The Friends of California Libre...

01 September 2006

The Goddess Returns in the Autumn

Greetings, friends,
Goodbye, cursed August, goodbye. I can't say I've ever been so glad to see a month end. Already my lucky moon is waxing in the west, and a lovely hot September is on the way. Let's make the most of it, celebrate life in the face of constant death, put away our dragged-out summer faces and put on the cool party clothes of autumn nights. As many of you know, September is my month and as I finish up an eventful 41st year, I plan to enjoy every moment.

First, I invite those of you in LA to join me in this year's "pobladores walk" on Monday, 4 Saturday. It's the 225th birthday of Los Angeles, and every year a group reenacts the walk of the original settlers (pobladores) from Mission San Gabriel to the Pueblo. I figured I better go this year, as hopefully next September I'll be far, far away from this evil city. I also figured on going alone...if I can't get you guys out to a movie, how about getting you up at 6 AM on a holiday for a 9 mile stroll, hmm? Not likely. Well, it's your loss...if you're thinking about it anyway you can register here:

Okay, because I'm celebrating the return of the Goddess this month, and since I once pondered becoming an astronomer (well, actually a planetary geologist, but let's not get too technical) I think I need to ruminate for a few moments on the recent designation of Pluto as a "dwarf planet", which leaves our Solar System with only 8 planets. So much for "My Very Eager Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas". I hope you don't find this dull, but a lot of angry schoolchildren (and some scientists who should know better) were upset by this change. And I enjoy thinking about these places which are out there waiting for us to walk around on them.

On the contrary to the schoolchildren, I think Pluto and Charon are perfect examples of "dwarf planets", which are now classified as round objects (like planets) but which are unable to clear their orbit (like Ceres, a near-Moon sized body in the Asteroid Belt). The change had to come...we are rapidly discovering round planets in numbers (potential dozens) out beyond Pluto, a snowball-filled ring of junk called the Kuiper Belt. If you thought of our Solar System as relatively empty, this animation will blow your mind; it looks like LAX the night before Thanksgiving:

The Solar System is packed with uncountable rocks and snowballs, and so making Pluto and Charon dwarf planets is almost a promotion...definitely a promotion for Charon, which had been temporarily classified as Pluto's "moon". They're now the largest of these dwarf planets, just as Jupiter is the largest ordinary planet...and many other larger planets are being discovered every month around other stars. Keep reading and you'll see the first photo of one.

Pluto is a really unique object, no matter what it's called. It has more satellites than our Earth...not counting the new dwarf planet Charon, it has two small moons recently discovered, Nix and Hydra, four snowballs spinning around at the edge of our "classic" Solar System. They're the kings of the Kuiper Belt now, appropriate to John Milton's line in Paradise Lost, "better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven", as Pluto is, after all, the God of the Underworld. The change is an even bigger promotion for that former asteroid, now dwarf planet Ceres, named for the mother of Pluto's girlfriend Proserpina, although you might know them as Demeter and Persephone, their Greek names.

Pluto and Charon are also special because the "barycenter" or center of their rotation is between them...Charon is almost 1/10th the size of Pluto, so rather than orbiting Pluto like a moon, they circle together, each facing the other. From the inner side of either dwarf planet, the other would hang forever motionless in the sky...a dramatic sight that one of our great-grandchildren might get to see in person. This dance will go on essentially forever...even after the Sun has become a red giant in a few billion years, and burnt our poor planet to a cinder (along with Mercury, Venus and probably Mars), Pluto and Charon will continue to dance. They move apart so slowly that only their kind of energy, angular momentum and gravity, will survive to the end of the universe, long after every star in every galaxy has been used up and gone out.

