Archive for December, 2009


December 25, 2009

I like to get out on Christmas morning. It’s a very soothing time to be out, because no one else is. You have the streets to yourself. Last year I went for a ~30 mile run. Injuries suggested I try something else this year, so I biked out to Refugio.

I got off to a later start than I would have liked — it was cold this morning and I wanted to wait for the frost to disappear.

It was still cold (well, cold to be riding a bike) when I set out, but by the time I reached the far end of Goleta I had removed all my extra layers.

I was a little surprised at how much traffic there was on the 101. After the empty roads in town, the freeway seemed to have a normal traffic load. I guess no one goes for short trips on Christmas morning but a fair number of people probably drive a 100 miles to go see Grandmother. Or something.

Rather to my surprise I passed some lupine blooming. It’s the wrong time of year for lupine. But then there were more blooms. So I stopped and took a picture. A bit later I saw the median was just covered with blooms. Odd.

When I got onto Refugio Rd, everything was very calm and still. Almost no one was on the road, and it was very quiet. Peaceful.

I’ve never really taken time on Refugio Rd. It’s rather pleasant, but I’m usually trying to see how fast I can get out and back. Today I was taking it easy. So I even got off the bike and climbed down into the creek when I saw the holes etched into the rock face above it.

Then I turned round and popped in at the beach where I watched the waves for a bit (and ate something). Not many people were here either. But there were lots of seagulls☺

I turned back home then. No more pictures because I was heading vaguely into the sun now.

Until I got to Goleta Beach. From the bridge I could see the slough and along beside it, were night herons, spaced regularly ~10ft apart or so (click on the pictures to make them bigger — sometimes you need to click twice to see the full size).

So I stopped on the bridge to look at them (and photograph them), and then biked a little further down the bike path, and stopped to look at them again. As I was watching from this vantage, a tern came flying up the slough, straight toward me.

It looked all white and beautiful as it came on. Then suddenly there was a whoosh, the tern was gone, the night herons were all alarmed and a few flew up. My eyes moved to look and only then I could see the hawk carrying the tern in its talons.

White feathers falling.

I’ve never seen a raptor catch another bird before. Impressive.



December 25, 2009

I sometimes wonder what kind of legacy I will leave behind me.

My father is a Shakespearian scholar, he will probably live on in footnotes for centuries.

I write computer programs. They are used briefly and then technology moves on. I suppose the thing I’ve written which was in widest use (more than 100,000 users at one point) was the web editor which AOL distributed. But it only lasted 2 years before AOL got bored with it. No one remembers it now.

My font editor has lasted 10 years now. And it has tens of thousands of users. But I doubt it will last another twenty.

Considering the attention we are paying to peak oil, I wonder if anyone will even be using computers in 50 years? Will we have the energy to make or power them?

Many people view their children as a legacy… I look at our efforts to stymie climate change and I see mass starvation, war and huge population declines. Children do not look like a long-term investment either.

A friend pointed out to me that my pottery will last.


SB International Marathon

December 24, 2009

Several people have asked me why I haven’t written about the Santa Barbara International Marathon.

I could not run it. Something went wrong in my lower right leg ¿during? ¿after? the half marathon and every run since has been a slow limp.

I didn’t really want to talk about it. It’s difficult to work for something so hard and then have it become impossible just as the training starts to taper. Difficult to watch everyone else do well and have to smile and be happy for them.

My natural reaction is to hide. But I had a friend visiting from Boston who was racing and I had to be there for him. So I couldn’t even hide.

So I didn’t have anything to write about.

Solstice traditions

December 21, 2009

On New Year’s day of 2003 I watched the sun rise as I waited for the start of the resolution run. And in the evening I watched the sun set from the top of Rocky Pine Ridge.

It was a lovely sunset.

Later I realized that I had watched the sun rise and set on the same day, something I don’t normally do.

So when the next year rolled around (or perhaps the one after that), I decided this was something I wanted to repeat.

I’m rather proud of what I did in 2006/7 when I decided to do a hike up to the top of Cathedral Peak to watch the sunset on New Year’s eve of 2006, and then another hike to watch the sun rise on New Year’s morning of 2007. It seemed very symbolic to watch the sun set on the old year and rise on the new. (it helped that that year the resolution run was held a day (or two?) early because the city would not give us permits for new year’s day).

