It’s here at last -- the day we’ve all been waiting for. The day when, with any luck, this overhyped, overadvertised, overanalyzed electoral circus will finally end and we can all go back to looking for work and trying to save the planet from the boneheads we elect to run the place.
So, you might ask, which races will Grist’s urban experts be watching most closely today? Here’s a quick list of races that we believe will have the biggest impact on U.S. cities – both individually and collectively. Know of others? By all means, comment below or tell us via Facebook or Twitter. We’ll be watching every tweet and biting our nails.
In the latter days of the George W. Bush presidency, I found myself nursing a hangover on an early-morning flight from Missoula, Mont., to Denver. I’d missed my plane the day before and decided to spend the evening with an old friend, finding our way to the bottom of a bottle of whiskey.
Much to my horror, the woman who plopped down in the seat next to me that woozy morning-after turned out to be a high-level official in Bush’s Interior Department -- the branch of government that keeps an eye on the national parks and monuments and other public lands, from Ellis Island to Yosemite.
I was the editor of an environmental magazine at the time, and I’d skewered this woman and the administration’s drill-mine-log-everything policies in print. Now here I was, strapped into a chair right next to hers -- and battling a mean case of crapulence to boot.
Come to find out, this woman was feeling a little hungover herself -- not from too much drinking, but from the development binge she’d helped facilitate on the public domain. (A binge that, incidentally, included a few well-documented benders featuring Interior Department staffers and oil company employees.)
It’s something of a miracle that Craig Childs wasn’t in Atlantic City or New York when Sandy roared ashore earlier this week. It’s not that he lives there -- he and his wife and two young sons make their home at the base of a volcanic monolith in the Colorado boondocks. It’s not even that the author and adventurer spends a good part of his time actively courting cataclysm -- his latest book, Apocalyptic Planet: Field Guide to the Everending Earth took him to areas of upheaval (geologic and otherwise) around the globe. It’s just that he has a way of showing up, serendipitously, right when everything goes to hell.
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Childs, who has written almost a dozen books about the desert Southwest, archaeology, and wild animals, was in lower Manhattan, on his way to meet literary agents. “I was walking crosstown so I didn’t see what was going on, but there were emergency vehicles streaming down Fifth Avenue, and I could see people coming out of the subway station and popping up to the surface and being riveted by something overhead,” he says. “I came around the corner right after the second plane had hit, and pretty much just stayed down there until the first tower fell.”
Apocalyptic Planet opens with a scene of Childs, passed out in a friend’s L.A. apartment after a trip in the wilderness, awakened by an earthquake that rattles the walls and hurls books from the shelves. “In those moments, my picture of the earth was remade,” he writes. “The floor felt as if foot pedals were pumping beneath me, a continental margin humped up on he back of a tectonic pate. Humans may have a big hand in carpeting the atmosphere with heat-trapping gases and dumping every toxin we can imagine into the waterways, but when the earth decides to roll, it is no longer our game.”
Nor is it our game when the earth decides to whip up a megastorm and hurl it at the Eastern Seaboard -- though we likely had a hand in creating that monster. Or when it decides to reclaim farmland and cities with desert and sand dunes, or obliterate entire landscapes with tsunamis or volcanic ash -- all scenarios that Childs explores in Apocalyptic Planet.
Sound scary? This week, I caught up with Childs, who I’ve known for a decade or so, to talk about Hurricane Sandy, our cultural obsession with the End Times, and why he thinks “things are not as dire as we think -- but they could be much more dire than we imagine.”
David Quammen is probably best known for his writings about bizarre, beastly, or wildly eccentric animals, and the scientists who study them. His long-running column for Outside magazine, Natural Acts, read like a bestiary of the planet’s most intriguing creatures. And with books like his 1997 tome The Song of the Dodo and the 2004 Monster of God, he has sounded the alarm about the looming extinction crisis and the unraveling of the Earth’s ecosystems. Now he’s written another opus, this one about creatures so small that we can see them only with the aid of an electron microscope. It’s his most captivating -- and, by far, his scariest -- book yet.
Peter Seligmann has never much cared what other environmentalists think of him. Sure, he cut his teeth doing grizzly bear conservation near Yellowstone National Park, but he’s made his name as a friend of the large corporations that greenies often paint as the devil incarnate.
Seligmann is co-founder and CEO of Conservation International, an organization that, thanks in no small part part to its corporate buddies, wields a $150 million annual budget. For most of its 25-year history, it threw the lion’s share of its money into efforts to draw lines around wild places as a way of protecting the ultimate of environmental buzzwords -- biodiversity. (The group also spent a goodly amount of time trying to convince corporations that green practices were good for business -- an effort that sometimes got it into hot water.)