Only four other objects in the Solar System have this kind of relationship, where the barycenter is well away from the center of the larger pair. The first two, natch, are our very own Earth and Moon. Our barycenter is only 1700 km below the surface of the Earth, not even halfway to the center, and so the Moon creates a terrific drag on us, slowing us down (a day used to last only 18 hours) and creating nice tides for my surfer friends. Our gravity stopped the Moon from spinning, and so it faces us for the rest of its the time the Sun explodes, the Moon will also have stopped us, so one day here will be a month long, and like Pluto and Charon, we'll dance facing each other. Which continent will be facing the Moon? By then all the continents will have moved apart and crashed together again three or four more times, so who knows...and the oceans will have evaporated into outer space. In other words, don't hold your breath.

The other pair of objects with an unusual barycenter are the Sun and Jupiter...they spin around a point just above the surface of the Sun. That's pretty amazing, because Jupiter is five times further away from the Sun than we are (although it's many dozens of times larger). If Jupiter was only 10 times bigger, it would flame into life and we'd have two suns in the sky. Of course, this means that Jupiter, technically, is not a planet either, but has a privileged relationship to the Sun. They circle a common place outside of both, like many binary stars. Jupiter is also strange because it spins so fast...I mean it really hauls ass, rotating in only ten hours, or ten times faster than the Earth (not twice because it is so much larger). Even the Sun only spins twice as fast as us, taking almost a month to rotate.

The mechanics of all this fun stuff can be explored in greater depth at this excellent website:

By the way, as of 1986, the Moon was not the only large object technically in orbit around the Earth. A rock with the boring name of 3753 Cruithne rolls in the Earth's orbit around the Sun, but in a spiral, so from here it looks like a corkscrew. It flies just outside of us, a little slower, and when we pass by, our gravity drags it just inside of our orbit, making it a little faster than us, until it passes us and we spin it back out. Now this is a wonderful dance, although this rock eventually will get too far away and spin off alone in the dark.

Well, that's enough rambling about the neighborhood of planet Earth, which is officially known as Terra, or in "Star Trek" speak, "Sol 3". By the way, here's the FIRST photograph of a planet outside the Solar System, a gas giant like Jupiter orbiting a brown dwarf star. Unfortunately it has the depressing name of 2M1207 1.

You might want to take a greater interest in outer space, because if we're not careful, it's the only place we'll be able to live soon:
Our Cities Are Killing Us
By Julie Robotham and Sherrill Nixon
The Sidney Morning Herald

Seriously, our urban environments are becoming more and more untenable, but each of us can contribute significantly to the solution. If you own a house with a grass lawn I urge you to read this article:
Redefining American Beauty, by the Yard
By Patricia Leigh Brown
The New York Times

I have a special problem with lawns, mainly because I'm allergic to grass, I live in arid Southern California, and I like desert plants. When was the last time you saw someone actually using a lawn at their home or in a public park? What a waste.

If you decide to grow native plants, trees, cactus, herbs, vegetables etc., this website will be most helpful:

How to Manage Pests: Identification: Natural Enemies Gallery

Descriptions and photographs of "natural enemy species commonly found on California farms and in landscapes." These natural enemies (including predators, parasites, and pathogens) "kill, decrease the reproductive potential or otherwise reduce the numbers" of insect and mite pests, and are "key components of integrated pest management programs." Browsable by common name, order and family, and scientific name. From the Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (IPM), University of California, Davis.

It would be nice if everyone gave the Goddess a hand, because the impact of global warming is more obvious than just a hot summer:

The Canary Project

The mission of this project is "to photograph landscapes around the world that are exhibiting dramatic transformation due to global warming and to use these photographs to persuade as many people as possible that global warming is already underway and of immediate concern." Includes photos from New Orleans (after Hurricane Katrina), cloud forests in Costa Rica, glaciers in Austria, and other locations. From a travel photographer and a partner of an international investigative firm.
Global Warming Behind Killer Typhoon Season in China
Global warming is contributing to an unusually harsh typhoon season in China that started around a month early and has left thousands dead or missing, government officials and experts say. Natural disasters in China this year have killed 1,699 people and left another 415 missing, according to the nation's Red Cross Society.