However getting up in the cold and dark so I could hike (in the colder, windier dark) up to Cathedral Peak to watch the sun rise proved a challenge I have not repeated. And the custom has faded back to what I started with: watching the sun rise from the Resolution run, and doing a hike in the evening.

But that year I also started going out on the day of the winter solstice, just to Hendry’s beach (’round the corner from my house, so it’s easier to get to) to watch the sun rise, and back later to watch it set. And so far, I’ve been able to repeat that.

Today was cloudy. A solid grey overcast which turned sea and land to grey also.

But then the pelicans came out to play on the waves (which were quite large for SB).

Am I wrong to use the word play? They were not fishing. They were not mating. They were not resting. They were doing things which would make human joyful. Animals do play. I think the word is appropriate. Those pelicans were out there having fun, playing at the edge of the waves. Surfing the air.

Yoga has its traditions

In class, my yoga teacher mentioned that the proper way to greet the solstice was to do 108 sun salutations (type “A”). But we proceeded to prepare for, and do scorpion instead. So when I got home, I unrolled my yoga mat and did 108 sun salutations on my own.

Why 108? Do traditions need a reason? If you google “108 sun salutations” you will get many answers. Which seem to me to boil down to “because 108 is a sacred number”. Which boils down further to “because.”


It did not rain, and the clouds actually broke a bit allowing some light and color into the sky.

Copenhagen accord

December 19, 2009

I finally found the full text of the accord.

What’s wrong with it

  1. It isn’t an accord yet. It has not been adopted by the plenary session. It was neither accepted nor rejected. It was “noted”. (I don’t know what noted means, in this context and I doubt anyone else does either). And some nations did not “note” it. (and even fewer — less than 30 nations out of 192, agreed to it).
  2. It isn’t legally binding. It’s not a treaty, just a collection of intents. (This broke a commitment made at the 2007 conference (COP13) which said a legally binding deal would be made in 2009)
  3. It has no substance
    • There is no mention of any cuts in emissions for any nation.
    • There is no mention of how much any individual nation should pay into the fund set up to help the developing world.
  4. The general statement that a US$100billion/year fund will be set up by 2020 is far less than the US$600billion/year fund deemed necessary.
  5. Emissions targets for non-annex 1 countries (China, India, Brasil, etc.) are even less explicit than the unspecified ones for annex 1 countries.
  6. Each non-annex 1 country will perform domestic verification of its emissions. There does not seem to be provision for international verification.
  7. In theory this accord provides a framework for moving forward, BUT there is no word on what the next step should be. No mention of COP16, or any other mechanism.
  8. (added 14 Jan, much later) The US has somehow grabbed control of the accord and is not willing for the UN to move forward on it. I find this very disturbing. It’s as if someone arrived late at a dinner party, threw it into disarray, and then insisted that everyone go eat elsewhere. It sounds like hubris, and I fear it means that the only things which will come out of it are ideas palatable to the US and China. Which will not be sufficient.

It’s full of rhetoric and has some good intents, but if it was this difficult to reach a rhetorical agreement, I can’t help wonder how difficult it will prove to reach a substantive one.

What’s right with it

  1. It does not throw out the Kyoto agreement.
  2. It does say (for the first time in an international document) the intent is still to limit global temperature rises to 2°C. However, since the document was not accepted, and the proposals on the table at the time would let global temperatures rise by 3°C, this statement seems like hypocrisy).

If nations make substantial commitments on 31 Jan, and if they move forward to make and sign a real treaty, then this may prove a useful step. But there is nothing here to make me think that will happen.