But about five years ago, Conservation International took a notable turn. It dumped its focus on wild animals and instead began focusing on “human well-being.” Of course, its central argument is that our well-being rests heavily on the health of the planet, but Seligmann insists that it’s not just a crafty public relations ploy.
“When I first started doing this, people said, ‘Well, this is just marketing,’” he told me last week at the posh Four Seasons hotel in downtown Seattle, where his board of directors was meeting. “Well, marketing doesn’t work. You need a DNA change.”
Seligmann and I talked about his conversion experience, the power of social media, and how Conservation International has been able to change the conversation when it comes to protecting the planet.
Q.Tell me about the transition Conservation International has gone through and the rationale behind it.
A. It was, I think, five years ago. Through our efforts with many partners and many sectors of society, we had been successful in protecting an area that was [equivalent to] a strip around the equator that was 30 miles wide. In a moment of reflection I started thinking, in that same 20-year time frame, a systemic threat called climate change had emerged in a big way. The population had reached 7 billion and was on its way to 9 billion in four decades. The demand for energy, food, and water was going to double in that next four-decade period. Extinction rates had accelerated. Fisheries were on a rapid decline. Sources of water and conflicts over resources were accelerating. And I thought, every single trend shows we’re headed toward failure. I thought, we’re gonna lose.
Al Gore had An Inconvenient Truth. DJ Spooky is taking a different approach.
Spooky, whose real name is Paul Miller, is an artist, writer, and musician based in New York. A few years back, moved by the news that the Larsen and Wilkins ice shelves had collapsed, he packed up his camera and recording equipment and headed south. The result is what Miller calls an “acoustic portrait” of the melting ice at the bottom of the globe, and he’s been touring with it, and its graphical companion, The Book of Ice, off and on ever since.
The work, called Terra Nova: Sinfonia Antarctica, has left some scientists scratching their heads (see Wynne Parry’s review of his performance at the New York Academy of Sciences), but it has landed Miller some remarkable gigs, including a show on the National Mall on Earth Day in front of a crowd of 200,000 people. It includes sounds of shifting ice he recorded during his visit, and a “sonification” of the molecular structure of ice -- and it’s all spliced and reconstructed remix-style, filtered through the mind, and turntable, of a DJ.
Because L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the president's longtime Latino pet, has burned through all his shills here at home, he now relies on D.C. journalists to spot his political ambitions. And boy, are they delivering … Earlier this week, Yglesias gave the Los Angeles mayor and his proposed Measure J transportation tax the slobberiest cross-country blow job to date.
Transcontinental oral sex aside, the Weekly has a point: Even as Villaraigosa has championed new light rail lines and bike lanes, L.A. County’s Metro has slashed bus service to some of the city’s most down-and-out neighborhoods.
But take heart, L.A. It could be worse. You could be Atlanta.
Atlanta’s transit agency has been cutting bus service due to budget shortfalls, too. But here, light rail hasn’t fared much better. In July, a ballot measure that would have raised $8 billion for rail and other transportation projects went down in flames.
The good news? Atlanta seems to be an exception to the rule.
What? You hadn’t heard? Well, maybe that’s because Car-Free Week is one of those things that the rest of the world celebrates -- but us? Not so much. That is, unless you live in Massachusetts, the only state that challenges its residents to spurn the automobile for seven days each year.
Of course, not everyone in the commonwealth got the memo. Take, for example, all of the people one local TV reporter interviewed at a gas station. (If she was really looking for people who’d drunk the car-free Kool-Aid, she probably could have found a better spot, but who are we to judge?)
Not to fear. A week of riding buses, bikes, or walking may be too much for the U.S. of A., but cities across the country do recognize Car-Free Day, held every Sept. 22. (And for the faint of heart, may we suggest Car-Free Hour?) Car-Free Day is this Saturday, and festivities abound:
Barring some bizarre political mishap, Dan Kildee will be settling into a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives on Jan. 3. He’s a shoo-in for Michigan’s fifth congressional district -- the well-liked Democratic candidate in a majority blue district, and the nephew of the guy who has held the seat since 1977.
Kildee is one of the few candidates this election season who isn’t afraid to talk about giving U.S. cities a leg up. The longtime treasurer of Genesee County, Mich., home to the moribund auto town of Flint, he is best known as the leader of the “shrink the city” movement, a cadre of city planners and academics who argue that the best way to save shriveling manufacturing towns is to bulldoze abandoned neighborhoods to make way for parks and urban gardens -- and new development when the economic tide turns.