Driving Up the Heat: SUVs and Global Warming

A special report about the impact of sports utility vehicles on the environment. Includes discussion about the pollution created by SUVs, the role of the United States as one of the top polluting nations, and the relationship between dependence on oil and national security. From the Sierra Club.
US Emits Half of Car-Caused Greenhouse Gas, Study Says
By Janet Wilson
The Los Angeles Times
Better Get Used to Killer Heat Waves
The Associated Press
Global Warming Blamed for More, Worse Wildfires
Climate changes are causing bigger and badder wildfires to break out in the Western United States, California scientists warned Thursday, sparking fresh debate over global warming.
Global Warming "Will Cancel Out Western Aid and Devastate Africa"
By Andrew Grice
The Independent UK
Effect of Climate Change on Oceans Gaining Attention
On Wednesday, a report was published titled "Impacts of Ocean Acidification on Coral Reefs and Other Marine Calcifiers." Although it may sound obtuse and perhaps limited in scope, it appears to represent a significant turning point - expert consensus that this is a serious problem.

If you know someone who wants to be educated, this site is a good condensation of the available facts:

Global Warming Facts & Our Future

An exhibit "to help us make informed decisions and to help answer some important questions" about global warming. Topics explored include the greenhouse effect, the carbon cycle, causes of climate change (such as ocean circulation, volcanic eruptions, and human activity), historical climate change, and more. Includes activities, related links, and reading suggestions. From the Marian Koshland Science Museum of the National Academy of Sciences.

If you've been enjoying the "No on 87" commercials here in California, the oil companies just don't get it:
Fossil Fuels Said to Damage Ocean Life
The Associated Press
Nation’s dependence on oil could lead to economic crisis
Earlier this week, editors and publishers from around the country met in Chicago for The Associated Press’ annual meeting as well as other newspaper-related gatherings. Aside from topics dealing with specific newspaper matters, the one main topic of discussion was the energy crisis and oil. The AP put on an interesting program with the correspondents from Africa, China, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles reporting various aspects of this country’s dependence ­ or addiction ­ to oil.
Lawrence Journal - World
Fear Factor
"Oil prices jump amid fears about …" You can finish that headline with any number of options, from Iran to Venezuela. Geopolitical jitters and the ever-growing competition for crude are driving up wholesale prices. But why does it appear that the "fear factor" headlines increasingly seem to pop up when the per-barrel price dips under $70?
Financial Sense
Russia Spins Global Energy Spider's Web
By W. Joseph Stroupe
Asia Times

Neither do their "friends":
GOP Ignores Danger of Global Warming
The Progress Report

But the oil barons were among the first to rape this state, and now at least we're going to make them pay for it:
Thank you for signing our "No Drilling on California's Coastline" petition at

The rest of the United States can go its own way:
House Votes to End 25-year Offshore Drilling Ban
The Associated Press

And "the war on terror" is really not helping:
UN: Lebanese Oil Spill Could Rival Exxon Valdez
An oil spill caused by Israeli raids on a Lebanese power plant could rival the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster that despoiled the Alaskan coast if not urgently addressed, the United Nations has said.
Lebanon's Month-Old Oil Slick Sinks
By Lauren Frayer
The Associated Press

I don't agree that nuclear power is the answer, especially in the long run, when our kids have to deal with the waste:
Nuclear Shutdowns Leave Swedes Debating
An incident last week that led to the shutdown of 4 of Sweden's 10 nuclear reactors has thrust the issue of atomic power back onto the national agenda, with leading politicians calling for a broad investigation into the safety of the nuclear industry.

At least the Europeans are thinking:
France's Chirac Warns Mankind Faces Climate Volcano
French President Jacques Chirac warned on Sunday that mankind faced an inferno unless the world tackles climate change seriously, in a rebuke to fellow Group of Eight leaders.
Energy and Climate: Leaving the Frenzy
By Hervé Kempf
Le Monde

But this is my happy September screed...reason being, there is plenty that we can all do:

An Inconvenient Truth: Take Action

This companion to the 2006 documentary about global warming, "An Inconvenient Truth," features suggestions for individuals to reduce harmful emissions at home and traveling and to advocate for changes locally, nationally, and internationally. Also includes an interactive tool to calculate your personal impact, 10 simple tips to reduce your impact, and links to related materials. Also includes links to details about the documentary.