What worries me

Even with a rise of at most 2°C there will be droughts in Africa and floods in Bangladesh (and many other places of course). Hundreds of millions of people will be affected. People who have nothing to eat, who have had their house destroyed tend to be angry. And they will be angry with the United States. The US has been for years the largest polluter. (OK, China now produces more per year, but that’s only recently been the case. The US has dumped more carbon in the atmosphere than China over the last century). The US has had the largest per-capita carbon footprint of all major nations. The US never signed the Kyoto agreement (And that wasn’t just Bush’s fault, Clinton did not get it passed either). In the run up to the Copenhagen negotiations the US only committed to a 4% reduction from the 1990 levels, while most other developed nations offered more like 20% reductions. The US negotiators tried to remove the teeth from previous drafts. The US is responsible for the current “accord”. The world’s anger will be directed towards us. And that anger will only grow with time as conditions get worse. How hard will it be to put one man with Ebola onto a plane to the US? How hard to send a fishing vessel with an atomic bomb on board into a US harbor? China also shares some of the blame, mostly by the industrialized nations though. China was smart and claimed that it was refusing to sign the deal out of solidarity with the other G77 nations who were insisting on a stronger deal.

What terrifies me

Britain’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers (the national engineering society) says that Britain does not have the resources to achieve the necessary changes to combat climate change. And if Britain can’t, is it likely that the rest of the world will be able to? I simply do not see how an 80% global reduction in carbon output can be achieved by 2050 (which is what the IPCC says is needed). Can we find technologies which are 5 times more efficient than what we now use? Can we find replacement technologies with lower emissions? Look at cars or trucks. A Prius takes us from 25mpg cars to 50mpg. We’d need to find a technology which goes to 125mpg cars. Actually we need more than that because there will be more people in the world. What about electric cars? Well, an electric car is going to be less efficient than a gasoline powered car. There is a loss in the car’s battery, there is a huge loss in national power grid, and there is a loss when the power is generated. If the electricity is generated from hydrocarbons then gasoline powered cars are better than electric ones.

What saddens me

Humans will probably survive, though our civilization may not. But the natural world will be horrible denuded.

  • Heat is killing off many coral reeves
  • Acidification of water (caused by the increased CO2 in the atmosphere) will send many species to extinction.
  • Habitats will be lost on land.
  • As other sources of food vanish, people will hunt more species to extinction.

My conclusions

Many people (including Obama) said that a bad agreement would be worse than no agreement at all. A bad agreement makes it look as though something has been achieved and there will no longer be the will-power to do something real. This accord looks to me like an agreement which is worse than nothing.

Other views


Oh great big town of Copenhavn, how still we see thee lie! Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets gathers an ever-growing blight;
The hopes and fears for future years were dashed in thee last night.

Two degrees C

December 2, 2009

What can I do?

Two degrees C is a somewhat arbitrary figure, chosen in the hope that the world’s eco-systems would be able to adapt if the temperature rise were limited to this amount.

Current consensus is that is now no way to achieve this, and the rise will be at minimum twice that.

I listen to politicians blither on about making 20% reductions by 2020 and 50% by 2050, and I wonder — do these people have any idea what they are talking about? In the 10 years from Kyoto, German was able to reduce emissions by 6%, and that was the best in the world. How can we reduce by 20% in 10 years?

The engineering society in the UK says that the UK’s plans to reduce output are “physically impossible“.

I think of myself. What can I do? I already ride a bike, so I can’t stop driving a car. I have no heat nor air-conditioning in my apartment, so I can’t turn down (up) the thermostat. I already use mini-flurescents, so I can’t switch there.

Once a year I fly to see my parents. I could stop doing that (but I won’t). I could stop buying running shoes every three months… I could turn off my computer (and do what with my life?).

I could commit suicide.

That seems the only way to make a significant reduction in my lifestyle, but I’m not going to do that either.

Of course, things are worse than they seem. If we want to reduce global carbon output by 50% in the next 40 years then we in the industrialized world will have to reduce by considerably more. The Malgasy peasant’s carbon output consists of his cooking fire and not much else. He can’t give that up and survive.

Population will increase, so the per-capita decrease must be even greater.

Oil is running out. This will cause more wars, which increase carbon output.

Coal has a higher carbon footprint than oil.

Food production will decrease. Wars will increase.

Who’s got the bomb?

The IPCC came out with its recommendations in 2007. An number of researchers within the IPCC have come out with an interim report saying that the 2007 report was far too cheerful, and things are much worse than we thought, and we are doing less about it than we expected.

Every new report says that the last report was too optimistic.

Obama says Copenhagen will decide nothing, and I expect he is right.

I’m worried.

I feel powerless.

Eli Eli lama sabachthani?