written on how to do just that.

Hawken defines “drawdown” in atmospheric terms.  Drawdown is the point in time at which greenhouse gases peak and begin to decline. He decided to demonstrate how reversing the accumulation of greenhouse gases is possible. Hawken compiled a list of applied, hands-on practices and technologies that are commonly available, economically viable and scientifically valid. His list highlights the practices and technologies with the greatest potential to reduce emissions or sequester carbon from the atmosphere.

The Drawdown Background

To this end he gathered together 70 Drawdown Fellows, students and scholars from 22 countries. This group compiled and sorted through the existing research. Then Hawken assembled a 120-person advisory board to review and validate the findings.  The board included prominent geologists, engineers, agronomists, politicians, writers, climatologists, biologists, botanists, economists, financial analysts, architects and activists.

Drawdown’s resulting solutions lead to regenerative economic outcomes. They will create security, produce jobs, improve health, save money, facilitate mobility, eliminate hunger, prevent pollution, restore soil, and/or clean rivers. Hawken sees global warming as an opportunity. Reversing climate change is an opportunity to build, innovate and effect change and a pathway to awaken creativity, compassion and genius.

Cooperation v. Competion

Reversing Climate Change
Drawdown’s solutions can heal the planet and reverse climate change and require a paradigm shift in human behavior.

An essay by Janine Benyus describes the history of a great debate in the early 1900s. The debate was between ecologists Frederic Clements and Henry Gleason. Clements studied bayous, chaparrals, hardwood forests and prairies.  His research indicated plants actually cooperate with each other to survive. Gleason, on the other hand, was in the Darwin tradition and thought plants merely competed with one another for survival.

Clements theory held sway until the 1940s. The Truman Doctrine and the onset of the Cold War made any mention of “communism” impossible, even when talking about plants. In the last 20 years, however, Clement’s ideas have seen a resurgence. Over 50 years of research into the competitive nature of the plant world proved inconclusive.

Gleason had promoted the cutting of thousands of acres of California blue oak trees. The Blue Oaks thrived for eons to provide for rangeland grasses free from competition. In the 1990s ecologist Ray Calloway’s research showed the blue oaks act as nutrient pumps and feed the surrounding landscape. He has since compiled more than a thousand (1,000) studies describing how plants enhance their neighbors’ survival, creating a virtual manual for how natural communities heal and overcome adversity.

Collaboration and Community
Reversing Climate Change
Climate change is reversible…if we all work together

In the epilogue, Hawken writes about Norwegian psychologist and economist Per Espen Stoknes. Stoknes found we tend to become immobilized by fear, guilt, passivity, apathy and denial when inundated with threats and dire warnings about climate change. Hawken believes a conversation framed about possibility and opportunity can shift the paradigm.

The economic data collected for Drawdown shows clearly that far greater profit is achievable by instituting regenerative solutions than the cost of conducting business as usual. For example, the most productive method of farming is not conventional agriculture, which depletes the soil and adds to the carbon footprint, but regenerative agriculture. Regarding power, the solar industry has employed more jobs as of 2016 than gas, coal and oil combined.

As it turns out, climate solutions depend on community, collaboration and cooperation. Reversing climate change will require groups of people forging new and promising alliances: developers, cities, nonprofits, corporations, farmers, churches, provinces, schools and universities. Curiously, research has shown that children typically exhibit altruistic behavior even before they speak. Concern for others is seemingly innate.

Hawken suggests we’ll reverse global warming when we remember who we are meant to be.

Learn more about Project Drawdon, Paul Hawken, Drawdown, Frederic Clements, and Henry Gleason

Courtesy of the Rossmoor News, January 8, 2020. Email Judith Schumacher-Jennings at