As we should, we Californians are again striving for the lead into the future:
California on Brink of Global Warming Breakthrough
By Mary Milliken

As are many progressive places:
US Direct Action: How American Cities Have Bypassed Bush on Kyoto
It is not just the state of California that is bypassing the authority of the US government to take action on global warming. The mayors of more than 300 cities across the country have signed a Climate Protection Agreement in which they have pledged to meet the emissions-cutting timetable laid down by the Kyoto Protocol - regardless of what the Bush administration decides.

There are dozens of innovative solutions:
Neil Peirce Ocean Power Can Be a Global Warming Cure
Ocean tides and currents are an overlooked source of energy: "A major pilot demonstration seems ready to launch in San Francisco Bay, where an immense tidal flow enters and exits every day at a narrow point of the Golden Gate.... It will produce electrical energy that can then be transmitted to shore by cable," writes Neil Peirce.

A scientist at USC came up with this idea, almost like a wallpaper (or a fabric...think of the clothes!)
** Natural light 'to reinvent bulbs' **
Scientists invent an ultra-thin, natural-feeling light that could spell the end of the traditional bulb.
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I have no doubt that California will catch up with our European friends:
Grid-Connected Cars and Renewables: Understanding the Potential
Envision a future with millions of hybrid electric vehicles connected to the electric grid providing storage to allow large amounts of wind and solar to become seamlessly integrated into the electric grid ushering in a truly sustainable energy future. These vehicles would require less liquid fuels making it more likely that biofuels could meet the challenge of displacing 100% of petroleum as a transport fuel.
Building a Zero-Carbon World
UK "green" architect Bill Dunster is finding unparalleled opportunity in China for environment-conscious urban design. State planners have suddenly "got" the environment in a big way, and this year China announced a major investment program in renewable technologies. By the end of 2010, all Chinese buildings will need to reduce energy use by 50 per cent.
Dave Freeman and Jim Harding Solar Cells Change Electricity Distribution
In separate announcements over the past few months, researchers at the University of Johannesburg and at Nanosolar, a private company in Palo Alto, have announced major breakthroughs in reducing the cost of solar electric cells. While trade journals are abuzz with the news, analysis of the potential implications has been sparse.

Our animal friends just off the coast haven't got long to wait:
Earth Faces 'Catastrophic Loss of Species'
Life on earth is facing a major crisis with thousands of species threatened with imminent extinction - a global emergency demanding urgent action.
Sentinels Under Attack
By Kenneth R. Weiss
The Los Angeles Times
Toxic algae that poison the brain have caused strandings and mass die-offs of marine mammals - barometers of the sea's health.

Again California will take the helm:
Green Group Buys Out Fishermen to Protect Ocean Floor
For four generations, Geoff Bettencourt's family has fished the waters off Half Moon Bay by dragging heavy nets across the ocean floor to scoop up the sole and cod that feed there. But the 35-year-old may soon sell his right to trawl the sea - not to another fisherman, but to environmentalists.
Judge Bars Shrill Navy Sonar
By Robert McClure
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Of course, there are two other solutions to our is to give up modern "civilization":
Doing Better With Less
Robert Lion suggests that polities have a choice about how to deal with the inevitable changes in lifestyle that environmental crises will provoke in the coming century: They can carry on with business as usual and experience these changes as catastrophe, or they can start planning and changing our lifestyles now. Change can be either "suffered" or "directed ..."

The other...stop having kids!
Jeffrey D. Sachs Lower Fertility: A Wise Investment
The director of the UN Millennium Project urges the world to develop plans to encourage voluntary, steep reductions in population growth as a crucial investment to mitigate future environmental and humanitarian disasters.

So much for a sexy Christmas! Vive le screed!

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